ARTS Festival returns to Con Smith Park on May 17-19
Cavan Arts Festival is beginning to make a habit of pleasant surprises.
That there was an arts festival at all in the county town was the most the most delightful surprise of 2018. It germinated in the fertile soil of Culture Night, and the quirky performances that blossomed were often heartwarming curiosities. Yes of course there were dollops of drama, poetry, video installations, book readings, bands, singer song writers and even clown acts, but there was the quizzical sight of pianist Cormac McCann’s Renault Clio cum garden shed hybrid musical stage; there was a blindfolded chainsaw sculpting session by Joey Burns to the improvisational guitar soundtrack of Daragh Slacke; there was even a Samarai martial arts dance to Irish trad music!
“We like to surprise people,” festival director Kim McCafferty tells the Celt. Of the new surprises is first and foremost that we don’t have to wait very long for the second festival instalment – they’ve discarded the Culture Night crutches and are set to stand on their own two clown feet with an expanded three day format, and best of all it’s set for next month – May 17-19!
“Last year we did it on the same night as Culture Night, which was a great idea for the first year – to have the support, to see if we could make it happen and to see if there was a desire for it around the town; there was, and it was a great success.
“We want it to be its own stand alone event – so it’s not just happening in conjunction with Culture Night but starts to have its own weekend in the town’s calendar each year.
“Because it’s the end of May, school is finishing, start of summer – that time is full of hope. We’ll have long summer evenings out in the park having and a festival brought to our doorstep.”
While the date has changed, the charming venue of Con Smith Park remains, or as Kim eloquently brands it as “a nucleus of creativity and craic”.
That it was in an open air event with a big top style marquee providing a central focus brought an authentic festival vibe to proceedings.
“The Townhall won’t be open in time, and we really had positive feedback, people really seemed to love coming together in the park,” says Kim.
“Each year we’ll have little bit more – we’ll spread outside the park, but for the first few years it’ll be small – we’re still working with pretty limited resources.”
The highly visible and easily accessible Keadue venue, just a juggling baton’s throw from the town centre, brings it’s own advantages.
“We also think people driving past the park will see the circus tent and see art exhibitions all through the park and installations - it will advertise itself, and will draw people in.”
It’s one thing drawing a crowd, it’s an entirely different thing to please it. Kim’s been creative in overcoming the burgeoning festival’s modest budget to come up with an intriguing programme that’s a good few “baby steps” ahead on last year’s event. It’s packed full of free events that should please all, save the most belligerent of begrudgers.
“That’s what were trying to do somehow have something that pleases everyone - almost – but also look for artistic excellence. So the common factor will be the really high quality of the work.”
Again this year there will be a family friendly atmosphere with circus entertainment, storytelling,
and music and none other than Lords of Strut the big draw on Saturday afternoon. The comedy circus duo made it through to the Britain’s Got Talent semifinals last year.
“They are Cork brothers and a comedy duo, they are a real howl – totally outrageous. They’ll be on the Saturday afternoon so that’s really exciting, and it’s their fist time to play Cavan as well.”
Kim also promises storytelling, “funky Irish language events”, drama, comedy galore – our very own Kevin McGahern is top of the billing in the tent on the Friday night – there’s spoken word, visual exhibits by the likes of Jane McCormick, Sally O’Dowd, Carrie Lewis, and Rosie Cole, oh and “really, really tasty music”.
The complete line-up of bands will be confirmed in the coming weeks, but amongst the tastiest of musical acts are Lisa O’Neill – fresh from releasing her latest critically acclaimed album Heard a Long Gone Song, plays Blessings Bar as part of the festival programme. Also ex-Strypes drummer Evan Walsh’s two new exciting projects. Yep, his appearance in Elton John biopic Rocketman hasn’t seen the Cavanman sideline his musical output for long.
The ever popular Cavan Sinfonia Orchestra will entertain on Sunday lunchtime, while another act Kim’s especially excited about is Zaska, an insanely talented jazz and funk band who met at Newpark Music Centre – the internationally renowned jazz school in South Dublin. Specialising in upbeat songs heavy on melody and groove and a rapping frontman, they’re in great demand from the major festivals and are a real coup for Cavan.
“They’re really top level,” enthuses Kim. “We think they will bring a really dreamy Sunday afternoon vibe.”
A hit from the 2018 festival was the pottery workshop which encouraged everyone to give the potter’s wheel a lash, and this year they’ve come up with a new skill – tightrope walking.
“No nets, no harness, off you go between the two cathedrals,” jokes Kim before explaining. “It’s proper long poles and tightwire – it’s a completely beginner friendly workshop, totally safe with tutors, so that’s cool.”
It stands as a metaphor for the decisions and challenges Kim’s faced in organising the 2019 Cavan Arts Festival, but you’ll have to agree she’s got the balance just right. Roll on Friday, May 17.