Get down to Lackan for the eclectic and wonderful Knockanstockan

by James Hendicott

There are a whole heap of festivals in Ireland these days, but few can make the claims to rugged authenticity and party antics that surround long-standing Lackan event, party-loving Knockanstockan.

Jokingly called “The AGM of the craic” by its hard-working, fun-loving organisers, the festival focuses heavily on local acts by the banks of the Blessington lakes.

It takes an artsy, colourful approach to layout, and has a general air of hippie wonderland to it. It’s one of the places to go if you’re looking for a glance at the less-hyped echelons of the Irish music in one weekend, and it’s all done for love.

“I’m sure you’re not making much money out of this?” I ask Graham Sharpe, long behind much of Knockanstockan’s musical direction, when we meet two weeks before the 2019 event.

“Much?” He laughs. “We don’t make any.”

But as one of very few Irish festivals without major financial backing, the money side has never been the point. That’s unquestionably one of the reasons the festival – which has a real community feel – stands out.

“My favourite moment is the first band on stage,” Sharpe continues. “Once everything’s open and the first band is on stage, it’s like time slows down.

“There’s something to deal with every 30 seconds, but I love that moment. It feels like when English Paper 2 is on the table, there’s no more time to studying, it’s just go.”

By then, of course, a line-up full of the more local stars of Irish music has been filled.

“The booking strategy is just book the best bands possible. There are some bands we’ll have had on a list since November or so the previous year, and we’ll probably get ten of them,” Sharpe says.

“We take advice from people we know, and try to see as many bands as we can. Submissions are a huge part of it, as we get about 1,000 submissions a year.

“There might be one or two bands we haven’t checked out live that play, but with the overwhelming majority, someone on the crew has vouched that they put on a serious show.

“It’s easier to get an overview of what’s going on in the country for the last three of four years, as we have a much larger crew, so we make it into a celebration of what’s going on in the country. We call it the AGM of the craic.”

Elsewhere, the festival has a growing kids area, some themed events, performance arts and other extras.

“A lot of our original people have kids now,” Sharpe says. “We want them to come down and have a good time, too.

“We pride ourselves on it being a lovely crowd down there. The crowd is so into the music side of things, and there are so many musicians down there that it doesn’t feel like there’s a separation between crowd, acts and crew. It’s just everyone at Knockanstockan.

“The first one was an eye opener for me. I’d never experienced anything like that, and I ended up involved afterwards.

“But it’s unbelievable, I wouldn’t change it for anything. The buzz, the feeling of fairness down there, the way bands feel about the festival. It’s great.”

Knockanstockan takes place in Lackan, four miles outside Blessington, on July 19, 20 and 21.

Tickets are on sale now, at €155 for the weekend, but some shorter-stay tickets are available.

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