There’s something about the cold, wintery December weather and the twinkling Christmas lights that adds another dimension to the atmosphere around town. Blustery rain showers, wild seas and the biting cold are all the excuses you need to seek refuge by a roaring fire in a cosy pub and enjoy an amazing live music experience over a steaming hot toddy, the whole thing is relaxing, welcoming and so inviting…
December 2011 was my first time to go to the Other Voices music festival in Dingle. Before that I had heard talk of it but not enough to suggest how unique an event it really is - for that you just have to go and experience it first hand. There wasn't a huge build up to the festival, but I did become aware of an underlying, subtle sense of excitement and anticipation around the place in the weeks leading up to it. I wasn't living in Dingle at the time but was a regular weekend visitor. I still remember the envy I felt when I got a text from a friend on the Thursday night before the festival officially kicked off telling me they were in McCarthys pub with The Coronas, Damien Dempsey and Declan O'Rourke. Thankfully I was on the road west the very next day and determined not to miss out any more the fun.
Other Voices is unike any other music festival I've ever been to. All of the gigs and events are completely free, even the headline acts in St. James' Church! Tickets for the church gigs cannot be bought - they can only be won through competitions. But getting into the church isn't the main highlight! In fact, it's nearly better if you don't! The church gigs are live streamed on big screens to the main pubs around town which means you can enjoy the music from the comfort of a high stool with the added bonus of being able to enjoy a drink or two! The music trail around town is extensive and just as entertaining as the headline gigs in the church. Here you will find something for all tastes in small, informal settings, mainly pubs but also coffee shops, restaurants, galleries etc. Most of the music trail gigs are printed in the festival brochure but many are not. Some of my best memories have come about because of randomly popping in to a bar for a sneaky hot port and finding something magical happening.
Dressing up isn't required and you can get away with wearing winter woollies, hats and scarves. There are no VIP or no go areas, famous musicians, emerging artists, locals and visitors all mix happily together. You could just as easily find Hozier sat next to you on a bar stool as your next door neighbour. Everyone goes to Benner’s after the church gigs and all are welcome. It's all very low key and is a seamless continuation of the pub scene with people chatting with friends, and, you know, new friends like Damien Rice, Gavin James, Ellie Goulding or Glen Hansard...
The unplanned nights are always the best. Two years ago, a friend and I popped into the supermarket on the Saturday afternoon of the festival. While there we decided to check out what was happening in the Tom Crean brewery. David Kitt was playing. He was an exceptional and it was the just beginning of another fantastic evening. One Sunday night we were at home, a little weary after two excellent nights at the festival and contemplating an early night. But we had heard about a local band that were playing in one of the pubs. Not wanting to miss out we found our second wind and headed in. I'm so glad we did. It was our first time seeing Walking on Cars and it was so exciting to discover such up and coming talent right on our doorstep. I remember jokingly saying that in years to come we'd be able to say we saw them before they were famous. Never a truer word as it turned out.
That's the thing about Other Voices - lots of emerging new musicians feature. At the 2015 festival we decided to go to a gig in the Dingle Court House, largely out of curiosity to see what an actual functioning court house would be like as a venue. We were blown away by Wyvern Lingo. It was an outstanding experience and they held the audience captivated throughout.
Last year we were lucky enough to get to attend a gig in the church for the first time. We managed it simply by chancing our arm and being in the right place at the right time - the street outside the church. Once the people with wristbands had gone in we asked the doorman on the gate if there would be any chance of standing room at the back or taking the place of any no-shows. To our amazement he told us to just hang on and he'd see what he could do! 5 minutes before the first gig was due on stage he ushered us in. We ended up in the front row. Amazing. Pixie Geldof was the stand out performance that night, but other memorable acts included Kojey Radical and Rejjie Snow. This rare opportunity to experience the live gigs from inside the Church was fascinating. The acoustics, for one thing, were unbelievable. The quality of the production for the Other Voices TV show was impressive - the presence of all the high tech equipment and TV cameras was a little disconcerting at first but once the performances started it all seemed to fade into the background.
The first acts are now being announced for Other Voices 2017. Needless to say we are eagerly anticipating yet another wonderful weekend of music, atmosphere and time spent with friends old and new. A truly rare event, it still manages to be one of the music industry's best kept secrets.
The 2017 Other Voices Music Festival takes place from 1st - 3rd December and like every year we simply can't wait!