It’s difficult to know where to begin trying to describe the Electric Picnic Festival, held in Stradbally, County Laois every September – there’s so much to experience. It’s eclectic, it’s big, it’s busy, it’s noisy, it’s full of humankind of all shapes, ages, dress and relative undress, but it’s also friendly, entertaining and a happy kind of place to be. There are teepees and yurts you can escape to for some quiet contemplation or big tops and marques you can head to for some serious raving. There’s a circus, a funfair, sculptures and a half buried bus, and throughout it all, there’s an extremely well organised team that ensures everyone at Electric Picnic has the best time they possibly can in a safe environment. All our needs are catered for, whether it’s cash or phone charging, a launderette, hairdresser, barber, medics, baby wipes, tampons, beer or milk.
12 Great Years of Electric Picnic
This September Electric Picnic was celebrating its 12th year and it was cleaner, greener and a bigger event than ever before. Attracting around 50,000 festival goers (give or take a few) and with over 4,000 volunteers, somehow three days doesn’t seem long enough to poke around, check out and enjoy all the talks, art, activities, entertainment and music the Festival has to offer.
Held in the beautiful grounds of Stradbally Hall, home of the Cosby family who open up their Estate, Electric Picnic is divided into several areas that collectively make it the most talked about Festival in Ireland. Over the years it’s grown from its original ‘boutique’ tag as the numbers that pass through its well guarded gates have multiplied, but despite the crowds, Electric Picnic has managed to keep its cross spectrum of music, food and arts balanced and as it’s grown, so too has its ‘Green’ ethos.
Keeping it Green
There are a number of initiatives that try to tackle the enormous problem of encouraging people to minimise their trace. Many make an effort, more don’t but they’re getting there.
Electric Picnic offers a three bin system encouraging Festival goers the opportunity to separate their waste, there’s a deposit of 20c for recycling glasses (a superb way for kids to earn pocket money), and over 50 volunteers from Friends of the Earth patrol the site all weekend wearing Green Messenger vests, as well as an army of litter pickers that ensure the site was clean until sundown. The Be Your Environment campsite sold out within 35 minutes of going live, Every Can Counts manned recycling bins with Bin Angels, and traders were encouraged to use Fairtrade and biodegradable food packaging.
Global Green was a haven of tranquility with its pop-up eco village and community garden while Greencrafts taught ancient crafts and techniques. Mindfield offered good quality, local food demos and tastings of all descriptions and the My Goodness Mocktails won the McKenna Guide Best Green Business festival award. Next year look out for initiatives that will tackle the problem of people leaving their tents and wellies behind – this year a small team of volunteers collected and sent over 400 tents to refugees in Calais.
From the Mindfield to Body and Soul, The Cosby Arena and Trailer Park, Salty Dog, Trenchtown, Comedy and Electric Arenas, you could easily lose a weekend in each if you were to take it all in. Electric Picnic is for babies, toddlers and young families thanks to the Soul Kids tucked safely within the walled garden of Stradbally Hall, as well as for the 18+ party people and older generations who don’t mind roughing it a bit.
With a ‘no teen’ rule (anyone over 12 years old and under 18 will have to bide their time), art and culture are intermingled with bread making, willow weaving, puppy cuddling (yes really), comedy and silent disco dancing where everyone wears headphones and jigs around in their own little world to a choice of one of four DJs.
Organic, locally reared burger vans vie for custom next to non organic burritos. Cocktail and Oxygen bars can be found beside Oxfam tents and temporary tattoo artists, and of course the music… the music surrounds you wherever you are and whatever your taste, somewhere, somehow it will have been catered for.
In 2015 the headline acts on the main stage included Underworld and Sam Smith, Blur, Grace Jones, George Ezra and Florence and the Machine but to be honest, if you only attended Electric Picnic to see those acts you’d have missed out on a plethora of other raw talent. Last year Hozier headlined but the year before they could be found strumming in the Global Green marquee. This year Sam Smith was genuinely touched at the thousands watching him where two years earlier he was struggling to drum up a crowd nearby.
There are so many bands, DJ’s, artists and performers to choose from in the various arenas that the organisers print a 162 page book that mentions most, if not all of them. I heard the odd bit of discontent that it was an extra €15.00 on top of the ticket price but it is a wonderful memento and if you buy it at the beginning of the weekend, will give you a much better flavour of what’s on, allowing you to pick and choose more carefully where you spend your time. You’ll also be less likely to discard it, creating less waste.
Ten Top Tips to Enjoying The Electric Picnic Festival
If you’re thinking of booking a ticket for next year’s Electric Picnic, here’s my ten top tips to get you through it in one piece:
- Book your tickets and campsite as soon as they are released as they sell out fast.
- If you want to get the most from that expensive but worth every cent ticket, do a bit of research before you arrive. People don’t go to EP so much to see specific groups as the big acts often aren’t released until after tickets have sold out. Read up on the various areas, find out what they’re about and which area you might enjoy the most.
- If you’re working, book time off, get there early and leave late. Camp sites open at 9am on the Friday and close at 1pm on Monday. You’ve spent a lot of cash on your ticket, squeeze every moment out of it. Florence and the Machine headlined this year on Sunday at 22.30, finishing just before midnight. As tempting as a warm, soft bed might be, by Sunday night you’ll have settled into Festival mode and won’t be in such a rush to leave. One day tickets are available for the Sunday and with the additional people, comes a new energy that brings a refreshing uplift to otherwise tired partygoers.
- Think about food and budget for it. Seriously. If you plan to eat out all weekend it can get pricey. Expect to pay around €6 for a burger, more if you want to vary your diet with Thai, Mexican or Organic. I spoke to Festival goer who brought no money and another who’d spent over €500 on food, drink and ‘having a go at everything’ – she could have spent more. The first year we went to the Picnic we cooked all our meals in advance and took them to the campsite in cool boxes, allowing them to defrost slowly over the weekend before heating them up.
- Alcohol isn’t allowed into the arena when the bars are open and you will be searched. If you’re caught wandering around with a beer can during bar hours, security may take it from you. Play be the rules – there aren’t many.
- Stay hydrated. Drinking water taps are on site for topping up bottles and tea and coffee stalls plentiful.
- If you lose anything there’s a lost property tent and it’s worth checking it out. At the end of the weekend they’re left with boxes of iPhones, Samsungs and every other phone imaginable – don’t assume you’ve lost it forever.
- Be careful with your possessions, as with any large crowd, there are bound to be a few unsavouries around. That said, at no point did I feel threatened or uncomfortable.
- The campsites are adequate but basic, as are the toilet facilities. Take lots of wet wipes for in tent showering or simple, basic hygiene.
- Do check out some of the smaller events and venues. The highlight of our weekend was finding a band in the Voices Rising tent in Global Green at 1am Saturday morning. We stumbled across it after Underworld, danced way too energetically than our bodies generally allow but, hey, it’s a Festival weekend and it’s good to let loose sometimes.
For more information check out the Electric Picnic website where you’ll find detailed information as well as a questions and answers page.
About the author: Dee Sewell created GreensideUp.ie in summer 2009 as a social enterprise that helps people to grow their own vegetables without chemicals. An Electric Picnic regular, Dee shares community gardening tips at events like Electric Picnic and virtually through her blog and social media channels.