Solas Festival ~ Co. Carlow

18 08 2008

I’ve just returned from a little excursion in the Midlands. Huntington Castle, Co. Carlow should have been a great setting for, to use an exhausted phrase, a ’boutique style’ festival. However three things prevented Solas Festival from doing exactly what it said on the tin – 1. The weather, 2. the price, 3. the set up.

OK, so the weather can’t be helped and, regardless of the fact that we should be used to Irish weather , nobody expects torrential downpours in mid August. So despite the severe weather warnings I set off for Clonegall, Co. Carlow on Saturday afternoon. After a few minor, em, map-reading mishaps, I arrived at my destination. Despite the fact that Solas’s website stated that the carpark was beside ‘the pub’, there was no sign of said carpark and no signs to indicate it’s whereabouts. We did eventually find a ‘campervans only’ sign but when we asked the security guard where the carpark for regular cars was, he didn’t seem to know who he was working for, much less where the elusive carpark was. The mystery was eventually solved when locals told us that the original carpark had been flooded so there was a makeshift alternative in the local GAA grounds about a mile down the road. Right so, some sort of indication wouldn’t have gone amiss. Anyhow, after we eventually deciphered what the best way to park without getting stuck in a wheel-spinning nightmare would be, we hopped on the minibus which had been considerately organised to ferry festival-goers between the carpark and the festival grounds.

AS it was starting to get dark, we decided to set up camp asap and trudged our way through the mud to the campsite, which for some reason was the furthest point from the entrance with absolutely no lighting whatsoever to guide campers through the woods. When we arrived at the campsite we realised that it really was only the hardcore few who had decided to bear the rain as there were no more than about 100 tents dotted around the floodlit field (maybe this blinding light could’ve been used to light the pathway instead – just a thought). With such a small turnout it didn’t bode well for filling the 9 stages that had been laid on for the occasion.

It must be said, apart from an over-abundance of generic techno echoing from about 4 of the 9 tents/stages, the majority of acts that I caught were excellent and surprisingly energetic considering the dismal turnout. By far the highlights for me were definately the evocative God Is An Astronaut who’s atmospheric blend of rock really does something to stir up the senses and was a fitting soundtrack to the stormy conditions that enveloped the grounds at Huntington Castle. On the Sunday Ham Sandwich were as professional as ever with front woman Niamh Farrell commanding the Main Stage enthusiastically despite playing to a drenched crowd of literally 10 people. Irish reggae stars Intinn blew everyone away with an outstanding set in the Prism Tent on Saturday night, complete with on-stage harpist.

The concept was there, the location was there, Solas had all the potential to be a great little festival. But with the heavens opening up and ticket sales proving slow, it became apparent that the organisers didn’t have much in the way of contingency plans. The slow ticket sales were most likely due to the whopping €120.00 price tag. Considering that many major european festivals, with hundreds of international acts, costs roughly the same price (eg; Rock Werchter, Belgium – €165.00 for 4 days), it seems a little ambitious of the organisers to have asked this price for a fledgling 2 day festival with no major headliners to speak of. Ok so understandably they have overheads and artists to pay, but surely they could have saved in some areas in order to lower ticket prices – less stages perhaps?

Overall, the festival did not warrant the entry fee. Maybe these will prove to be teething problems and Spectrum events & co. will get it together on time to run an altogether more smooth version of Solas Festival next August. Maybe they won’t. Either way, I won’t be forking out €120.00 to find out.