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Are Irish festival-goers more uncivilized than our English counterparts?

We are reaching the end of festival season with Electric Picnic being, for many people, the biggest and last bash of 2015. In the past couple of years I’ve really enjoyed the Picnic experience, and Longitude equally so. Dare I say it, and risk sounding like an old hippie, but the ‘vibes’ were really good. Of course there were plenty of booze and God-knows-what-else causalities knocking about, and we’ve all been there, but in general it was really pleasant and good craic.

So it surprised me somewhat to read this article which seems to examine the differences between UK festival-goers and their Irish counterparts. When it comes to festivals, the author contends, we really are very different to the British. My sense is he does not mean this in a very complimentary way to Irish festivals and festival attendees. The author based his article on a visit to Latitude festival (the ‘sister’ to our own Longitude festival) this July at Southwold in England. Let’s have a look at some of his claims.

He refers to the crowd as ‘the most civilised bunch you have ever seen collectively’. Okay, fair enough, maybe he lucked out this year. I’m sure there were a few clowns among the entire 35,000 crowd but the author was extremely fortunate not to have one stagger across his path. He says: ‘There was little commotion or revelry that one comes to expect whilst attending festivals of this size in Ireland. Large orderly queues formed at the entrance’. Hang on, that sounds completely shit: ‘little commotion or revelry’? Was nobody having fun? A festival without commotion or revelry is like a wedding without the speeches, dancing, cocktail sausages and triangular sandwiches at midnight, and the residents bar at four in the morning. He mentions ‘large orderly queues’ forming as if this were a good thing. There is a stereotype that the English just love queuing and having lived, worked and visited there frequently, it is completely justified and their rigidity about queuing I find wholly irritating.

Commotion and revelry: are scenes like this uncivilized and unwelcome?

This next piece, however, had me reaching for the napalm. He writes: ‘The crowd at the main stages were reminiscent of that at a garden fete ... where many, many Kindles and Daily Telegraphs were being thoroughly devoured on lawn chairs and picnic blankets’. Oh Christ, what a vision of hell. If ever there was a description of a scene that required nuking, then he’s just provided it. Sorry, a garden fete? What is this, an episode of the Darling Buds of May? Was there a vicar prancing around with plates of cucumber sandwiches and David Jason leaning against a fence post swilling a jug of warm tasteless ale? And as for the ‘Kindles and Daily Telegraphs’? Major smug wanker alert. Clearly if anyone in England was wondering where all the douchebags were on the third weekend in July this year, they were all gathered on their picnic blankets at Latitude sagely nodding their heads at whatever right wing horseshit was being peddled by the Telegraph, or dashing frantically to join a nearby queue.

Crazy scenes at Latitude this year with outbreaks of mirth and occasional loud noises.

Wait, there’s more. He writes: ‘Campfires were allowed in the public campsites, and basically self policed. The fire could be no higher than one's knee and no more than one pace in diameter’. Ah right, the trusted bedfellow of queuing: rules and policy. ‘No higher than one’s knee’? Is this a fucking joke? Was there some tool marching around with a measuring tape and a clipboard? Perhaps it was part of the vicar’s role at the festival.

In fairness, and we must give the author the benefit of the doubt, he isn’t explicitly saying the Irish festival fan is far less civilised and mannerly than his or her English counterpart. He does seem to believe that Irish festivals, and by extension the people who attend, could learn a thing or two from his own experience at Latitude. Form an orderly queue and enjoy the Telegraph from the comfort of your picnic blanket.

This uncouth chap needs to take a long hard look at himself.

But hold on, am I being needlessly defensive? Does the author of this piece have a valid point? Dublin-based music and concert fan Geraldine Houston, originally from Scotland, is a regular listener to TXFM and has been going to every major festival across Ireland and Europe for two decades. She agrees that the Irish experience is different to the UK but says it has to be based on the individual festival. “Festivals in the UK are more targeted towards a specific demographic,” she explains, “You can see this reflected in the line-up and the attendees. For example, the Download Festival or Reading Festival has a different crowd than Latitude. It tends to be a bit more bacchanalian or whatever. The festivals in the UK have become much less ‘catch all’ and are now more focused and marketed.”

Geraldine also points to a difference in mindset and attitude towards music festivals. “People in the UK approach festivals differently,” she says, “With the massive ones like Glastonbury or the V Festival, these are now events that need to be done, or ticked off a list, like Wimbledon or Ascot. The music is a by-product of the festival. I mean, look at the line-ups and stages and how non-cohesive they’ve become. Pop sits awkwardly alongside rock.” Geraldine feels the same thing is happening in this country. “Irish festivals are heading that way, I’m seeing it. I’ve seen it happen at Forbidden Fruit and Longitude this year. I don’t generally go to UK festivals any more; there is a handful left I would go to. I tend to stick to the European and Irish ones. Body and Soul is the only festival that has it cracked. Everyone is there to experience the festival and music, and they are predominately music fans. I know people who go to Electric Picnic every year and might never see a band and just hang out in the campsite. I agree that the Irish festival experience is different to the UK, but I prefer it, for definite.”

So now it’s over to you. Have you been to festivals in the UK and how different are they to the Irish experience? Are we a too fond of our commotion and revelry here and do we need to smarten up our queuing manners?

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