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21st Jun 2023

Straw, rain and storytelling: here’s how we got on at Body & Soul 2023

Emily Mullen

body & soul 2023

First kicking off in 2010 with 1,800 attendees, peaking in 2019 with 15,000, this year Body & Soul has returned to its boutique festival roots.


The weather forecast was looking volatile from early on in the week, a much hoped-for day of sun soon dissolved into severe weather warnings, but unlike other weekends in Ireland at least there was a bit of warning there. The amount of rain was pretty shocking though and despite the organiser’s best efforts (who knew the powers of straw for soakage?) their carefully laid plans began to wash away, but they handled it all including having to pull performers off stage due to lightening warnings as seamlessly as possible. While the rain did try to dampen spirits, those that stayed really embraced it and didn’t let it stop them from having a good time.


Like a lot of quality Irish festivals, Body & Soul is set on the rolling grounds of a country pile, but this spot in Ballinlough, Co Westmeath is judging by the cow pats an operational farm. For anyone who suffered through junior cert Science in the early 2010s, they would notice without the metre-square that the place has a great mix of terrain, from hills, rolling pasture, and forests to bogland. The orientation of the site has changed (since my last time there in 2017) quite a bit making the journey from the campsite to the festival area a lot more direct, the downside of this was that the main stage area became less like a hub and more like a through road to get to the smaller pockets of action like the Cabin in the woods, the Bulmers area and the Hendrick’s Pavilion of the Peculiar stage. Early on day two, I had a very animated discussion with a man who was convinced he hadn’t been to the main stage yet, even though he had categorically walked through it to get to where he was having that said discussion with me.


They say that to find your festival age you need to start at 100 and take away one year with every performer you know on the line-up, so it’s safe to say that mine was comfortably flashing the bus pass. The lineup was a bit of a funny mix, with a general alternative electro theme throughout, that was bolstered by homegrown talents and a smattering of any genre you could think of. I’ll be honest I’ve never gone to Body & Soul to tick off the list of my ‘must-see artists’, but I’ve always ended up enjoying incredible music, performances and talks, and this year was no exception.


The festival was undoubtedly a rainy one, but every attendee I came into contact with was a real sounder, there to make the most of their weekend and there for a good time. Politeness and kindness were there throughout, be it the woman who advised me to go through a puddle on my tippytoes, the kind soul who noticed I’d left my bag of cans behind or the gal who offered me toilet roll while exiting a portaloo.


A lot of the highlights of the festival had to come from the smaller pockets of the festival, nodding along to insights of the Hendrick’s Gin Cucumber Concierge under the umbrellas at the Hendrick’s Pavilion of the Peculiar stage, catching a B2B DJ set under the cover of the Hennessey stage and catching a DJ whose every track managed to defy the Shazam algorithm. Stumbling on your next Spotify hyper-fixation has to be one of the best parts of a festival, so catching Real Lies in front of a tiny crowd was extra special. Naturally, Kneecap are no wallflowers so expectations for their set were highly anticipated and they rolled out the inflatable pigs and give the sodden crowd exactly what they wanted, even if they never really got that much wished-for moshpit. It was incredible to see Kurt Vile’s vulnerable performance and see the brave souls risking trench foot to stand in front of him and The Violators. Another highlight has to be finally catching a lunchtime of SEANCHOÍCHE, an incredible movement that fosters and promotes our history of storytelling by giving the space for people to tell theirs.


For that old-fashioned festival feeling, which isn’t about the ‘vibes’, the clothes or the Instagram pictures. Body & Soul has undoubtedly returned to its boutique camping roots and we can’t help but think that’s exactly what a lot of us need right now.

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