Another year, another Kilkenny Roots Festival. Twenty years it’s been going. My first gig was Calexico in 1999. Tex-Mex magic and mariachi brass. It was love at first sight. For seven years I reviewed it for the local paper, a four day mad-dash of gigs and late nights and last minute writing. It was exhausting and glorious, an adrenaline rush, an endurance test, a press-pass wielding adventure through the countless zones of roots music, from western swing to psychobilly and all parts inbetween.
When that finished, though, and I became just another punter going to a reasonable amount of gigs, enjoying the music and atmosphere, but with no need to record it in any way, it would be fair to say something felt missing. The thrill wasn’t gone, exactly, but the crazy rush of it, the high, was no more. And there was a kind of junkie quality to it then, lost in the momentum of the weekend, pushing through exhaustion to get to another fix of lunchtime singer-songwriter balm, mid-afternoon rockabilly mayhem, or late-night peddle-steel sweetness in the back of a pub I wouldn’t normally go near.
But the other part was just as important. The recording of it, capturing the flux of experience in words. Without this, it just melded into the flow of every other fleeting experience or event in life. I couldn’t seem to grasp it properly, or intensely enough, if I didn’t make it take form in language. Eventally that passed though. I kind of forgot about the lack and settled into enjoying the festival like any other normal person.
Until, of course, the arrival of photography into my life. Suddenly, the recording gene was reactivated, a desire to traverse the festival in unnecessary fashion was reawakened. It started in earnest last year and continued over the bank-holiday weekend just gone. In the process, a photo essay is forming, a subjective look at the festival in the round, not just the bands, but the crowds, incidental details, activity on the streets and so on.
Of course, it’s not the same as before, not as all-encompassing and intense. Partly that’s because I’m (probably!) too old for that madness ever again, and partly because it’s unofficial. No press-pass these days. Naturally, the festival has its own photographers recording events. Pros with light-meters and ear-plugs and sensible stuff like that. (And, yes, my ears were ringing after the Marah gig). So I’m just ghost-tracking the festival, recording it for my own purposes, as complete or incomplete as I want or can achieve at the time.
Anyway, it should be said that while my flaky enthusiasm for it has fluctuated over the years, it has always remained a great festival, one of the mini-marvels of the modern world, a monument to community solidarity, personal dedication and love for music undaunted by anything the world has thrown at it. Even the coming fascist dystopia won’t stop it. It’ll be (as it always has been really) an outpost of resistance, an annual act of rebellion against the corrosive fakery of the surrounding culture. Long may it prosper. Below are more shots from over the weekend. I’ll post the 2016 set when I get around to it.