- 21 Aug 23
This year’s Electric Picnic will be the biggest and the best ever! So says guest contributor Melvin Benn of Festival Republic, who have added some important new elements to the three-day event for 2023. “And I’m really looking forward to The Wolfe Tones,” he adds…
The build for this year’s Electric Picnic started in July with, depending on what stage it’s at, between seven-hundred and fifty and a thousand people working on-site to ensure that we’re ready to roll when the campsites open at 9am on the Friday morning of the festival.
It’s organised chaos at first on-site, but then the different parts start slotting into place and this magical metropolis begins to emerge! For a lot of the creators, it’s the pinnacle of their festival season.
We’ve got some really powerful additions to the festival this year. I’m really excited about our new Croí area, which is taking over from Mind & Body. We’ve called it Croí because it really is the heart of the festival.
Cian Finn, who’s a son of the late Alec Finn of De Dannan, has put together an incredible bill. I think people will spend a lot of time there. It is going to be amazing.
We’ve also made Fishtown – which is Jerry Fish’s domain – that little bit bigger and better, and Terminus will be going from strength to strength with some extra elements.
A GREAT ARTIST
I don’t mind saying that it’s a real seal of approval for the Picnic that Billie Eilish is making a headlining return to Stradbally on the Friday.
With Billie it’s not just “Here’s the offer, are you free?” – we have to be in line with her people from an environmental and social point of view.
I can’t speak for her, but the impression I get is that Billie wouldn’t play a show that wasn’t committed to having proper green credentials and decent carbon reduction overall. The good news is that both are central to what we’re doing as a festival.
Things in music change, but when I see Billie perform, the connection she has with her audience is no different to the connection I had as a teenager with the artists I loved at festivals like Reading. She’s a huge star. Billie is only doing three European festivals this summer, and she’s chosen the Electric Picnic as one of them. That says something about the reputation that Electric Picnic has built.
I’m also delighted that we’ve got Niall Horan on the Friday night. He’s moved from being one part of a superstar boy band to being a credible artist in his own right. It’s a joy to see him so high up the bill.
Another highlight for me is that Rick Astley is coming to the Picnic. He’s such a lovely man, but also a great artist. He played Latitude for us in 2021, just after Covid restrictions were lifted, and had what was probably the weekend’s biggest crowd at the Main Stage arena. He was a revelation.
Ireland is a great place to be runing a festival event like the Picnic, where quality and diversity are so important. I’m really impressed, for a start, by the new wave of Irish folk acts like The Scratch and Lankum. They’ve just received a much-deserved Mercury Music Prize nomination, which is something I have to admit I did see coming! Having spent a lot of time every year at the Salty Dog and Hazelwood stages, which are among the Picnic’s festivals within a festival, I could sense the surge of interest in traditional music done with a modern twist.
For this year’s Picnic we’ve also booked The Mary Wallopers who are an amazing live act, with a growing following. It will be fascinating to see where they go from here, but playing Electric Picnic is a landmark moment for them.
Astute observers will have noticed also that The Wolfe Tones are on the bill. Somebody asked me recently, “Do you know what to expect from them?” Again I have to say I do, and that there won’t be any surprises for me – unless of course they were to decide to play ‘God Save The King’! – because during the 1970s and 1980s, I was very attuned to, and active in, Irish politics. My social circle in the UK during that period was almost exclusively Irish, so the fact is that I actually know a lot about The Wolfe Tones!
When Charles and Diana got married in 1981, I actually travelled to the west of Wales, so that I could listen to Irish radio – which came through clear as a bell there – and avoid the non-stop BBC coverage of the wedding. In contrast, it was about the sixth item of the RTÉ news – which was great!
I think there will be a massive crowd at the Picnic to see The Wolfe Tones, who are always brilliant live.
I love the fact that playing Stradbally is a sort of ‘coming of age’ for Irish acts. I half-expected CMAT to pack out the tent last year – which she did in considerable style – but I can’t believe how many people turned up as well for Belters Only, who we’re delighted to have back again along with Jazzy, whose own solo career has really taken off.
One of the 2022 Picnic’s biggest hits were The Coronas on the Saturday – it was just a sea of people in front of and to the sides of the Main Stage. It was unbelievably amazing, so we’ve asked Danny and the boys back again.
Overall, there’s a lot of top class Irish talent on the bill – HamSandwicH and Gavin James always do brilliantly at the Picnic and I think Cian Ducrot, who’s got an album coming out this month, will be following in their footsteps.
Another Irish artist – and his parents are from Athy in Co. Kildare, so he is Irish – who’s back this year, is Johnny Marr. Johnny loves playing the Picnic, so we’re thrillied to have him.
Like so many other people in music, I was deeply saddened by the death last week of Sinéad O’Connor, who performed a stunning Sunday afternoon set in 2014. The fact that her daughter Róisín was up on the Main Stage with her made it especially touching and memorable. I’m sure some fitting tributes will be paid to Sinéad over the Picnic weekend. She was an absolutely unique talent.
ASTONISHING LEVELS OF CREATIVITY
The Electric Picnic has come a long way since myself, John Reynolds and Peter Aiken decided in 2004 to stage Ireland’s first proper multi-disciplinary music and arts festival, initially as a one-day event.
I didn’t envisage any particular crowd size, but we created an event with what we felt was great content and genuine values, which to our delight people bought into pretty much straight away.
The economic crash of 2008 really interrupted the Picnic’s growth – that’s when the change of ownership started happening with Festival Republic taking a 73% share of the festival in 2011 and 100% in 2013.
After the economic downturn, not enough people were going to it – the key being the ticket price. That’s when we introduced the Loyalty Scheme that over 60% of the Picnic audience can lay claim to, and which has transformed the festival.
Sometimes people take a break because of life events like having a baby but then return – often with the new addition in tow! That’s a fantastic thing to witness.
It’s lovely seeing the number of families who attend the Picnic – and, indeed, festivals like Kaleidoscope, in Blessington, which was tremendous fun again in June with B*Witched, Gavin James and Nile Rodgers & Chic headlining.
The bottom line is that more people coming to the Picnic means more income, which means more opportunity to spend on content.
Thanks to the astonishing levels of creativity in Ireland we’ve never had a problem generating that content – and will continue to bring new people and ideas on board.
But, of course, the fans are the key to the whole thing.
I’m really looking forward to seeing everyone in Stradbally next month, for what I know is going to be another amazing three days of music – and much more besides!
Read the full, extensive Electric Picnic special feature in the current issue of Hot Press – featuring Stradbally-bound cover star Niall Horan: