Forecast for Summer 2021: sunglasses-on-stage days and pyrotechnic light-show nights. At long last live music emerges from behind the covid cloud with what is set to be the most glorious line-ups the NI Music Scene could offer at the Stendhal Festival in Limavady in July and August. We will actually SEE such heavy-hitters who’ve enjoyed success even when locked indoors as Jealous of the Birds, Joshua Burnside and Lyra in a celebration of local talent who are superstars in their own right.
This is the 10th anniversary of the festival, and I got chatting to PR Director John Cartwright about this milestone. That pesky virus naturally affected the ideal scale of plans, however the team were not deterred entirely, “It will be stripped back, it will be a reduced capacity but the acts on show will still be of the highest calibre and just the sheer fact that there will be performers, a stage, an audience and music after such a long time without all these things, will no doubt make of one of the most emotional editions of the event we’ll ever see.”
Honestly, it would be special with a rickety wooden stage and a single acapella Daniel O’Donnell tribute act, so the extent the team have gone to here is truly an astonishing testament to their drive to curate the best possible experience for us lovers of music and culture as a whole. The line-up includes the cream of the crop of up-and-coming acts like Cherym, Beauty Sleep and Reevah, who no doubt will put on their best shows yet.
It all starts with an idea, “we thought it would be a cool thing to do on my parents farm and then the more we thought about it and worked on it we realised that it could be so much more. It could provide jobs, generate tourism for the Limavady area, and bring some very positive press for the area.” Compare its inaugural gig with 30 acts and 800 audience members in 2011, to 2019, where a whopping 10’000 punters showed. John recalls, “the driver was always “let’s do something that can benefit Limavady” but that has now morphed into “let’s do something that can benefit Limavady, The Northwest, The whole of Northern Ireland and all the musicians working here.” This is a most noble cause, as there’s a recurrent habit of the NI music scene being synonymous with the Belfast music scene, forgetting a plethora of talent in the other 5409 square miles of the land.
Course it’s not easy. I imagine it’s comparable to raising a child, investing so much time and energy into something you rarely have a spare moment to relax yourself; the team rarely gets to see any full gigs, like! However, as I’m sure we wistfully remember, it’s at live gigs that you experience time stopping and shared joy in an almost spiritual sense. Gratefully for the team, “every year there is always one or two wee things that cut through and make you have to stand back and take stock of what is going on around you and those are the moments that make it so worthwhile.”
We are a sentimental bunch, us islanders. Comes with the territory of being so good at making the most of life. John recounted a bittersweet memory of his own from Stendhal 2018, where they put on a tribute gig to Stevie Martin/Rainy Boy Sleep, “He was one of our own, and to be able to celebrate his life with music at a festival in Limavady, where Stevie honed his craft, surrounded by his friends, was incredibly sad but it made me so proud. I was proud of what Stevie had done, I was proud that his friends all paid beautiful tribute to him by learning and playing his songs on stage, I was proud of all his friends for being front row centre at the show singing his songs and I was proud that we were in a position to be able to do that at Stendhal in Stevie’s memory…its a moment that will stay with me for the rest of my life.”
Stendhal recently put on a rousing success of a first show with the aforementioned JOTB, No Oil Paintings, PORTS, and ROE. I am personally counting down the days ‘til July 9th, and I’ll see you there.