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Tuesday 21 August 2018

Sister of the soul asylum

Festival organiser Avril Stanley talks about taking body and soul to its magical home at Ballinlough Castle

The Body & Soul Festival kicks off on Saturday in Ballinlough Castle Gardens, Co Westmeath. Now in its second year, the event has already gained a reputation for revolutionising the festival scene as we know it in Ireland.

Electric Picnic revellers have enjoyed a mini version of Body & Soul since its inception, and will recognise it as a combination of music, art and holistic therapies -- all served up with a sprinkling of fairy dust.

The ethos is strongly borrowed from The Burning Man: people participation is key and profit takes a back seat. We spoke to Avril Stanley, the maverick responsible for the imagination -- and realisation -- of the enchanted festival.

I put on parties in places like Yosemite [National Park, California] and San Francisco and they were all based on the Celtic Calendar. Then I went back to England and worked on festivals such as The Big Chill for five or six years. After that, I was called back to Ireland to set up Body & Soul (an area at the Electric Picnic). Just putting on events was a little soulless for me -- I was looking for something with a little more meaning.



THE LOCATION, BALLINLOUGH CASTLE GARDENS, IS MAGICAL. DID IT TAKE YOU LONG TO LOCATE IT?

No, it happened by itself, to be honest. We ran part of a festival going on there eight years ago and we fell in love at first sight.

It is one of most beautiful sites I've ever seen. Places like this scream at you to do something. There's a lake, woodlands, walled gardens, 300 acres of manicured lawns -- in terms of nature, it's all there. Also, the people who own the site are really amazing and they are happy for us to turn it into a permanent festival. They are happy for us to carve into the landscape and envision a future that is above and beyond the weekend.



DO YOU THINK IRISH PEOPLE HAVE BECOME MORE OPEN TO HOLISTIC THERAPIES THESE DAYS?

There is more of an appetite for events that are about more than the music these days. I don't see Body & Soul as being spiritual, metaphysical or alternative.

We're really about looking at things from a different perspective and turning what a festival is on its head. It's as much about what we are creating for people as what people are bringing to the table themselves. You can participate with it and bring your own slice of music, magic, and costume -- whatever you want.



THE STANDALONE FESTIVAL WAS LAUNCHED IN A CLIMATE OF ECONOMIC WOE. WAS THAT INTENTIONAL?

We're going through a really tough time as a country. Things are falling apart and unravelling. People have to find a new may of relating to the world we live in and a new way of relating to one another. We have to re-evaluate what's important and what's not. Jobs are being lost; people's families are under pressure. It's not about how much money you have, what car you drive and what shoes you're wearing any more. And I think some festivals can tap into that more than others . . .



MOST PEOPLE ASSOCIATE FESTIVALS WITH DEBAUCHERY AND EPIC HANGOVERS. CONSIDERING THE HOLISTIC ANGLE, COULD ONE return FROM BODY & SOUL REJUVENATED?

There were 1,500 people there last year. I've never seen people so happy in my life, to be honest. There was such positivity. Some people were rocking out all night. Others spent their entire weekend in the healing area and the hot tub. Some brought their children and went to bed early. The only feedback we got was that they wished it were longer.

This festival has been handpicked by a group of people in their 30s who have partied until they have dropped. We are creating the kind of event we want to go to ourselves. It would be really difficult to leave not feeling rejuvenated.



WHERE DO YOU SEE THE FESTIVAL GOING?

We never want it to be too big. We don't want it to lose its soul and be anything more than it is now: a really intimate event. At the moment, tickets are capped at 3,500. Next year there will be 4,500. We will grow it each year, but I don't ever see it going beyond 8,000. It's the type of site that could hold that number, but I think if you get too big you lose the reason why you're doing it.

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