I have been remiss. Immersed as I have been in the Ennis Trad Festival I have just not found the time to sort photos and write my thoughts. Now it’s over and I have repaid some of my sleep debt I can give it some attention. Where do I start?
Facebook has been flooded with praise for the Ennis Trad Fest so there is probably little that I can add but as many of my blog followers are not on Facebook I will record my impressions here in my blog. And if you’re bored hearing how good the Festival was then just adopt the Playboy philosophy and skip these words and just look at the pictures. I think you will agree they tell a story just on their own.
As someone who has been to all the major schools and festivals over the last 18 months (and a lot of the minor ones) I am often asked what is my favourite Festival. I have avoided an answer. Really because I have found it almost impossible to answer. I have discussed this before in other blogs. but every Festival gives me something to take away. Indeed I have a love-hate relationship with many Festivals. I can’t stay away yet the session experience is often unsatisfying.
I am reminded of Sydney in 2000 when we staged the Olympic Games . The now disgraced Juan Samaranch proclaimed during the Closing Ceremony “I am proud and happy, to proclaim that you have presented to the world the best Olympic Games ever.” Well for what it’s worth, “Ennis – You have presented the Best Festival I have been to in Ireland”
There I have done it. I’ve said it. The Best Festival in Ireland!
I suppose I should give my reasons. Firstly it is the best location. Ennis in the heart of Clare is the spiritual capital of Irish Traditional music. Ah sure, there’s Donegal and Sligo and Galway and Kerry and I know not everyone will agree but nowhere have I seen music, song and dance so deeply ingrained as part of the culture. It bursts out everywhere, in young and old, in pubs and cafes, among visitors and locals and in players and listeners. So if ever a festival was going to work it was in Ennis. There are heaps of venues. Many of the pubs are widely recognised ‘music pubs’ outside festivals such as Faffa’s, Kelly’s, Brogan’s, Cruises etc and many are large enough to accommodate the inevitable giant festival session. There are hundreds of musicians resident in Ennis and the surrounding villages. While tourists go to Doolin, ‘real’ musicians come to Ennis. It is a mecca for many from overseas, some making it their home.
You can hear all kinds of music in this town. The classic ‘Clare-style’, whatever that is, to the fast, furious and wild. So much choice. In fact why not hold the Fleadh Cheoil here?
Ok so it has everything going for it but of course that’s not enough.. ..
This Festival is a special experience. It delivers on so many levels where the larger Summer Schools and Festivals and the small local ones can’t – It is a musicians festival! Whereas if you go to a Fleadh Cheoil the streets are packed with massive throngs of people. Many families and tourists. And that’s great but walk the streets of Ennis during Trad Fest and you will see crowds, but the great majority of people carry an instrument on their back.
The sessions here are at a different level. The core of each session is usually four musicians but up to 30 may join in. Virtually without exception the music is of the highest quality. Something that cannot be said of Willie week or the Fleadh or Drumshanbo. Yes there are ‘session wreckers’ of course but somehow they don’t seem to destroy the ambience. And you can always move on as there are so many sessions at the same time; scheduled and unscheduled. Just have a look at the pictures and you will see the quality of musicians you can hear.
And my pet hate… pubs so noisy you can’t hear yourself or the fiddler sitting next to you and patrons so disrespectful it becomes unpleasant. Just not a problem here. I love to watch people while I play and there are so often smiles; or listeners with their eyes closed and those chatting do so without disturbing. Yes there is sometimes tension as many don’t understand the unwritten rules around sessions but somehow it works itself out.
I reread my blog from last year and I’m going to repeat what I said then, Not because I am lazy but because what I observed then is confirmed this year and I can’t really add to it.
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 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.
I made heaps of new friends again , John and Maureen from the States, Isabelle from Quebec, a contingent of 25 young musicians from Sweden, Etha from Bali, probably the only fiddle player in Indonesia, Ben from UK, Angela from Germany. And of course renewed contact with many in the real, rather than virtual, world such as Veronika, Steve, Sarah, Clare, John, Jim and Barbara, Tony and the rest of the Festival Family.
I didn’t get to many concerts this time because I wanted to play but I did see Beoga which inspired some of the most creative dancing I have ever seen, and I saw Dermot Byrne and Flo Blancke; beyone sweet! And there were some great music in CD launches – including the wonderful Claire Egan’s first CD.
But for me it was about the sessions. Of course I can only talk about the ones I was at. And you can’t be everywhere. But I have to mention the first with the Lahawns (Andrew MacNamara and Friends) in Ciarans and the last in the front bar of Queens with those still on their feet at 3am on Tuesday morning. In between my musical buttons were pushed by Yvonne Casey and Brid O’Gorman in Cruises, Yvonne and Eoin O’Neill and Damien Werner in Suas. Martin Connolly, Eileen O’Brien and Geraldine Cotter in The Old Ground. Blackie etc in the Diamond, the Clancy sisters in Copper Jug, and some sessions not in the programme such as Monday morning at Queens with a host of international visitors and in the Rowan Tree at 4am on the Saturday morning. And then there was time to let the hair down literally with the legendary Trad Disco and Paddy de los Pamas in Cruises.
It was the right move to get accommodation in Ennis and I really want to thank all those who made this possible for me with my current travelling limitations. Particularly Yvonne and Steve for the lifts in and out, Lorraine for her couch, when all the hotels were full, and the organisers for delivering the Best Festival in Ireland. You have something special here.
I particularly enjoyed photographing this event and I am very happy with some of my images despite my camera playing up and the really high ISO I needed for flashless photography. So here goes…