Home Lifestyle Electric Picnic Weekend Read: The Electric Picnic is great … but it needs to...

Weekend Read: The Electric Picnic is great … but it needs to clean up its act

So the Electric Picnic has sold out again in record time. Early-bird, loyalty, family camping, campervan tickets all gone, and once they’re gone they’re gone. Well that is until they come back on sale again, or re-sale again.

But then again I would argue that the Electric Picnic sold out a long time ago.

The boutique festival founded by the late John Reynolds with its family-friendly, eco-friendly ethos has sold out to the corporate mantra of big business, where the bottom line is the bottom line and the bigger the better.

However, it is abundantly clear to anyone who wants to see that all the Electric Picnic organisers and owners, Live Nation, ever seem to talk about is demand and the need to make it bigger.

I have never heard them talk about making the EP better and in fact over recent years the evidence is that the original driving forces behind the event have been dropped and standards have slipped.

No amount of planting trees in Africa ‘for everyone who attended the Picnic’ and no amount of greenwashing by cleverly involving environmental organisations and piggy-backing off in-vogue campaigns and activists in Global Green and MindField discussions will hide the reality that the Electric Picnic needs to clean up its act.

The Electric Picnic is the most popular and most successful music festival in Ireland but it is not a charity or community event and should not get a free pass or a blind eye solely because it is deemed ‘to be good for the area’.

It obviously doesn’t matter who plays or performs at the EP as the event sells out each year well in advance of a single act being announced. The business that controls the Electric Picnic also own Ticketmaster.

The expensive tickets are paid for up front months in advance of any line-up being revealed. Fans are literally buying a pig-in-a-poke and flock to the event regardless of who is on the bill.

The only other circumstances that people part with money in such a fashion is when they buy a lucky-bag.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love the Electric Picnic. I have attended most years since it started in 2004; I love the vibe and atmosphere generally; the sense of fun and anticipation; meeting old friends, making new ones; checking in on favourite bands, discovering new ones. That’s why we scramble and queue for tickets each year and the fear of missing out.

There are great things about the EP and how it is organised. I live ten minutes away from the site and I’m chuffed that it takes place in Laois, that it puts us on the map (well sort of, as it seems that most of the big acts and the majority of festival goers don’t really know where they are half the time, other than in a lovely field about an hour from Dublin. It’s the Dublin festival equivalent of flying Ryanair…)

John Whelan at this year’s Electric Picnic

The traffic management is superb. It has been well honed over the years and works like clockwork. The Cosby Hall site in Stradbally just out the road from Portlaoise, the train station and proximity of the M7, M8 and N80 and the parallels with the nearby Ploughing Championship site lend themselves to a perfect location.

Neither should this be scoffed at or taken for granted when we consider the traffic congestion mess and delays at the Altogether Now event in Waterford earlier this summer.

It was also good to see so many Gardai highly visible and helpful at this year’s Picnic. They were constantly interacting with the revellers in a good humoured way and on one occasion when I lost my bearings in the dark a female Garda came to the rescue with advice and reliable directions.

I’m as proud as punch that Laois is the home of the Electric Picnic. ‘Welcome to Laois the Home of the Picnic’.

I want to see those signs on the approach roads to the festival off the motorways and such banners fluttering in the breeze along the streets of Stradbally.

Everyone loves a good Picnic and how great it was to finally see a dedicated Laois stage at the EP, in its 16th year. That’s to become a regular fixture thanks to Music Generation Laois and what a platform for emerging and local talent.

This year, too, as an estimated 60,000 fans flocked to the fields in Cosby Hall in Stradbally, the grazing grounds for sheep for the other months of the year, we defied the weather forecast and the sun shone down on Stradbally fields forever. I even got sunburnt!

That’s all good stuff. But the EP has become a mixed bag, a lucky dip of the good, the bad and the ugly. I’m not being a killjoy or a curmudgeon, I just want the Picnic to take a good hard look at itself and to improve, to be better and not just look to get bigger at all cost and at any price.

For me the most powerful performance of this year’s Picnic was Billie Eilish, who I must admit wasn’t on my radar until I got a tip off from my granddaughter, Kayla. She’s just turned 7. What a potent set from that 17 year-old bundle of energy, talent and attitude.

By the same token I am absolutely certain that the organisers got lucky that there was no one seriously hurt in the rush, crush and pushing in the build up to and during the Billie Eilish performance. The crowd control measures were inadequate to cope with the surge of fans. It was potentially very dangerous.

Overall the quality of stewarding and security at the EP leaves a lot to be desired. People wearing security and staff bibs are not always aware of their responsibilities or even the site lay-out and facilities.

Many of them seem out of their depth and more interested in an easy life. It would be far better if the EP organisers put as much effort into fan welfare and safety as they do into confiscating the odd can of beer being smuggled in, or needlessly forcing them to be binged down at a security point.

But as illustrated by the switching inside the perimeter of the Salty Dog stage, it is more about selling more beer, inside the arena.

At one security check on the Sunday this year I saw one young girl’s Kerry flag being confiscated despite strenuous appeals to leave it with her on All Ireland day.

It was just the flag with no pole or stanchion. The irony that dozens of fellas were walking through at the same time in their Dublin jerseys seemed lost on the security chief. No flags allowed, he ruled.

However, no such vigilance or anything remotely resembling enforcement of common decency by security or stewards to prevent or curb the escalation of public urinating at the Picnic.

The carry-on is becoming more commonplace at the Picnic, even in broad daylight and to say the least is far from family-friendly. Men of all ages are quite literally taking the piss all over the place, virtually on top of others, sometimes just around the corner from available urinals. (Unlike the other toilets, there are never any queues at the male urinals).

I am not a fool and I do realise that with drink taken, someone can get short-taken but this is going way beyond that and is so brazen not only in the campsites, including the campervan site, but also throughout the main arena in broad daylight that it is borderline indecent exposure being totally ignored by stewards.

When I challenged a few culprits I was told in no uncertain terms to piss off, that I wasn’t security and what was my problem, ‘was I queer or something’.

The #EP experience is starkly different for the tens of thousands of fans ensconced inside the festival perimeter and campsites for the entire weekend than for the visiting media, VIPs, those in the more expensive glamping zones and even day-trippers out for a few hours to sample the delights the Picnic has to offer.

Central to the Electric Picnic weekend for the vast majority of fans are the general campsites.

The Irish Times distributed at the Electric Picnic was in a plastic bag

My biggest complaint and primary concern about the Electric Picnic is that these campsites as they are currently laid out, managed, serviced and maintained are unsafe. They are cramped and chaotic and recklessly reliant on nothing going wrong.

There are potential fire safety, health and safety and personal safety issues, which are glaringly obvious.

They are a mess and a free-for-all where everyone is left to their own devices.

The number of toilet units in the campsites was reduced and were so disgustingly and unspeakably manky by 10am each morning as to be unsafe and unusable.

Those with no other choice had no other option than the bank of 15 toilets serving the Andy Warhol and Janis Joplin Campsites, which were being shared in the Campervan Parking zone had constant queues.

This is not only unsafe but also unfair to the fans who forked out a high enough price for their tickets. (For the record the Waste Disposal area for caravan and campervan chemical toilets was also unusable from early on as the raw faeces flowed out of the pipes and back out onto the ground).

There were two water points servicing this entire area, which ran out at one stage. Neither could I locate any wash-up, washing nor shower facilities, even though I am assured there are some?

And no amount of white-washing or greenwashing stunts can conceal the reality that from an environmental and sustainability point of view the Electric Picnic is a pure joke.

One of the most interesting encounters I had at this year’s Picnic was with Stradbally woman Ros Larkin and her contingent of friends who were having a ball in the Trailer Park area.

Ros was still using an Electric Picnic beaker which she first got at the festival 13 years ago. Full proof that it can be done and that fans will embrace and even be willing to pay for such initiatives.

Stradbally woman Ros Larkin with her 13-year-old re-usable Electric Picnic beaker

The latter day #EP has gone backways in this regard. It can brand everything else at its merchandise stands except get its vendors to embrace reusable Electric Picnic beakers for alcohol and other refreshments and meanwhile the mountain of single use plastics mount up across the festival arena and campsites.

Why not have reusable beakers, even branded souvenir ones instead of the single use disposable plastics which are strewn everywhere at the Picnic?

Having discussions about the environment and extinction revolution in the sanctuary of the MindField tent are pious and pointless platitudes as eco-organisations allow themselves to be used to give a veneer of environmental respectability to an event which clearly doesn’t remotely practice what it preaches.

If there was any lingering doubt about this well then it’s clearly demonstrated in how the organisers have completely washed their hands of the dirt and debris and the thousands of abandoned tents and sleeping bags which litter the EP site each year, and once again this year.

The organisers doing little more that to ‘urge’ and ‘encourage’ fans to take them home. With a token few being recovered and salvaged the rest are ending up in the dump. The Electric Picnic organisers share the shame and the blame for this appalling waste.

Even the Irish Times seems to miss the point as it distributed its weekend edition free of charge, adorned with the image of our new heroine, Billy Eilish, neatly wrapped up in plastic!

The shame is that it doesn’t have to be this way with the sorry state of the campsites and abandoned tents. It doesn’t happen at other festivals or indeed in the VIP campsites at the Picnic or the exemplary BYEco campsite which is so well managed and maintained at EP.

The Electric Picnic is great, but it needs to clean up its act.

Instead of just talking about making it bigger, I wish the organisers would show some leadership and make it better.

They have lots of scope, time and resources to do so for #EP2020. I really hope they do, because everyone loves a great Picnic.

SEE ALSO – Check out all the LaoisToday Electric Picnic coverage here