The Body&Soul Sisterhood is Made Up Of Seven Women

As one of Ireland's cult festivals draws ever close, Irish Tatler speaks to the organisers of Body&Soul to figure out just how exactly they put on such a good show.

Anyone who's ever been to Body&Soul raves about it until people stop listening. 

Now in its tenth year, the crack-team behind the Mullingar-adjacent event is at the hands of seven women – each with more duties than the last, seemingly. 

This year, the Ballinlough Castle weekender is being taken back to the festival’s forest-dance-floor roots, promising hidden art installations, immersive theatre experiences and impromptu spoken-word performances, among others. 

"The theme this year is RITUAL, we're celebrating our 10th anniversary this year so it’s a very special one for us," Production Manager Megan Best informs me. 

"However, from a sustainability perspective, our theme this year is 'No Single Use Plastics'," Claire Byrne, Sustainability Manager chimes in.

"This is something that we have been working towards for many years so it’s great to see it finally happening. Our main theme every year, though, is to keep it clean and green, and a simple 'take your tent home' push to tackle campsite waste."

Claire Byrne

Claire Byrne

"We have a great programme lined up for our Living Lab activation this year," Best beams, "which is our sustainability-focused venue, showcasing innovative solutions to environmental issues."

The Westmeath festival has always put an environmental interest at the heart of everything it does, even boasting a dedicated eco-campsite where rubbish is sorted and a leave-no-trace policy is operated. 

"When I first started, it was just me trying to bang the green drum and I think I was really just annoying everyone about recycling," Byrne says. "Now sustainability really is at the heart of everything we do across the whole festival, and I am really proud of that."

For many, Body&Soul is a family affair – something Founding Director Avril Stanley can relate to, given that her festival journey started before she even realised.

"My parents knew how to throw a good party and took us with them on many an adventure. The sing songs, the banter, the dancing and craic that was being had. My sister and I were immersed in people’s happiness and good old fashioned fun (with the occasional bottle of Cidona and some bonbons). Those were the days!

"Those seeds took me all over the world exploring festivals and cultural events from India to Thailand, Japan to Colombia, Glastonbury to Burning Man and beyond in my twenties. That spark kept burning. And continues to today more than 20 years later!"

Avril Stanley

Avril Stanley

"Festivals are beasts," she continues. 

"They demand everything you’ve got but they give the most extraordinary sense of community that leaves you both deeply humbled, and in awe – with a twinkle in your eye that takes you to all sorts of amazing places you didn’t even know existed. Therein lies the beauty and the memories you take home. Not who played but the moments shared."

Plans for each festival begin the previous October, with some members of staff admitting to a 'never off' approach given the continuous process of forward-planning. 

"One could say it is a terribly 'un-zen' job, given that you are never in the here and now," Music Booker Jenny Wren laughs.

"Preparations for the following year can begin even in the middle of the 'year' you are working on! However, a more formal desk-clearing and date-change on the dreaded Excel file happens by the end of summer for the coming festival year.

"Although, ideas and scribbled notes can keep moving along with you year-in-year-out until one day you make it happen. So, it can sometimes seem never-ending!"

Jenny Wren

Jenny Wren

Each staff member boasts a different year as their favourite – all giving an honourable mention to 2018 due to the warm and sunny weather with which Ireland is so unfamiliar. 

"I'm going to say 2014," Best says, recalling year's past.

"The Midnight Circus looked incredible that year, we had Buraka Som Sistema on the Main Stage and My House in the Woodlands bringing playful mischief to the festival."

"For me, it's 2010 – the first year of Body&Soul," Avril tells me. 

"Ireland was knee-deep in the recession, and that impulse to put on a festival despite the odds prevailed. It was epic, a heatwave, and the most exquisite land with a 16th-century walled garden, verdant woodlands, stunning lakeside and rolling meadows became the home to 1800 of the soundest people I have ever met at a festival.

"We had a blast and that instigated the next nine years, which have led us to where we are today."

Megan Best

Megan Best

"My favourite year was possibly 2017," says Sandra Pederson, Head of Soul Kids.

"The weather was fabulous, we had a really lovely bunch of volunteers, crew and performers and everything ran very smoothly."

Sandra is responsible for the children's area of the festival, something that makes Body&Soul the most coveted family-friendly festival in Ireland.

Her job involves the booking performers, workshops leaders, artists and volunteers to ensure a totally immersive and wholly safe experience for children as young as toddlers – all with her little one in tow. 

"I will have my daughter with me this year. She is nine this year and has been to almost every Body&Soul festival since the very beginning – she loves it!

Sandra Peterson

Sandra Peterson

This year's event boasts everything from classical overtures to seaweed baths, and it is exactly that – the element of curiosity and altogether ebullience – that keeps Ireland's festival revellers coming back for more. 

"I'm really excited about the well-being programme this year," General Manager Siân Cunningham declares. 

"The setting for this part of the festival is so gorgeous and it offers so many different opportunities for rest and relaxation. There are some amazing talks and workshops on the programme this year."

Siân's job requires ongoing, year-round attention before they even make it to the onsite execution phase. As well as that, after each festival, she and her team review the weekend and incorporate the learning into next year's planning.

"The best part of the job, for me, has to be the broad range of skills, knowledge and expertise that the team brings and, also, how well everyone works together. Everyone plays their own unique part in contributing to and making the event happen.

"Festival weekend for me is incredibly busy. There are, however, (brief!) moments over the weekend where you can step out into the festival world and get an insight into the magic that's happening.

"I find that it's really important to make room to do this at each festival as it reminds you of why you do what you do!"

"There is so much creativity and are heaps of good vibes in all our artists and decorators," Mary Pike, Head of Design agrees.

"It is a wonderful family of folks and I really look forward to getting together and creating this festival every year.

"The art really is given centre stage at Body&Soul which is so rare at festivals. Ballinlough is a stunningly beautiful site and that, in itself, makes our job easier. We are there to embellish and create beautiful art pieces that are shown in nature versus in an art gallery.

"This year, we have some great new artists come on board to create new pieces to add to our fabulous cohort of existing artists – so I think lots of our team are looking forward to being involved in some exciting and challenging builds.

"The aim on our end is to just keep improving on providing a creative space for artists and an immersive wonderland for festival goers."

Mary Pike

Mary Pike

Dedicated to championing home-grown talent, among the artists confirmed to play at Body&Soul 2019 are a Dublin take on DIY indie and punk with Pillow Queens; ‘grumpy electro-pop’ with Roe; alternative homegrown hip-hop with Tebi Rex and honest and heartfelt singer/songwriting with Fia Moon.

It seems that Body&Soul has it all. So, what's next for the most enticing festival this side of Burning Man?

"Body&Soul has always been pioneering," Stanley says. 

"We love to innovate and find new ways to inspire and engage our guests. It’s what we do best and an eternal challenge to keep fresh and continue to raise the bar in terms of what a festival can be and the authenticity of that amidst an increasingly busy market.

"If you throw the biggest Summer Solstice Party in the country, you have to keep in your toes and dream up the next adventure. Thankfully breathing life into those dreams is what we love to do most."

Body&Soul runs over the weekend of 21 - 23 June at Ballinlough Castle, County Westmeath. 

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