As the final chorus of Brewing Up a Storm rang out on Saturday night, the thousands of concert goers who had retraced the famous journey for the 'Trip to Tipp' each agreed that the original Irish music festival had officially returned to its spiritual home.
A lot has changed since those early days of Feile, and yet much has remained the same. The audience might be a little older but over two nights this weekend thousands of Feile veterans returned to their old stomping ground, transported back to their carefree teenage selves.
The questionable fashion choices of the 90's have been replaced by rain gear and sensible winter weather attire, the cans of cheap beer with fluted glasses of prosecco and cocktails from a 'pop-up' gin bar. Food tents flogged gourmet burgers with brioche buns and perhaps most tellingly, one of the most popular stands of the night was the tea and coffee cart.
Over at the merch stand, which sold the requisite “I survived the Trip to Tipp” memorabilia, sellers clocked the average age profile of the Feile audience.
“We really noticed it yesterday when they were all out reading the newspaper, sitting down before the show,” said one.
Ahead of the gig, ticket holders huddled eagerly in groups around the venue with The Stunning and The 4 of Us topping the must-see list for fans Ruth Kilkenny, Suzanne Kelly, Karen Canty and Lynn Houlihan who made the trek from Waterford on Saturday morning.
“We think it’s great that there’s a concert like this because there really isn’t much happening for the Feile geared audience today. We just hope this will be the first of many to come,” they thrilled.
“We were here in 1997 but we got asked to leave after we made a human pyramid,” said Clonmel friends Michael Brady and James Williams who arrived at the venue as gates opened on Saturday.
“We’re looking forward to seeing all the bands really but probably The Stunning and Something Happens the most. I was telling the kids about Feile the other day and they asked was that the thing off Reeling in the Years,” said James.
Within minutes of the opening act the Frank and Walters belting out ‘After All’ it was evident that something special was taking over every member of the audience, transporting them back to the rough and tumble heady days of Feile where you camped in a strangers house and survived on cheap alcohol and ham sandwiches.
Earlier warnings from host Tom Dunne to refrain from coming onto the “most famous grass in Ireland” were promptly ignored and stewards and security didn’t stand a chance by the time Jerry Fish grabbed the mic during ‘Celebrate’, jumping from the stage to run into the hordes of revellers who were already intent on invading the pitch.
Host Dunne helped introduce the surprise special guest of the night Damien Dempsey who regaled the audience with his own memories of Feile 91’ as a 15 year old punter sans ticket.
After a quick outfit change into a more rock and roll leather jacket, an emotional Dunne took up his rightful place as the Feile king saying that after playing the stage in 1994, the band didn’t think they’d be back again.
“And here we are, 24 years later,” he said erupting a chorus of support from the 10,000 strong crowd.
Hits from The 4 of Us, Something Happens and the Hothouse Flowers flowed easily throughout the grounds but it was The Stunning who lifted the roof from the rafters at Semple, blasting out hit after hit to the hungry fans below.
And just when you thought it was all over, each act assembled once more for a fitting tribute to Limerick rock great Dolores O’Riordan.
As the final lights descended over Semple, it was clear that Feile Classical was a far more civilised affair from it's original heyday but one which will find it's place in the record books nonetheless.
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