The Electric Picnic is entering its 15th year, but two Stradbally men say they were the first through the gates back when it all kicked off in 2004.
Steeped in the farming community of Stradbally, Bobby Miller and Brendan Hennessy swapped their farming clothes for festival rigouts that weekend, and little did they know they would be two of the first people to grace the now famous arena of the Picnic.
They tell us their stories of the Electric Picnic below.
What’s your relationship with the Electric Picnic?
I suppose our relationship has varied down through the years. From being one of the first through the gates, to becoming workers in and around the site, to just becoming big fans of the weekend. We never miss a Picnic and that won’t change either.
Before the Electric Picnic came, did you think Stradbally could be the home for such an event?
Well, we knew that Stradbally could host a festival. Back in 1999, we had a Macra festival, nicknamed Woodvale ’99. It was up in the stable yard in the Hall, and we had a band called Joanna & Tequilla Sunrise playing, they were a great band.
Sylvester did the food and Dunne’s ran the bar, it was a great weekend, with about 1500 people packed in. We like to think we planted the seed of a festival in Thomas Cosby’s head. We never thought that Stradbally could be the home of the biggest music festival in Ireland.
What’s your earliest Electric Picnic memory?
The earliest memory would be back in 2004, when the Electric Picnic started out as a one day event. We didn’t really expect much to be honest, we got a morning of farming done and spruced ourselves up and said we would go in early.
We wondered down past Sylvester’s shop and turned the corner down the avenue because at the beginning EP goers were allowed enter that way. We got to the gates and they were locked, so we went back out and headed down town and the place was full of people on buses.
So, we did a spot of pub hopping, mingling with locals and strangers until we decided to head up again. When we got to the gates they were locked again but there was a security man there and he told us to hang on. We were at the front chatting away with him, like two lads about to go out and look at cattle across the field.
We were all gathered at the gates, like the scene from Willy Wonka with our eyes all gazing at what lied in front. Then he opened the gates and we wandered in and the security man walked ahead telling us where to go. That was it, we were two of the first people to enter the Electric Picnic and we haven’t looked back since.
What’s your favourite thing about the Picnic?
Bobby – Mine would have to be the Body and Soul. In the early years it was a great spot to go and relax, unwind after a day of craziness. DJs playing till five in the morning and a place to lie down, what else could you want. It is a lot bigger and louder now but nonetheless it’s a spot that I always look forward to.
Brendan – Just the whole atmosphere of the Picnic can’t be beaten. There is something special about the place. You have all walks of life in the world there, and it doesn’t matter what age, class, race or nationality you are, everyone fits in. It’s just a great festival.
What’s the most memorable story you remember from the Picnic?
Bobby – One thing springs to mind and that was back in ’07 or ’08, when we were asked to help tow cars out. There was this nice-looking Merc or BMW stuck, and a posh crowd from Dublin had packed away all their stuff, but they had to empty it all out to get at the tow hook. It was in the boot where the spare wheel was, and I was helping unpack the luggage when all of a sudden, a bag of white stuff, and it wasn’t baby powder, fell out of a backpack. They were quick to grab it and hide it, and I helped them out of the muck, definitely a memory that sticks out.
Brendan – I think my memory is back from around the same year, and we were driving around pulling cars out of muck. Back then if you had a tractor, a big sticker in the window, it would get you into a lot of places. It was early in the morning, we had just got in and we had driven in. We pulled up at the site gates and they let us in, so we drove around the arena and pulled up alongside the 2FM Roadcaster and we had the radio listening to them. Next thing they said that two men had pulled up in a tractor and were waving in at them, that was hilarious.
What one thing would you change about the Picnic if you could?
Bobby – The age profile is something that could be changed. Compared to the start, there is a lot younger people at the Electric Picnic now and sometimes they can be a little messy and immature, and some older people tend to think twice before coming because of that. Stricter enforcement of rejecting unaccompanied underage ticket holders would be something that could be changed.
Brendan – The arena could be expanded. The size crowd is increasing so they should look at expanding the arena along with it. Maybe they could allow people exit through the Main Gate again, you can understand why people would have to go down the Cork road to enter, but if people are looking to get into the town to get taxis or lifts, and even locals just want to walk home, then they should be allowed leave through the Main Gates.
What are you most looking forward to this year?
Bobby – One of my favourite things is always the Jerry Fish tent, and my annual pilgrimage to see the Frank and Waters play there. I don’t know why, but that is something that I always look forward to.
Brendan – There is a band from the nineties, called Garbage, I’m looking forward to seeing them. The weekend is always great anyway, regardless of who is playing.
What’s the best act you’ve ever seen at the Picnic?
Bobby – Two stand out the most. Damon Albarn and The Good, The Bad and The Queens was a great spectacle, it was an amazing musical display and I’ll never forget that. The other was The Frames, the first year they performed, they were brilliant. If you just wonder around the arena, you’ll see a lot bands that last in your mind and you might never have heard of them before.
Brendan – The Killers were the best I think. That whole set was something else like, I can remember one lad we were with took off his shirt and start swinging it around in the air, that’s how good they were. It’s mad to think that I’m here in a field, five minutes from home, listening to The Killers who are one of the biggest and best bands around. It was the same last year with Duran Duran.
Who’s the most famous person you’ve come across?
One thing you get that is great about the picnic is that it attracts all sorts, including the famous. We have often stood beside a famous person at the main stage or in a queue at the bar, but in the whole emotion of the festival, you wouldn’t bother talking to them or getting a photo.
What does the Electric Picnic mean to the area of Stradbally?
It has put the place on the map, everyone knows where Stradbally is and it’s the place everyone wants to be in the first week of September. The effect it has on the local economy is untold, it is just great and so important now for the town. From the rally in the first weekend of August, to the Electric Picnic, the town is jammers and the place is hopping.
Perhaps in the future, the people of the town could consider a month long festival and capitalise on the fame of the location even more. We have proven that this little community can host the biggest of events and that’s great.
What would you like to try at the Picnic that you have never done before?
One thing we wouldn’t do is go swimming in that lake, that’s for sure! Probably camping is the thing that stands out the most. We have done a lot at the picnic but never camped. I suppose living so close to the site means that the luxury of your own bed overpowers the late-night rave in the campsite, but it’s something that we have both considered.
What would you tell people that have never attended the festival, would you encourage them to go?
We would encourage everyone to attend the Electric Picnic at some point. It is the sort of event that should be on everyone’s bucket list. The atmosphere of the weekend makes the Electric Picnic worth attending alone. It brings serious joy to everyone that attends and once it’s over, you’re already looking forward to the next year’s edition.
Once you hit the fields of the Electric Picnic, all your worries and problems can be forgotten about and you are transported to a different world. Like we said before, no matter your age, class, race or nationality, it is a festival for everyone.
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