Garden Party, that fabulous little festival at Ballinlough Castle, County Westmeath, is no more. Like the dead parrot that is the Midlands Music Festival, it has ceased to be.
Held amidst the walled gardens of the Nugent estate in Ballinlough, the festival arrived in style over the June Bank Holiday in 2006 with a savage little line-up that included the ubiquitous 2 Many DJ's, The Orb, Asian Dub Foundation, Super Discount Live, Andy Cato, Carl Craig, Tony Humphries, Buck 65, Fat Freddy's Drop, Sean Rowley and Guilty Pleasures, AIM, Scrath Perberts and loads more besides. A sort of mini-Electric Picnic, it featured the small-scale Body & Soul Area, loads of good food and drink and a beautiful laid-back atmosphere. The sun shone all day too which obviously led to the erection of the 'sold out' signs and led to the feelgood factor that Garden Party would return in 2007 as a two-day festival! It was everything Hi-Fi, who took place a month or so later, wasn't. It reminded me of the first Electric Picnic in 2004, like it was your own secret festival with an up-for-it crowd and a deadly buzz in the car park, the hallmark of a good festival. It also had what is without doubt the best outdoor/indoor tent I have ever seen at an Irish festival. I'll try and scan a pic of it in later.
The following year Daft Punk were lined up to headline one of the two nights of Garden Party 2007 and everything was looking rosey in the garden. Then, the French lads were poached elsewhere and the line-up below them began to crumble. It was back to the drawing board and it became a one-day event once again, but even though it had camping, a boisterous car park and the sunshine (the only day the sun shone in June as it turned out) it had a terrible line up with Von Sudenfed feat. Mark E. Smith, Hot Chip, Vitalic and Pet Shop Boys the only decent 'names'. Below them was muck like Carl Cox, and a load of Irish DJ's on a reduced number of stages. But again, the vibe was fantastic and in the walled garden in particular it was something to behold. But the absence of a large swathe of the Body & Soul crew was noticable, and there wasn't the same extras and attention to detail that one had grown accustomed to after the first Garden Party and three Electric Picnics. There was no way it was making money either.
Still, it was a cracking night all told, and again promises were made for a two-day event in 2008. However, I suppose there's only so many losses you can take, and POD have parked it for this summer, alongside the Midlnds Music Festival. It's a tragedy really, for Meath and Westmeath where the events were held, and for the greater good of the Irish festival scene. Mantua and Life in Galway (which has an awesome line up this year - http://www.life-festival.com ) will no doubt take over and, if they are organised properly, eclipse Garden Party, but the organised chaos that happens at Life is a little scary, you never know when the crust will crumble, whereas at something like Garden Party, you kind of knew you were in safe hands, and the vibe was all good. It'll be missed that's for sure, and like Midlands, we can only hope that it returns next summer.