John Cleere: No Oxegen or Slane
– thank goodness for the Roots

The 15th Smithwick’s Kilkenny Roots Festival kicks off on Friday and already the organisers are looking forward to another successful year.

The 15th Smithwick’s Kilkenny Roots Festival kicks off on Friday and already the organisers are looking forward to another successful year.

Like all festival organisers, we are very conscious of the difficult economic climate, but this has made us even more determined to put on a top-quality event that will give the tourist season a positive start in Kilkenny.

It looks like being a tough year for festivals, with some of the bigger ones like Oxegen and Slane not taking place. We operate on a very small budget in comparison to these events, but still aim to put on a high-quality programme. We have cut back on the number of ticketed shows, but ticket sales are actually well ahead of previous years with shows from Alabama Shakes, Israel Nash Gripka, Kitty, Daisy and Lewis, Hiss Golden Messenger and Willy Vlautin already sold out.

Out of necessity we have to find acts that have not yet made it onto the bill at the large outdoor festival. This policy has resulted in us finding names such as Ray LaMontagne, Ryan Adams and Calexico before anyone else had booked them in Ireland.

This year the big coup has been signing Alabama Shakes. We booked the band last January and since then they have become one of the hottest acts in the world, with their debut album in the UK and American top 10. Their show at the Set Theatre has been sold out for the last month and we have journalists from Ireland and the UK travelling to Kilkenny to cover the show.

Kitty, Daisy and Lewis have proved to be another huge draw. The London-based band have over a million views on YouTube for their single Going Up the Country. It’s a family affair, consisting of two sisters, a brother and the parents also in the band and they are guaranteed to bring a smile to the faces of the Kilkenny Roots Festival audience.

Willy Vlautin has attracted considerable interest also. Willy has appeared several times in Kilkenny with his band, Richmond Fontaine. His novel, Lean On Pete, has been shortlisted for the Impac Award, the world’s most valuable literary prize, with the winner to be announced in Dublin in June. His first novel, The Motel Life, has just been made into a movie, starring Dakota Fanning, Emile Hirsch and Kris Kristofferson.

At this stage we are expecting most, if not all, of the ticketed shows to sell out, but there is still plenty of talent and entertainment on the free Smithwick’s Music Trail. We have 60 shows taking place in 30 venues throughout the city, with bands from all over Ireland, plus The Meatmen, Elvis Fontenot and Blue Horyzon from the UK.

We have been monitoring online ticket sales and at the moment over 60% of bookings are from outside the Kilkenny area, with a big increase in overseas festival-goers. This should give a welcome boost to accommodation providers, pubs and restaurants in the area.

Tickets are still available for a good number of shows and those helpful people down at Rollercoaster Records in Kieran Street can advise you and give information on the various acts.

John Cleere is the director of the Smithwick’s Rhythm ‘n’ Roots Festival.