Hotel Doolin is set to be a hive of thriving activity from 16-18 June as it hosts Doolin Folk Festival, a festival that takes its inspiration from the great festivals of the 70’s and 80’s like Lisdoonvarna. Tucked away in the magical atmosphere of West Clare, you’ll be whisked off on a musical journey through folk time, style and culture. This year’s lineup includes
Tucked away in the magical atmosphere of West Clare, you’ll be whisked off on a musical journey through folk time, style and culture. This year’s lineup includes Lisa Hannigan; The Stunning; Sharon Shannon; Vieux Farka Touré; Altan; Duke Special & Ulaid; Mundy; Beoga; Le Vent Du Nord; Dubh-linn; John Spillane; Flook; Hedge Schools; Dermot Barrett; The Heathers;The Kane Sisters with John Blake; Edel Vaughan; The Horsenecks; Dermot McLaughlin & Robbie Hannon; Sheila Garry & Elaine Hogan.
We caught up with festival programmer Connor Byrne, a traditional musician himself, hailing from the Moore musical dynasty – nephew of Christy.
Doolin Folk Festival is now in its fifth year, so it’s a relatively young festival. It’s been described as filling a niche so what is it about the festival that sets it apart and brings audiences back each year?
The appeal of the Doolin Folk Festival, which takes place at Hotel Doolin can be many things. The location and the welcome that the audience gets from its organisers, Hotel Doolin and the village. There is an intimacy like no other festival between both audience and the performer; part of the reason for the success of the festival is that we stay small, in a friendly and safe environment.
It takes inspiration from the great festivals of the 70’s and 80’s, how would you describe that magic to someone who had not experienced them before?
The legacy of Clare festivals, such as Lisdoonvarna is without question! As the programmer of the Doolin Folk Festival, I always loved how they mixed acclaimed traditional artists with popular folk and rock acts of the time. The idea of Uilleann Piper, Séamus Ennis sharing a stage with the likes of Rory Gallagher or Thin Lizzy! That’s really cool to me. In a way, they introduced the magic of Séamus’s incredible piping to a wider audience, and deservedly so! Hotel Doolin, as organisers and promoters, and I as programmer aspire to do the same, and it has been a successful venture so far.
For those unfamiliar with Doolin can you maybe share with us what makes Doolin so special?
Doolin, to me, is one of the most beautiful spots. So much so, I moved down here over three years ago! The village is positioned between both the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher, which looks out over the Atlantic Ocean.
Many lovers of traditional music look on Doolin as a mecca for traditional Irish music. We are so grateful to the many musicians of Doolin, including the late great Micho Russell, who always made a point of inviting audiences from all over the globe to this magical place! They came in their droves, and still do over forty years later!
What size audience does the festival attract? Tell us a bit more about the setting for the festival which seems to be very much focused on the communal spirit.
The festival holds approximately 1200 punters and takes place on the grounds of Hotel Doolin. There are two stages – The Marquee and the White Horse Sessions, with non-stop music over three days. The festival site is tight but cosy. Great food, and drink available, with open fires, and the best of traditional and folk music from county Clare, and beyond!
Does a lot go around the festival, such as sessions etc?
As well as the two main-stages, you are bound to catch many spontaneous sessions in Hotel Doolin’s bar, Fitz’s. There are also other pubs in the village, where you would see the same, including McGann’s, O’Connor’s & McDermot’s. No matter what the weather is like, it is always mighty craic!
You’re a trad musician yourself, do you get time to take part in sessions yourself during the festival?
For sure! Normally at the end of the 3 days, when the work is done, I join in on a session. It’s always a great feeling having your musician friends from all over in one place. I’d be mad not to have a tune or three!
As an individual, what do you take away from the festival?
I’m so grateful to Hotel Doolin’s manager, Donal Minihane for asking me five years ago to be programmer of their festival. Our aim was to create something truly unique, for both punter and performer! Seeing people coming back every year, is a credit to the staff of the hotel, the festival team, and the musicians who have played for us over the five years. What I take away from the festival each year, is the same as the audience. Special musical memories, and great friendship.
This year you have two big international acts Vieux Farka Touré and Quebec’s ‘Le Vent Du Nord’. Do you always try to incorporate international acts?
Up until last year, our line-ups consisted of mainly Irish acts, with a few exceptions. However, we always try to make it a little different, in a way that compliments the music of Doolin. I am a great fan of Vieux Farka Touré and the music of Mali! I’ve worked with him before on other festivals, and am so excited about the prospect of having him at Hotel Doolin! The same with Le Vent Du Nord, who are an incredible live act. I remember seeing them in Belfast nearly twenty years ago and been totally gobsmacked by their music and their performance. North West Clare will welcome them with open arms
You also have a strong focus on local talent which Doolin doesn’t seem to be short of. What are the local highlights for you this year?
Highlights for me this year includes Sharon Shannon, Dubhlinn, Clare singer Edel Vaughan; singer songwriters David Hope & Siomha, as well as Ennistymon natives, Steve & Joe Wall of the band The Stunning. County Clare is in no short supply of many outstanding traditional and folk musicians, and we endeavour each year to showcase this.
Are there many festival firsts this year? What are you particularly looking forward to?
Along with all of the acts this year, the International element is something I’m very much looking forward to. Hotel Doolin are also expanding on the choice of food and drink that is available. Our Production team, who have very high standards, also seek to make improvements on sound, stage and lighting every year! God knows how they could improve, but I trust their judgement.
Any final words to newcomers?
3 days of non-stop music, with over 50 of the finest performances on two stages; endless sessions, as well as incredible hospitality courtesy of Hotel Doolin, and Doolin village. You will not be disappointed. Love to have you all.
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