THE BODY AND Soul Festival celebrated its fifth year at the weekend, with 8,500 music fans turning out at Ballinlough Castle in Co Westmeath to witness live sets from the likes of Gary Numan, Caribou, Goldfrapp, John Grant and Of Montreal.
Of course, this being a ’boutique’ festival (for want of a better word) the main stage acts represented only a small portion of the attractions on offer.
There was also a summer solstice party, a masquerade ball, a Decadent Dining tent, a rave in the woods, a ‘Soul Kids’ area, food stands galore, carousels, acrobats…. the list goes on…
All of this in a country estate 8km from the nearest small town of Athboy, and around 30km from Mullingar.
Not exactly the epicentre of the national grid, in other words. But still, thousands of people were fed, watered, entertained and generally kept happy for 72 hours in the relative wilderness of Westmeath, as the country enjoyed something of a mini heatwave.
As festival organiser Avril Stanley points out:
You have people queueing for all sorts of cuisine at all sorts of hours. Behind the scenes it takes a lot of effort to get that samosa into your hand.
Indeed, ‘first world problems’ was probably a favourite phrase in Ballinlough at the weekend, as festival-goers found themselves absent-mindedly complaining about 30 minute queues to use the hot tubs, only to quickly catch themselves on.
So what’s going on behind the scenes as gig-goers pack out the main stage mosh pit as darkness falls, queue for pulled pork sandwiches at 2 o’clock in the morning, and wander off in search of those mythical raves in the forest at 4?…
Heading into the evening on a Saturday night, the festival is already in full swing.
“Friday can be crazy,” Stanley says. “Like dropping chemicals into water and watching them fizz up.”
“You find by Sunday, sometimes even Saturday the festival has found its rhythm. People have found their friends or found new friends. They’ve tracked down that guy they fancy.
“Six on a Saturday is a nice time at the festival. It’s a time when people might be wandering from stage to stage, checking things out, because the place is a wonderland.
“So… Behind the scenes on the main stages you’ll have crews prepping for the next band, doing changeover of kits and backlines.
“You’ll also have artist liaison teams checking with bands to make sure they have food and water… That their dressing room has a mirror, whether they have everything on their rider if they’ve asked for something in particular.
“Then there’s the transportation manager who’ll be doing things like overseeing logistics, airport pick-ups and drop-backs, making sure all equipment goes to the relevant stages — because we’ve seven stages in all. You have to make sure everything gets to where its supposed to.
“People will be wandering back and forth. They might be getting hungry and heading along to check out the food options.
“The public see us serving all sorts of great food, and we always make sure the experience is culinary.
“But behind the scenes, we’re essentially in a field preparing food for eight and a half thousand people. We have to bring in everything of course — essentially, everything that a human being needs.
“We have a team dedicated to power. They’re working with traders to make sure people have what they need, see that people aren’t knocking out generators or whatever.
“You’ll have refrigeration vans on site keeping everything cold. You’ll have stall-holders running around getting extra supplies … deliveries arriving.
“Behind the scenes, it takes a lot of effort to to get that samosa into your hand.
“Security is increased at night.
“By day, it’s more relaxed. You can see what’s going on and you can see what people are up to.
“We’ve got viewing towers manned by security, and there’ll be teams monitoring around the arena, the campsite and the perimeter. You’ve different teams responsible for different areas.
“The security is there and people are aware of it.
“It’s to ensure we don’t have we don’t have fence jumpers. It’s to ensure people feel safe. It’s to ensure there aren’t people doing anything that will cause aggravation.
“The staff ups everywhere in the evening.
“In the daytime, you see, people are eating and then people are find their niche and finding their friends and finding where they need to be.
“It’s later that the line-ups get more interesting, as the festival shifts into another gear.
“11 at night is time to put your kids to bed if you have kids, and cuddle up with them if you don’t have a babysitter.
“There’s medics on site too to look after people. We have three medic posts dealing with everything from sprained ankles to births.
“Yes, we have had a woman who went into labour. It was an evening-time birth. Two weeks early.
“The medical team responded… She was brought to Mullingar Hospital and had a beautiful baby.”
“Our main stage and our second stage both close at 2am on a Saturday.
“By this time a real vibrating, pulsating energy has built up.
“People start to wander. We put a huge amount of effort into our ancilary entertainment though, and there’s still lots going on.
“I feel I have to have extra sensory vision around then.
“I pound the grounds until the arena is closed, keeping an eye, identifying issues…
“There’s lots of security around at this time. And stage managers have to be on the ball so people aren’t climbing up next to some DJ or whatever, and pulling things apart.
“It’s almost like steering a ship. You have to be prepared for the worst, and sometimes you have choppy waters. But we have a duty of care to people who come to our festival.
“We’re ready to respond to just about anything that will come our way.
The morning after
“5am is an interesting time. That’s when all the ancillary entertainment is finished.
“People are going to bed, and wandering off to their campsites.
“But behind the scenes though there’s a whole new set of staff coming on.
“Generators are getting refilled, tankers are coming in with fresh water. Hot tubs are getting refilled…
“On the music side of it the decks are being taken down, the stages are being stripped… Photographers are going through their photos and deciding which ones to keep.
“You know how it is… You know when you go to someone’s house for a house party – your favourite friends are the ones who have actually stayed up and cleaned the kitchen…
“The festival’s not just for the party animals who are up all night… It’s for people who want to get up early and do yoga. It’s for kids who want to come down and do balloon animals.
“We need to constantly keep maintaining the site, so there’s always something going on…
It is a cycle…. There’s death and rebirth, and on it goes.
All images: Allen Kiely