European Vs Irish Music Festival – What We’re Missing Out On

Okay, so it’s not as if I’m pretending to be an expert or hardcore attendee of music festivals all over the world, but I like my music, I like my festivals, and I just thought I’d express some opinions and realisations I’ve had here after attending Sziget festival in Budapest last week.
As someone whose general vision and experience of music festivals has up until now included multiple layers of clothing, umbrellas, ponchos, muck, and copious amounts of alcohol, the differences between this European festival and the likes of Electric Picnic or Forbidden Fruit at home were something that hit me at every single colourfully signposted and culturally unique corner.

 First of all, and probably most obviously; the weather. Having gone from being a total newbie to the interrailing lifestyle, my opinion of European climates ranging from varying extremities of heat to cold and ‘home’ as a default becoming all jumbled up in my head all meant I hadn’t given the temperature much thought before I left. Luckily my instincts overpowered at this point as the word ‘holiday’ seems to have been engrained upon my brain, triggering an unconscious reaction to pack only Summer clothes.
The weather in Budapest at Sziget this year rarely dropped below 30 degrees, something which makes or breaks a pale ginger Irish fresh-air junkie such as myself, especially considering the lack of air conditioning available whilst camping (I’ll give you a guess – there’s none!!). Not to mention the constant battle with our neighbouring ant colony to keep the tents clean and cool enough to actually provide some sort of respite from the blaring midday heat. I’ve gotten to the stage now where I know better than to even try to withstand a sun like that for longer than a few minutes at a time, and dreams of attaining an actual tan from it are frankly laughable, so my bottle of factor 40 came with me everywhere I went.
My one main complaint with festivals at home has always been simply that it has been too cold. There’s only so many times you can justify standing waiting for one of your favourite bands, shivering beneath layers of soaked plastic ‘waterproof’ jackets and squelching along miserably back to a tent that may or may not yet have been flooded, trampled on, or worse – inhabited by unknown drunkards mistakenly thinking they’ve found their own resting hovels. Of course, this may be where the tendency to over-indulge in alcohol comes into play at Irish festivals – any excuse to keep warm and be able to sleep somewhere you usually wouldn’t put your dog to rest is surely going to sound like a good option after dutifully standing in wait for hours in unpredictable and rowdy crowds at varying levels of intoxication.
But this is what I mean. The good weather lent itself to every aspect of the festival abroad. Not only did it allow us to enjoy the daytime activities and decorative features for what they really were – a makeshift ‘beach’ and volleyball courts adding hugely to the ‘holiday’ feel of the place – but the sun and warm weather put everyone around in a good mood, and generally just brought out the best in everything. In that heat, tolerance for alcohol is down, so one or two drinks is all that was necessary to obtain a good buzz; even at that there were days where I completely avoided the bars, not by choice, just by sheer preoccupation with the amount of things there were to do and see around me. This in itself is a huge contrast to any festival at home, where the general consensus once entry has been successfully gained and tents hurridly pitched is to ‘head for the bar’ or ‘meet back here for pints’. Starting as you mean to go on only really works when the festival itself only lasts a day or two – a week of that kind of debauchery would be enough to cripple even the most seasoned festival-drinker.
Even so, it was amazing to see all those different walks of life and nationalities merging together in one place like a giant Noah’s Ark, as representatives of each country arrived and set up camp in twos and threes. All this in the love of music, life, and having a good time really succeeded in cementing in my head that life is for living, enjoyment, and sharing that love through a balance of art, music, and a general understanding of one another.

If there is one thing human beings from all corners of the globe love more than anything, it’s having a good fucking time and enjoying the fuck out of what little time we have here.

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The experience of the likes of a week-long festival such as Sziget being condensed down into a 3-day pissup in a field in Laois is something which really opened my eyes to the state of Irish festivals and our attitude towards them in general. Although Sziget is very much a limbo kind of paradise in that many travellers attend as a stop-off on an interrailing trip, it still manages to stand alone as an ‘Island of Freedom’, as they call it, and I spent a few content mornings alone wandering the island as the sun came up and many of the hardcore stragglers stumbled home or collapsed under various trees and bushes dotted in the mainstage area – none of the bars or DJs in the arena stopped until 5.30am, something we sadly discovered after setting up camp less than 50 metres away from one.
This closing time is something that in Ireland would only tempt fate and end badly, yet here it somehow worked with such a culturally diverse crowd of attendees merely looking to meet new people and share in the delights of such a positive and interesting atmosphere. Again, this idea of music and the arts bringing people together is more successfully executed and appreciated due to a better attitude towards alcohol comsumption and social norms – people actually talked to one another in these ‘clubs’, and I found the best place to make new friends was literally – anywhere you wanted to do so. All you had to do was look around, smile, and ask someone where they were from. Of course, this might just have been the incredible holiday-atmosphere and general happiness of everyone in attendance, but it’s difficult to imagine getting a similar reaction everytime at a festival in Ireland – people would think you’re either extremely drunk or just really creepy.

Of course a lot of this is all a massive generalization, as I’m still 100% going to attend Electric Picnic again this year, and more than likely enjoy it immensely. The main difference will be that this time I’ll be making sure to keep a broader mind when it comes to evaluating my understanding and appreciation for it, and hopefully experience more of the cultural and artistic side of things than I have before. Maybe this time I’ll also try to be aware of the various nationalities that (I’m sure) are always in attendance. Sziget has opened my eyes to the world through musical and creative displays of individuality, yet contrastingly has also helped me draw many parallels between myself and other human beings; this European melting pot (in 39 degree heat, this sometimes became literal!) and hub of life, activity, and 200,000 people roaming about a field in their own filth and excessive food and drink consumption, all just silently in search of love or some other form of connection with someone else – because in the end that is what we all seek, is it not? Not necessarily love, or a partner, or a means of procreation – it is merely companionship; likeminded souls who share a similar disposition and understanding of our situations, regardless of background, heritage, culture, or previous successes or failures. These are all just things which become wrapped up in negative and unecessary tension. They do not really matter. For a week on end I shared a common location, contentment, and various experiences with walks of life I never could have dreamed of encountering were it not for this fantastic festival.

As eye-opening as most travel can be in this respect, there was something extra special about the context in which people came together at Sziget. It wasn’t just to satisfy a niggling wanderlust, or to escape from a hometown or a job for the weekend, or even just an exuse to get drunk – it was out of a genuine love for music, life, and a celebration of all the good things there are to be had from this combination if we just do it right and balance it out. While it differed immensely from my experiences of music festivals at home, I’m certain now that when I next attend an Irish festival, I will do so with a completely different attitude, between expectations, enjoyment, and ability to sit back and enjoy the show, the acts, and the surroundings – even if the Irish weather is promised to put a dampener on everything!

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My Dad Grew Grapes in Ireland….

….And we made wine. What other way would there be to celebrate this extraordinary feat of cultivation??

Summer 2014 was in many ways and for many people an extremely fruitful season, and we’re still almost unknowingly reaping the benefits.
My father’s early retirement sparked a number of temporary and occasionally irrational notions to which he would dedicate entire days of unwavering attention. Things like the learning of a language, an instrument, or DIY project in the house he would undertake passionately for hours at a time, only to give up and abandon the project before nearing any sort of satisfactory mastery of the craft. Patience and rationality were never strong points of his – nor are they mine, for that matter.

One venture which served as cathartic as it was time-consuming was his expansion into the realm of gardening and home-grown produce. Up until last year, his success was measured on the size of the courgettes which appeared almost overnight (to my untrained and disinterested eyes) within the small space of overcrowded and sweaty condensation, among the dependable crowds of cherry tomatoes and carrot leaves all jostling for space and a sliver of the ever-evasive Irish sunshine. The nature of gardening left room for the sporadic lapses of attention in his greenhouse, meaning that the few days my Dad’s attention got caught up in installing another new boiler, re-painting a perfectly finished room, or searching the web for old census-clippings actually added to the cultivation of the young shoots, giving them the breathing space necessary to acclimatize to their unusally contrasting environment.

The grapes began as one such notion, a day spent wandering the garden centre fertilizing and giving strength to the idea that the growth of anything is possible if the conditions are correctly met and enough space given to acclimatize. And so the guts of one weekend was spent planting grapes in a greenhouse in the back garden of a run-of-the-mill suburban housing estate in Leixlip, and ensuring everybody within earshot knew he was doing so. What could go wrong?

To be honest we all forgot about the mini-vineyard growing in the back garden, not expecting anything to come of the notion and instead adapting to his erratic ideas and shifting our attention to encourage his next venture. It was only as the Summer wore on and he began to notice the small green spheres appearing on the twigs that it began to actually become a source of interest again. I began to receive weekly updates on their progress, which turned to daily phonecalls as my job in Galway kept me from witnessing the miracle for myself.
On returning home I was greeted with a smile and a proud bucket full of genuine grapes as green as they were homegrown and one of the proudest achievements of my father to date.

The very fact that they existed was proof that anything can be cultivated within the confines of an unlikely environment, if the right factors are present, and so his next announcement that he intended to experiment with wine-making was hardly surprising. Again, we left him to it, happily ensuring he had a store of empty wine bottles in which to ferment his concoction at hand and ready to fill should he succeed.

Which he did.
The wine which was ready by Easter was bitter, strong, and thinking back on it was definitely the product of an amateur attempting to fulfill some sort of self-validation by convincing himself it was possible to make his own, yet it did the job, and succeeded in getting myself and a friend slightly drunk at a party having been given the bottle leaving my house, unaware that it had come from the ‘home-brewed’ corner of the wine rack. How many people can say they have one of those? Especially in Ireland!

The greenhouse has since become a source of pride for him, and in a way has aided greatly in allowing himself and the rest of the family to come to terms with the fact that with retirement comes a certain slowing-down of many things, patience now being an easier value to tap into when the need presents itself. He still gets irrational notions and spends days on end obsessing over minor details of the floor tiles in the kitchen being off-center, but it’s almost as if the retreat of the greenhouse and the potential of the ever-encroaching Summer season gives him a new lease on life. It’s a kind of dependance which became particularly noticeable in his despondancy and detachment during the Winter months of frosty weather, the physical limitations of the cold preventing him from even visiting his glass house seemingly stunting any kind of positivity towards progression.

Now that the Summer is well on it’s way again, both the garden and my Dad have been filled with a new energy and positivity towards life, the successes of last Summer proving a positive foundation on which this year can be built.
While I hope we have a good Summer weather-wise for all the usual reasons – roadtrips, days on the beach and beer-garden Saturdays spent with friends and new freckles, there’s also the hope that my Dad will continue building upon his previous successes and maybe even begin to enjoy his retirement. And who knows, if that means more wine, all the better for everyone else!!