“TO those of you who left home on Tuesday and only just got here, you’re very welcome,” comedian Karl Spain wryly quipped during his Sunday afternoon set at All Together Now in Curraghmore.
As thick clouds emptied their payloads upon the estate of the Marquis of Waterford, the chat about Friday’s chaotic traffic tailbacks had abated – just about.
“It took us seven hours to get in from Annestown with two kids in the back,” one reveller told the Waterford News & Star late on Friday night, following a stunningly riotous set by local act King Kong Company.
“Look, it was a bit of a pain to put it mildly, but once we got in here, we just left the bad vibes back in the car. We’re here now and we’re going to make the most of it.”
Earlier that afternoon, amidst tinfoil-hatted rumours which suggested the second staging of this festival had been cancelled, traffic on either side of Carrick-on-Suir ground to an M50-like standstill. Social media was justly crackling with indignation in a manner which hadn’t materialised last year, when a total of 15,000 tickets were sold for ‘ATN’, compared to the 22,500 snapped up this time around.
A 50 per cent increase in ticket availability, in addition to a traffic management plan which steered most driving to Curraghmore through Carrick led to unprecedented hold-ups through Carrickbeg, Crehana, Pickett’s Cross and Ballyquinn.
In an attempt to acknowledge the frustration of punters whose progress was akin to those led by Moses through Sinai; festival organisers released a statement that did little to quell the rising temperatures on the packed approaches to Curraghmore. If anything, it poured petrol upon the then strengthening flames.
“The home of the festival, the Curraghmore Estate, was built in the 15th century, with a complex network of surrounding roads,” the ATN statement read.
“Every new festival faces challenges. Everything in terms of car park, campsite and Main Arena opened on time. We have encouraged people to use Bus Éireann services, train services and car-pooling systems, to reduce the numbers of cars on the road.”
To quote but one of the many irate online posters: “I don’t think your PR person is reading the room. Don’t condescend a bunch of angry people. Car pooling is not a solution to what they’re going through. Don’t blame them for your absolute clanger.”
The decision not to permit even limited numbers of campers/festival goers access through Portlaw itself, given how well traffic moved through and around the environs of the village last year, will surely require revisiting ahead of the 2020 event.
As for the festival itself? The variety of talent on display was simply stunning and what a pleasure to report that King Kong Company held its own amidst a stellar line-up featuring Patti Smith, Orbital, Fontaines DC, Neneh Cherry and The National.
In truth, Mark Graham’s crew did a hell of a lot more than that, stealing the opening night limelight, sending a packed big top into as riotous a fervour as common law permits. My verdict: they’re a stadium act in waiting.
The relatively benign Saturday afternoon conditions gave the audience a chance to sit back and savour the RTE Concert Orchestra performing some of Leonard Cohen’s best loved numbers on the Main Stage, including ‘Marianne’, ‘Democracy’ and, of course, ‘Hallelujah’.
Under the baton of Gavin Maloney, the orchestra were joined by Phelim Drew, Suzanne Savage, David Keenan, Patrick O’Laoghaire, Saint Sister and the hauntingly good Mick Flannery. And what a set they provided a grateful crowd with, none of whom moved when the occasional drop of rain fell. And when the concert drew to a conclusion, the audience justly rose as one, with the adoration for the genial and greatly missed Cohen who enthralled so many Irish audiences over the years, lovingly palpable.
With tributes paid on stage by several artists to the late John Reynolds (in addition to a special memorial lion carved in his honour on site), many performers also thanked Lord and Lady Waterford for opening up their estate to host this event.
Among those expressing gratitude was Damon Albarn, frontman of the re-assembled The Good, The Bad & The Queen, who surely produced the set of the weekend on Sunday night. The band, which also features afrobeat drummer Tony Allen, Paul Simonon (The Clash) on bass and guitarist Simon Tong (The Verve), engaged an enamoured audience from start to finish.
Performing tracks from their second album, ‘Merrie Land’, Albarn led the line with his adrenaline levels full to overflowing. Their set, a stream of consciousness lament for post-Brexit Britain, told a harsh story in the best manner I’ve heard these past three years. A supergroup brought the curtain down on a super weekend and probably found an entire new audience for their music in so doing.
“I’ve never seen a festival like this,” said Dungarvan actor Moe Dunford during a recorded interview for RTE Radio One’s ‘Arena’ show, hosted by Seán Rocks.
“I’ve been to many festivals and sometimes I get a bit of a dodgy vibe, but every vibe about this is safe, cool and relaxed. It’s deadly.” And so say all of us, Moe. See you all next year, minus the traffic hold-ups, hopefully.