Saturday, February 9, 2008
Keep it country!
"You sure you're off the drink George?"
"I sure am Tammy. Now can I have the keys to the lawnmower?"
It seems the Midlands Music Festival in Belvedere House Gardens and Park in Mullingar has some competition up north, with UTV and a crowd called JW Promotions hosting the first ever UTV Country Fest over the August Bank Holiday weekend. That's if Midlands is taking place this year of course... As yet there has been no official announcement, but Hot Lunch has it on extremely good authority that it is happening again despite losing a barnload of money over the previous two outings.
However, the promoters of Midlands, POD and Rag Lane, have lost one of their target headliners to UTV and JWP: the great George Jones, without doubt the sweetest voice in country music, and certainly one of the few remaining country music stars still recording and performing. Nanci Griffith and the terrific Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder have also defected over the border, but what could be of key note to POD and Rag Lane, and this is something they could be kicking themselves with, is that the UTV Country Fest (what a terrible name) has spotted something that Midlands really lacked: Irish country music.
Now the names Robert Mizzel, Mike Denver and Jimmy Buckley might cause much guffawing in more 'pure' music circles, but these guys are the ONLY Irish music acts that are consistently packing them in around the country, and as uncool as they sound (and often look), they are the only Irish acts capable of bringing a few thousand punters into unfamiliar territory: a multi-stage music festival. Midlands failed to attract the pure country crowd because they do not like standing in fields watching acts with tenuous country credentials like Don McLean. Night after night these Irish country music fans are packing dancefloors in all 32 counties with Ray Lynam, Buckley, Denver & Co providing the soundtrack, but over the past two years both these people and the IRish country music acts were completely ignored by both POD and Rag Lane who decided that what Irish country music fans really wanted was Hothouse Flowers, Sunny Sweeney and Mundy.
Anyway, the UTV Country Music Festival will take place in Dungannon Park Co. Tyrone on Saturday 2nd and Sunday 3rd August 2008. According to the promoters blurb, the festival will see over 50 International, National and local acts perform on three stages and will run each day from 1pm-11pm.
"Country Music has a huge following in Ireland and the announcement of such an event of this magnitude will be very well received," say JW Promotions. "The main stage will see most of the American acts perform with the likes of George Jones, Ricky Skaggs, Nanci Griffith, Gene Watson and Vernon Oxford to name only a few that will enthral the large expected audiences on each of the festival days. All the American acts will appear on both days as will 95% of the other performers."
Am I the only one perplexed at that set up?
Acts confirmed to appear (to date) include:
George Jones (who we hope won't live up to his 'No Show Jones' tag)
Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder
Billie Joe Shaver
Leanne & Carrie Benn
Rod & Tracey McAuley
Tickets are on sale from Ticketmaster at £st40 per day or £st75 for the weekend.
The brains behind Midlands, meanwhile, have booked Belvedere for the 26th and 27th of July. Their main musical targets (excluding George Jones who may yet play) are Neil Young, Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan. There's also talk of Aiken coming on board this year.
Whilst the last two years were very good events indeed and were perhaps the most chilled out music festivals I have ever attended in Ireland, and despite some magnificent performances not least from the likes of Richard Thompson, Ricky Skaggs, Gillian Welch, Glen Campbell (!), Kenny Rogers, Hillbilly Allstars, Richmont Fontaine, Blind Boys of Alabama, Del McCoury Band, Hayseed Dixie, Aimee Mann, Low (to an audience of about 17), Lambchop (to at least 12), Emmylou Harris and even Tony Joe White and his pork salad, they failed to turn any substantial profit. This has left this year's Midlands very much in doubt. But the venue is booked, so who knows?
Belvedere is also booked for TWO other music festivals this summer. One of these is certainly Latitude, an MCD, and Festival Republic co-production aimed at the Electric Picnic Electric Picnic, crowd. It's taking place the same weekend as its UK counterpart, but in Belvedere's case it'll be the 18th, 19th, and 20th of July. No word as yet on the third festival... but it is not believed to be a bigger version of Garden Party. It too has lost serious money over the past two summers, and it is strongly rumoured NOT to be going ahead this June Bank Holiday weekend despite rumours that Hot Chip and Underworld were set to play it...