STENDHAL Festival began life modestly in 2011 as the culmination of what the organisers describe as a ‘pipe dream’.
Since then the event has grown into the biggest event of type in Northern Ireland, welcomed thousands of artists, tens of thousands of visitors and brought with it jobs and an ever-growing boost in tourism to the economy in the region.
This year event organisers Ross Parkhill, Colm O’Donnell, John Cartwright and all the crew at Team Stendhal, are preparing for their biggest year yet, with an anticipated 10,000 festival goers descending on Ballymully Cottage farm, just outside Limavady, this weekend to enjoy music from the likes of Basement Jaxx and hothouse flowers, comedy from Phill Jupitus and over 200 performances of all types in total.
“It gets tougher each year,” admits festival director Ross Parkhill, “but we wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“Thinking back through the journey we have been on over the past nine years, it is somewhat of a minor miracle that Stendhal is where it is today.
“We started this with zero experience of even putting on a night in a bar. People rightly thought we were mad but here we are, nine years later about to welcome 10,000 people, from all over Ireland and further afield, to a farm in Limavady to see Basement Jaxx. It’s still a bit mad.”
Fellow director John Cartwright added: “Yeah, we always believed it was possible to get to this level but there were so many things that could go wrong, we always thought that there was always the chance that we wouldn’t be able to achieve our goals.
“Thankfully we have been able to continue to put on a show and an event that seems to resonate with people and have been able to slowly but surely grow Stendhal to a point where it is now the largest outdoor camping music and arts festival in the history of Northern Ireland. That to us is mind-blowing.”
With the growth of the festival year-on-year comes more pressure for the team as director Colm O’Donnell explains.
“Its getting harder and harder to top what we do each year,” he said, “saying that, we are confident we are going to do it again this year with the amazing line-up we have scheduled and the changes and additions to the festival site.
“We have more music than ever before, more stages than ever before, a bigger family programme than ever before, a new huge Circus tent for the Stevie Martin Stage, a renovated area for talks and debates and a whole lot of additions that we will let our visitors discover for themselves this year.
“But these additions bring more pressure in terms of site planning, paperwork, site set-up, booking, budgets, marketing, the lot, so yeah we do put a lot of pressure on ourselves but it is always worth it so that people have a really good time at the event.”
With just a few days to go until the event kicks off, the team say that their experience over the years has helped them deal with the pressures but they still get nerves around festival time.
“There are always nerves” said Ross, “but now it’s not as bad compared to what it used to be. We know the ins and outs of everything, know our plans inside and out and have a fantastic team around us that makes the event run smoothly from start to finish.
“I think what we are most nervous about is that everyone has a good time. We work so hard on that and basically every decision is geared around giving people the best weekend we possibly can, so really that is now where the nerves come from, as opposed to anything operational.”
John added, “That hit the nail on the head. We live and die by the experience people have at the festival. So far we have been grateful to receive incredible reviews and support from everyone who comes along. We are the highest rated festival in Northern Ireland going by reviews on social media and that means a hell of a lot to us. The pressure comes from working hard to maintain those standards as we want that to remain the case as long as we are running.”
Colm concluded, “We really have been lucky in that the crowd we have cultivated at Stendhal has been nothing short of awesome. At a safety meeting with the PSNI not too long ago they said that Stendhal from a policing perspective was boring, that was music to our ears as it showed that our crowd really is there to just have a good time and enjoy the weekend festival community.
- Stendhal Festival takes place at Ballymully Cottage Farm, Limavady on August 15-17. For more information visit www.stendhalfestival.com