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Wednesday 23 August 2017

Chris Wasser: Will an extra 5,000 music fans ruin Electric Picnic?

Florence and the Machine
Florence and the Machine

Here we go again. The run-up to this year's festival season is in full swing this week, with the folks behind the Electric Picnic revealing the first 36 acts on the bill.

Are we excited? Well, the party doesn't start until September 4, but with the glorious Manic Street Preachers on the bill, I for one am super- excited.

We could talk about headliners Florence and the Machine (sure to attract the young 'uns) and Underworld (music fans of a certain vintage will come out for those lads), but there are more important issues at hand.

Important issues such as Festival Republic promoter Melvin Benn's plans to expand the Picnic capacity from 42,000 last year to 47,000 this coming autumn.

reservations

Now, if you consider the fact that in 2013 the Picnic capacity was 32,000 and that the festival's sell-out rate in recent years has been steady, that's an incredible jump.

Even more so for an event that started out as a miniature, one-day indie jamboree in 2004. So best of luck to Melvin and the gang.

On a more personal note, however, I'd have my own reservations about the growing size of what many deem to be a "boutique" gathering.

The Picnic is no secret. Even Benn himself has said it: this is "Ireland's festival", and the interest continues to grow every year.

Would organisers have dared to dream so big were it not for the absence of Oxegen, that glorified Leaving Cert concert in Punchestown that kicked the bucket in 2013?

Maybe, maybe not. Melvin's plan is clear: go big or go home. But bigger doesn't always mean better, so what's wrong with keeping things the way they are?

I love the Picnic. I adore its various woodland, speciality and spoken-word elements and the musical treats one stumbles upon far and away from that ginormous main stage, generally reserved for the industry's Big Boys and Girls.

That sounds a little airy-fairy but it's true. Which is why I'd be concerned about s haring Stradbally Estate with yet another 5,000 people.

It doesn't take a genius to realise that if you keep upping the numbers at a festival renowned for its cool and ever-so collected ambience, it will just become another noisy weekend in the park. Or, in this case, a giant field in Laois.

Let's not forget that this is a money-making game. If, say, organisers push the boat out further for 2016 and go for the 50,000 mark, thus increasing security, camping spaces and whatnot, things could get very, very expensive, not to mention very, very packed.

The acts will get bigger (that isn't always a good thing). The hipsters (still an integral part of EP's target market) will lose interest. The crowds will get younger. The so-called tranquil atmosphere will disappear.

I don't want it to happen. For the same reason that I plan on avoiding Glastonbury at all costs for as long as humanly possible, I dread to think of what might happen if the Picnic gets too big for its own boots.

Yes, I know, there's a big difference between Glastonbury and Electric Picnic, but the point is, do you really want to attend another messy, over-populated, run-of-the-mill music weekender? Of course not.

The folks behind Longitude, Knockanstockan and even Body & Soul (an offshoot of the Picnic, staged every year in Co Westmeath) have the right idea. Keep it tidy, keep 'em interested.

Clearly, Irish audiences continue to go nuts for massive outdoor events under grey skies (witness Ed Sheeran's sell outs), so again, there's no problem when it comes to ticket sales.

But let's take things one step at a time, shall we?

There's a reason the Electric Picnic has such a valued and thoroughly deserved reputation as "Ireland's festival". Why would anyone want to mess that up?

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