The big news in music festivals for 2011 was the 10th anniversary of Bonnaroo. But, another music festival also celebrated 10 years this past weekend—the Other Voices music festival in Ireland.
Trade in the hippies and sun-soaked Tennessee farmland of Bonnaroo for fishermen, a 200-year-old church and a small Irish village that juts out into the Atlantic and you get the unique Other Voices festival.
“Outside Ireland, the festival, based in Dingle, County Kerry, remains something of a best-kept secret,” according to Irish Times pop culture writer Tony Clayton-Lea. “Yet, within the music industry it’s a crucial event to perform at.”
Musician, film producer and award-winning radio presenter Philip King created the event with the help of Glen Hansard (The Frames, The Swell Season and Once). King told the Guardian that the festival originates from a conversation he had with Hansard back in 2002.
“In the course of that conversation we came to talk about the sort of music that was going on in Ireland at that time,” King said. “We said wouldn’t it be very nice to see if we could get a bunch of people to come and play some songs. There’s a very vibrant, living culture here and I think artists and musicians sense that.”
Every December since that conversation, musicians and fans travel to this little town with a population of about 2,000 and situated on the edge of Europe. In the early years of Other Voices, Irish artists such as Hansard and Damien Rice came to Dingle for music and community, not money. Other musicians followed suit. By the mid 2000s, the festival diversified, welcoming more international musicians and under-the-radar acts. They fill the local B&B’s and hang out together in the lobby of Dingle’s Benner’s Hotel.
These working musicians know Other Voices as a laid-back event where they can be creative. St. James’ Church, a 200-year-old structure that only seats about 80 people, serves as the main venue. The performance space creates an intimate environment where famous artists such as Florence and the Machine, Snow Patrol, Ryan Adams and the Temper Trap play along with emerging acts like the XX, Noah and the Whale and Cold Specks. Established artists can try out new creative efforts and new acts get a chance to present themselves.
For the 10th Anniversary of the festival, McMorrow chose to play covers of some of the songs he heard at the festival and on the Other Voices TV series, which broadcasts the performances from Dingle on RTE.
“I’m not here to sell anything,” McMorrow said. “I just wanted to play some songs that kind of showed all these incredible acts that have come through this.”
One of the bands McMorrow paid tribute to was The National, who played at Other Voices in 2010. Bryce and Aaron Dessner of The National also performed at a New York City event in October to help celebrate the festival’s anniversary.
According to NPR, Other Voices wanted to recognize the impact American and Irish music have had on each other with a special two-night event at New York’s Le Poisson Rouge.
Although many musicians happily play the festival without the promise of that big paycheck, the financial woes in Europe, and particularly in Ireland, pose a threat. An article in the Irish Independent recently reported “organizers are asking serious questions about the festival’s survival, which may not be possible unless a major sponsor comes on board.”
But many artists cherish the event and hope it stays around.
“It’s important that these kinds of things exist and are sustained,” McMorrow said. “It’s vital as Irish musicians, as an Irish music scene that we have something like this every year.”