To Raise a Music Community
Lying in the green landscape of Trabolgan Holiday Village, the It Takes a Village festival draws in around a thousand festival-goers to its sea-side escape in East Cork. The event has taken away the usual hassles of a music festival – tents, wet weather, general lack of cleanliness – by providing accommodation for audiences, musicians and crew in the form of the Trabolgan holiday chalets, complete with fresh sheets, a shower and all the usual mod cons of a house. Throw in the use of the on-site swimming pool (complete with DJ-led parties), arcade games, bowling, a birds of prey centre, and a line-up crafted with over 60 current mainly Irish acts, and It Takes a Village has created an appealing concept for a new festival.
On the Friday at the front gate, I was met by a crew who gave suggestions as to who to see over the weekend. In the chalet, there was a hamper of Irish-made treats such as yogurts, jams and biscuits, a gift all festival-goers received. The warm welcome continued throughout the weekend.
It Takes a Village uses the facilities of Trabolgan to host most of the events, including the in-house concert hall, the on-site pub, a holiday chalet that has been rid of its furnishings and transformed into an intimate venue, and a stage built into the main walkway of Trabolgan’s facilities. The arcade also hosted a DJ set, and a boat party took place on Sunday afternoon with Nialler9 on the decks, all of which utilised one of the festival’s advantages – its intimate size.
One of the first acts I made sure to see was Dundalk-based electro, synth-heavy pop act Æ MAK, performing under a giant glittering disco ball in the Central Area stage. Æ MAK played as a 3-piece: Aoife McCann, the singer and central persona, accompanied by drummer and DJ. The percussion and synth-based pop was performed fervently with tracks such as ‘Love Flush’, ‘Dancing Bug’ – a collaboration with Le Boom – and a stripped-back version of ‘I Can Feel it in My Bones’, her first single.
Three things struck me about the performance: her crisp, powerfully projected vocals that are even more impressive live; the careful attention to detail as not a single note was out of place; and the energetic dance moves McCann had coordinated to the music, moving her arms upwards and around her body, circling the stage at times, or moving her whole body in unison with the beat. Around me, I heard people in the crowd react to their friends: ‘I love this song!’ and ‘Wow, 10 out of 10!’
Later that night, Dublin 6-piece rock act Thumper played the Cotters stage, located in the on-site pub, a small venue that saw the artists almost touching the ceiling with their heads. With two drummers, three guitarists and one bassist, the band clearly reflects its name. Heavy percussion sets the beat for their brash but incredibly tight iteration of hard pop rock. The crowd, dense with sweaty, bopping bodies, crammed up close to the stage while Thumper played new music from their impending first album and songs the audience knew, like ‘In My Room’ and ‘Loser’.
One of the guitarists was wirelessly connected to an amp and kept wandering off the stage out of the room, at one point returning with a pint in his hand – the advantage of having two other guitarists as a back-up. Their set finished with singer Oisín Leahy Furlong performing from within the crowd, singing into people’s eager faces the lyrics from ‘Down’. ‘Everybody talks about me as if I’m not around’. ‘You’re bringing me down, Oh, you’re bringing me down’, they sang back.
What slightly compromised the performance, however, was the presence of three photographers who circled around the band; not simply standing at the front to get their shots, but constantly standing right in front of Thumper, pointing cameras inches from their faces. Thumper didn’t flinch at any point and carried on belting through their high-energy, distortion-filled set.
Clarinet and voice
Starting on the Cove stage on Saturday afternoon was Dublin-based acoustic singer and multi-instrumentalist Anna Mieke who drew a significant crowd inside, away from the sun-soaked outdoors. Her gentle, folk-inspired sound featured Mieke on guitar and bouzouki, with a band playing guitar, keyboard, clarinet, saxophone and drums. Performing songs from her recent release Idle Mind, she fondly told of the story behind some tracks, such as ‘Armour’, written about her time living in Stoneybatter, Dublin, among a community of musicians, and ‘Epitaph’, about a cycling trip she took from Wicklow to Paris. During ‘Epitaph’, her closing track, there’s a beautiful moment when Mieke hums a gentle melody which is mimicked by the clarinet, both voice and instrument emitting a single tune.
Dundalk singer-songwriter and outspoken poet-performer Jinx Lennon later played his usual high-energy, slightly bizarre and always funny show. As my first time seeing him play outside of Louth, I was impressed by the keen crowd. His Dundalk-inspired set included ‘Forgive the Cnts’, inducing the crowd to laugh out loud. What was particularly special, however, was that, in between the madness, opinion and humour, there was a gentle song he wrote about his young daughter, ‘You’ll be Kept’. It’s a lullaby with lightly strummed acoustic guitar: ‘You’ll be kept, we’ll keep you, you picked us and we belong to you’, a heartfelt contrast to the brash, Jinx Lennon persona.
‘What do you think of my house?’
In No. 25, the holiday chalet that had been turned into a venue for the weekend, we saw Kerry alt-folk singer Junior Brother play his second slot of the weekend. It was a more intimate performance than his earlier one at the Cove with no more than 40 people crammed into the room. People sat on chairs, on the floor around him with crossed knees, peering in from the windows outside, and from the hall leading up to the sitting-room-turned-concert-hall. This was one of the ‘secret performances’ of the weekend, announced only shortly before the gig.
He quietly chatted in between songs to the crowd – ‘What do you think of my house? I feel sorry for the people upstairs’. Tracks like ‘Full of Wine’ and ‘The Back of Her’ had the crowd silent, waiting for the last note of the song to resonate into nothing before erupting into applause. ‘Hungover at Mass’ was one of the most popular; the audience laughed and cheered when he announced it.
Photos hung on the wall of several of the weekend’s artists when they were children, which only added to the homely feel in No. 25. It felt as if we were crowded into the sitting room of Junior Brother, hanging on every note from his guitar, voice and tambourine.
Among the other acts that I caught over the weekend were Le Boom, Meltybrains, Nialler9, Happyalone, Donal Dineen, Lords of Strut, Kojaque, Lisa O’Neill, David Kitt, Silverbacks, Gay Future, Tony Clayton Lea’s Culture Vultures and Ships.
Just as nature coalesced with the festival’s surroundings – mallard ducks flew overhead, rabbits and their young hopped through bushes – the musicians performing at the weekend merged into the crowds during their peers’ sets and throughout the weekend. The small size of It Takes a Village meant the ratio of performer to punter was smaller, but also, the festival seemed to create a yearning for the musicians to stay all weekend and enjoy, rather than just arrive and leave after their own performance.
However, it’s not just the holiday chalets, fun facilities and beautiful surroundings that make It Takes a Village unique. To me, the festival stands out against a flurry of Irish festivals, even the smaller ‘boutique’ ones, for its notably friendly and grassroots feel.
The title of the festival is part of an old proverb about needing a community of people working in cooperation to raise a child. While It Takes a Village is not raising the next generation, it has created an event that feels like a welcoming hub for Irish music. It may be adorned by the swimming pool, arcade and flushing toilets (the luxury!), but the event is also a coming together of dedicated, music-driven people. Only in its second year, the festival can hopefully continue to nurture its ethos and grow its community in the coming years – without getting too big, of course.
Published on 16 May 2019
Shannon McNamee is assistant editor of the Journal of Music.