Starting an events company during a pandemic is “utter madness” but that’s exactly what the people behind Hibernacle did. They collected some of Ireland’s finest up-and-coming and established artists and whisked them off to Doolin for a collaborative experience which would see the acts write and perform new material.
From this acorn, the group have since ran a series of events under the moniker Meet Me In The Garden in Birr, bringing many of the acts from that initial venture in Doolin to Offaly for the first time.
And now, they coalesce again in the grounds of the stunning Claregalway Castle for Meet Me At The Castle; another collaborative event which gives the acts the chance to perform their own material and collaborate at will with whomever they want throughout the weekend.
Saint Sister, Nealo and Wallis Bird
Saint Sister, Nealo and Wallis Bird showcased the Hibernacle mission statement with a collaborative performance which saw the acts weaving their material together in unexpected ways. A clearly joyful experience for all involved, they dropped in backing vocals and guitar stabs as and when they felt appropriate without fear of sanction. It felt like being at a house party with some of Ireland’s best acts when the guitar gets passed around and everybody joins in on each other’s songs. What more could you want from an opening act?
A dance act at 3:30 in the day might contravene conventional wisdom but seeing an act that you’d normally only engage with in the wee small hours at a festival allowed people to appreciate the intricacies involved in manipulating fiddle, synths and drum machines live.
Daithi’s set was given extra meat with the addition of live drummer, Alex Ridley, who also appears in Daithi’s other project, HousePlants. When Tolü Makay joins the party for a freestyle towards the end of the set, you truly get to appreciate exactly how many plates Daithi is actually spinning and just how easy he makes it all look.
For Makay’s part, she injected her personality into the set with an examination of freedom that encouraged people to get to their feet for the first time during the day. This set will have made many people re-evaluate their perception of Daithi.
Solo, with only an acoustic guitar, the distant hum of traffic and the gentle cascade of the river for company, Lisa Hannigan was captivating on the Riverside Stage, proving, if there was any doubt, why she is one of the biggest names in contemporary folk music. Hannigan was joined towards the end of the set by Saint Sister, the added harmonies they provided locking in with Hannigan’s as if they were a family band singing together since birth. It is surprising how ‘OK Computer’ era Radiohead some of those tracks sound in such a setting with three-part harmony in full flow.
Andy Irvine, Jape Lisa Hannigan
Another exploratory performance which dipped into each act’s considerable back catalogue. Jape added Tina Waymouth-esque frills on bass, giving the Irvine-led tracks an unexpected injection of swagger. The Planxty legend, no stranger to a jam session, cut loose, clearly enjoying the vibe and the challenge of playing on the younger artist’s tracks. The once in a lifetime reverence that Jape and Hannigan paid towards Irvine was reciprocated by the audience, who realised that getting to see these three exceptional Irish musicians together was a genuine treat.
We need to talk about Wallis Bird. Ireland has been sleeping on her talents for far too long. Her one-woman show was a masterclass in performance. A floor stomping, rip-roaring display from the off, Wallis Bird draws you in and leaves you feeling like you’ve been caught in a tractor beam. Bird puts every sinew of her entire body and soul into her performance – possibly channelling some of the surrounding souls too – in a way very few performers can. Not even broken strings could knock Wallis out of her stride as she powered through her set. Put her on your to-see list today.
Returning to the riverside stage for their primary performance, Saint Sister wowed as the light said goodbye to the day. Exquisite harmonies abound as they ran through tracks such as Corpses and recent hit Karaoke Song. Lisa Hannigan returned the favour by joining them on stage for something which is gratefully received by those assembled. A simply sumptuous set from NI’s finest.
Northside rapper Nealo has really developed over the last couple of years, solidifying his thoughts on the aggravating minutiae of life into a well-oiled machine, which tackles issues from homelessness to drug abuse in a colloquial way that is always frank, yet encouraging.
As Nealo builds up to the release of his second album in early 2022, that progress is evident in terms of both showmanship and delivery. Accompanied by live sax, keys and backing vocalists, everything seems bigger, brighter and more polished than ever before, but also more natural. This jazzier, fun-filled Nealo strides the stage like a man who has paid his dues, found his lane and is now crusin’ in it.
There aren’t many Irish musicians who could close a festival with a solo show, but Redneck Manifesto bassist turned cult hero, Richie Egan, did just that on the Castle Stage, with a solo performance that covered his considerable back-catalogue. Clearly in the mood to party, Jape kicked off with an acoustic guitar and some witty numbers about death, his Crumlin charm winning the crowd over with ease and the sing-along commencing with Scorpio.
Jape moved to his weapon of choice, the bass guitar, and aided only by minimal backing tracks powered through his set with ease, clearly buzzing from his earlier performance with Andy Irvine and Lisa Hannigan. By the end, the crowd was Floating, some even making their way onstage as the show reached its conclusion.
It’s easy to be sceptical about events which are billed as being ‘experiences’ but the ability to create a vibe is one of the most undervalued skills by fans of the arts. Hibernacle delivered everything they promised and more across a blissful weekend of performances. It’ll be exciting to see where they take their roadshow next.