It’s been a week since it ended and I have had a bit of time to collect my thoughts. I’ve said before what a great Festival it was, as have many others, but I have tried to identify what it is that made it so special for me.
This is not going to be a review – others have spoken of the fantastic concerts by the headline acts Steve Cooney and Seamus Begley, Tradivarious and Lumiere, of the smaller concerts given during CD and book launches with Richie Dwyer, the Boruma trio, the boys from Monaghan with the Dear Dark Mountain and Tara Breen’s new band being highlights, of the TradDisco and the Riches of Clare and of the wonderful and eclectic sessions that were happening everywhere.
This is my first Trad Fest and ever since I arrived in Ireland in May for the Fleadh Nua, everyone was telling me “Oh, you need to go to Ennis Trad Fest”. So expectations were high. I have been to 20 Festivals in the last six months – so I think I am in a position to see what has worked and what hasn’t. I am going to generalise here but for me the larger Festivals such as Willie Week and the Sligo Fleadh Ceoil didn’t always deliver. They were great experiences, from a cultural and musical perspective, but accessing sessions was a real challenge and some of the carry-on of the participants marred the experience. By and large I enjoyed more the smaller festivals such as Feakle, Tulla and Moyasta as it was easier (it’s all relative) to get a seat at the table and so much easier to meet people. The Summer Schools such as Drumshanbo, Tubbercurry and Achill were different again. Drumshanbo with its hot weather attracted great musicians and sessions spilled out onto the streets while at Achill it was hard to find a session as there were very few participants other than the students and tutors (but what a location). So when people ask me “which was the best?” I just can’t answer it . It sounds like a cop-out but they all had something such that I went away happy.
So Ennis Trad 21 sits somewhere in between Miltown and Feakle in size but it had a very different vibe. It was like a family reunion in some ways. Many people are return visitors and only come to this festival. It is popular with both locals and visitors some of whom have been coming for years. So it needs to be said that despite the much publicised difficulties of the past couple of years the spirit of the festival is rooted in a successful formula that started over twenty years ago and that the current organisers appear not to have dabbled with. A few changes around the edges but it is still the same festival that brings people back year after year. The current organisers are to be congratulated for this and so too should the organisers and committees of past years who have built up the ‘brand’ so to speak. It is worth noting that the place was pretty much booked out before it was even confirmed that the festival would go ahead. That doesn’t happen by chance.
For me the fact that this was a ‘special’ festival was apparent from the very first session on Thursday to the last note played on Monday night. In my short time here in Ireland I have made many musical friends and this Festival made me realise how important that is to enjoying the musical experience to the fullest. A music festival is not just about the music you hear or make but how you fill the spaces between the music. There was such a sense of goodwill and around the place that it was so easy to make new friends and aside from the much spoken about issues at the Cooney/Begley concert (wrong location perhaps?) there was not the negative influence of the, shall we say, over-excited crowds of visitors seeking a different kind of craic, that was a feature of Miltown.
This was a musicians’ festival. Up to twenty session venues many happening at the same time so no lack of choice. But Festivals require listeners and there were plenty of those and for the most part respectful. The town was buzzing and the Festival created a positive feeling everywhere around the place. Cafes, and shops were doing a thriving business.
There were so many highlights I can’t begin to mention them but one of the striking features for me was the accessibility of the musicians. I met Steve Cooney! A bit of an Aussie legend and it is a little hard not to be a bit star struck. But it wasn’t just about the big names. I so enjoyed playing music and the friendship of the wonderful musicians many of whom call Ennis and Clare home and it confirmed in spades my decision to base myself here. For me the session that encapsulated the whole experience was in Kelly’s Bar with Clare musical ‘royalty’ Andrew MacNamara, Joan Hanrahan, Brid O’Gorman, Eamon Cotter and Geraldine Cotter and an assortment of visiting players from Germany, Belgium, France, UK, Spain and even Australia and who knows where else playing some of the best Irish music you will ever hear. It had everything.
Those of you following me on this blog will have seen some posts of photos from the various days. I will repost just a few of my favourite shots here that I think capture the essence of the festival. They are not necessarily of famous musicians but of people having a good time. This for me was Ennis Trad 21.
See you next year.