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Forest Fest: Stage set for music-mad lawyer bringing Sister Sledge and Suede to home county

Phillip Meagher Forest fest

A music-mad solicitor who had a dream of creating a hassle-free music festival, is bringing global stars and a €1million bonanza to a Laois village.

Philip Meagher is swapping the court room for a main stage after creating a weekend for revellers who have outgrown conventional music festivals.

After co-ordinating last year’s inaugural Forest Fest in Emo, he has lured music heavyweights Sister Sledge, Suede, James and Scottish twins The Proclaimers later this month.

Philip Meagher Forest Fest
Forest Fest promoter, Philip Meagher, is bringing the three-day music and arts festival back for a second year to Emo village from July 21-23. Picture: Alf Harvey.

The music and arts fest, running from July 21-23, features almost 100 acts and is set to swell the village’s population to almost 10,000 each night.

More than 400 staff will be employed, including 40 local teenagers.

“A few years ago, I was listening to my Spotify hit list and it was all bands like The Stunning, Something Happens and Aslan, all these great Irish acts,” said Portlaoise native Philip (54).

“I was finding I couldn’t relate to other festivals for over 30s – they seemed like so much hassle, both getting into and getting out of them, even down to the food and toilet facilities.

“We were overseas in 2019 and I got working on a laptop on my dream of an alternative festival – having had good contacts from running other events –  and within three-four hours, I had a quarter of the line-up booked.

Soul legends Sister Sledge, featuring Kathy Sledge, above, will headline on Saturday night at this year’s Forest Fest in Emo

“I genuinely wanted to create a local alternative to Electric Picnic and do it at a more intimate, indie level with the highest quality bands and a really good experience for an older audience.”

Covid put the brakes on the boutique festival in 2020 and 2021 but last year, the dream became reality.

The Stunning were swiftly followed by Something Happens, Paddy Casey and Damien Dempsey.

This year, Suzanne Vega, Peter Hook and the Light, Gabrielle and Alabama 3 join a growing list of global acts.

Father-of-two Meagher told how the financial and time demands of juggling his legal career alongside a weekend-long festival, are huge.

Last winter, he used the time difference to book bands touring in Australian, American and Canadian cities – and convinced them to gig in Emo.

The main stage at Forest Fest, the three-day music and arts festival returning for a second year to Emo from July 21-23.

“We would estimate that hotels, local shopping and retail will make in the region of €1million within the immediate area, but towns such as Portlaoise, Monasterevin and Portarlington also do well,” he said.

“It is the easiest festival you will ever go to, the site is 16 acres but you can get from one stage to another in a few minutes.”

Forest Fest is staged at Emo GAA grounds, next door to OPW-run Emo Court, and dedicated children’s entertainment also takes place each day in partnership with the Port Art Collective and Jane Murray’s Broken Theatre group.

An added attraction at this year’s festival is the Forest Fleadh, featuring trad and folk giants including Paul Brady, Sharon Shannon and Stockton’s Wing.

Campervan and caravan tickets are sold out but for weekend/day passes and more information, see forestfest.ie.

SEE ALSO – ‘Ireland’s easiest festival’ – Brilliant layout of Forest Fest shown in finalised map

SEE ALSO – Check out all our Forest Fest coverage here

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