Well, here we are several days too late with our comprehensive (read: inane rambling) review of the Indie Pendence festival – an event that really is unique in terms of setting, crowd, vibe and, for something that’s free, sheer scale. Check out our pics and interviews to come including Gemma Hayes (who tells us about her side project with My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields) and MayKay from Fight Like Apes who reveals details on the band’s forthcoming debut album.
To fully appreciate the crowd that comes to the Indie Pendence festival, now in it’s third year, a crash course in its history is needed. For years a festival has run from the New Square in Mitchelstown, a venue anyone who has driven from Dublin to Cork will have passed. The gentle slope of the square down towards the main N8 through the town makes the setting ideal for the erection of a large, festival sized stage.
Whilst always a rural community event, running in a town the size of Mitchelstown the festival has always been on the cusp of being a large national draw. It is with achieving this balance that organisers have always struggled. Constantly packing the emerging Irish popstars of the day onto its bill (Boyzone, Samantha Mumba and others from the Louis Walsh stable played the “old” festival), event organisers eventually ticketed the event, with disastrous consequences.
Showing a complete lack of understanding what would draw a young crowd, the festival organisers scraped the barrel of pop mediocrity in the search of “international” acts (Gemma Hayes last weekend recalled seeing Danni Minogue at the festival in 2003). After several spectacular failures which saw acts like Coolio and Eamon (remember him? Of I Don’t Want You Back fame?) perform to underwhelming crowds, the Mitchelstown Festival collapsed under the weight of significant debt in 2004.
In came Shane Dunne and his crew in 2006. Re-branding the festival as Indie Pendence and having a much clearer focus as to what kind of event they wanted to run, Shane and the organising committee have rebuilt and marketed the free festival to a wider market, drawing punters from around the country into this local festival which still retains its community ethos and vibe.
It is the rural community crowd that dominates the attendance on Friday, as local girl Gemma Hayes takes the stage. Hailing from Ballyporeen, Co. Tipperary, a mere 8 miles from Mitchelstown, Hayes is clearly thrilled at the occasion and delivers and often upbeat set suitable for the night’s headlining act.
“I was in two minds before I did the show,” she later told Guess List, “I thought should I try to second guess what people wanted or do what I do and hope to God they like it. So I went for the latter. “It was brilliant. I have to say I found myself more nervous for this show than I’ve been in a very long time. I think it’s because I could see a lot of familiar faces and that’s what freaked me out.”
Saturday will be, for many, the highlight of the weekend. Well supported by Cork act Fred, Fight Like Apes bring their usual mayhem to Indie Pendence for a second consecutive year. A much more “indier” crowd lap up the performance that includes MayKay getting drenched in water, Tom being assaulted with a set of plastic golf clubs and Pockets adding the percussion of two saucepans to hits from the band’s 2 EPs and forthcoming album.
Saturday’s headliner Cathy Davey proves to be a big draw and the various demographics that make up the pick n’mix of a crowd that eventually emerge from nearby pubs all seem suitably impressed.
Sunday proves to be the day things go mental. The Flaws come on and do a good show, as do Ham Sandwich, again a returning act to the festival (Podge and his television hat were permanent fixtures about the place for the whole weekend last year).
When they’re done the New Square fills. And I mean fills. Conservative estimates predict about 7,000 people pack the venue for the Indiepop-by-numbers set of The Blizzards. Throwing in trumpets to add a ska-light element to the set, the place is mobbed by teenage girls. Photographers (myself included though I use the term photographer loosely) who have enjoyed free reign in front of the stage are ordered backstage. Security is redeployed to cope with the masses of girls to the front (and later, back) of the stage. Post-gig a makeshift “meet and greet” section is hastily made up for the group of fans who refuse to get away from the backstage exit until the meet the band.
Confused and feeling very out of touch, Guess List makes its way back to the sanctuary of friends in a nearby pub where a pint awaits. The festival, and its club night which hosted The Aftermath, Vesta Varro and giveamanakick, is a resounding success but doubts are cast over its future.
Shane Dunne has ruled himself out of running next year’s event in its current format, and once again questions are asked as to whether a ticketed event would be more suitable. For an 8 man team to organise, promote and successfully implement a festival of this size in their spare time, free of charge is a remarkable achievement that takes its toll.
The festival just about broke even this year, under great stress and a lack of co-operation from many local quarters. Indie Pendence 09, despite this year’s success, is by no means a certainty.
Check back here for more interviews and photos from the weekend over the next few days.