EACH May, towards the end of the month, Louise Tangney packs her three kids, all the usual essentials and a heap of extra odds and ends into her car at her home in Rochestown, and hits the road for Co Louth. It’s the highlight of her year.
Louise and her husband Benny Taaffe are the owners, organisers and creative vision behind Vantastival, a boutique festival with a unique twist which takes place in the grounds of Beaulieu House, Co Louth, each June bank holiday weekend.
In the days preceding the annual bash, which celebrates its tenth year in 2019, Louise, who runs Vantastival’s administration, relocates to Co Louth to be on hand for the festival.
“When I get into the car to leave, I get the most exciting feeling,” she says.
“It’s a real rush knowing you’re going off and that it’s going to be totally manic, but that you’re going to be working with all these people. It’s the most stressful time, but also the biggest buzz.”
The rest of the year, the Vantastival nerve centre is in Cork, at her home off the Rochestown road, where she juggles work with caring for the couple’s three children.
Ten years is quite the milestone for a festival that started during the economic crash: the brainchild, she says, of “two broke people with nothing to do and no money.”
“I’d love to be able to say, ‘God, I can’t believe it’s been ten years,’ but it does feel like ten years, actually,” Louise says, laughing. “Now it’s great, and it’s been really successful for the past few years, but the first few were really, really hard.”
Like many of the people she knows working in events management, Louise says she fell into running a music festival almost by chance. Having attended secondary school at Scoil Mhuire, she was academically successful but unsure of her path.
“Because I didn’t know what to do, I was sort of pushed in the direction of what my parents did, and they were both doctors,” she says.
“When I left school, I went to study medicine. I did it for three years before I realised it wasn’t for me. I realised I really hated hospitals, which should have been a pretty good indicator!”
Louise switched tracks rather drastically from medicine to art, getting a place in the National College of Art and Design (NCAD) in Dublin following a year’s portfolio course in Coláiste Stiofán Naofa.
From there, she did an MA in Cultural Policy and Arts Management in UCD.
In the meantime, she had met Benny Taaffe, a Co Louth carpenter who was working behind the scenes in the construction end of festivals, at Electric Picnic’s Body and Soul area.
“I started volunteering, doing decorating jobs at festivals, and we did that for a good few years,” says Louise.
The couple even went to the world-famous Burning Man festival in the Nevada Desert, where they constructed an Irish bar.
“Benny was always a van enthusiast. The whole festival came out of the crash: neither of us had work, and he came up with this idea that we’d have a festival for people who wanted to bring their vans. On the crew for festivals, a lot of people would have campers and we knew how many people were obsessed with their vans, so we knew there was a market for it.”
There have been bumps in the road that make celebrating their ten-year achievement this year all the sweeter for Louise. Until 2016, the festival didn’t earn enough to pay her for her work, so she had to combine the increasingly demanding work of the event with other jobs and parenting.
One thing that certainly complicated matters was the arrival, over time, of the couple’s three children, the youngest of whom is now a toddler: “The second year of Vantastival, I was heavily pregnant by the time the festival was on. Obviously, every year after that, we’ve done it with small kids. I had my first two, and then a gap, and then Hugh.”
“Now, we’ve reached the stage where Vantastival is my only job and I’m paid year-round to do it,” she says, “but it was very tough for a while.”
“We did always love what we were doing, though. Whenever I’d say, ‘I’m never doing this again’, Benny would be there to talk me back around.
“Also, down through the years, it’s been the people who become involved in it. I’ve made so many close friends.”
“At the end of the day, there’s nothing I’ve done that I’ve enjoyed as much,” she says.
“There’s no way I could do work in an office for ten years. This job is so exciting and you’re never, ever bored.”
To celebrate their 10th year, Vantastival are curating a festival line-up of punters’ favourites down through the years, headlined by Waterford party posse King Kong Company, voted last year’s Best Live Irish act by PureM magazine, and world music fusion favourites Afro Celt Sound System.
Celebrating ten years of their vision coming to fruition is going to be a special moment for the couple. Amidst all their work, are they going to get an opportunity to stand back and enjoy it?
“We see very little music over the weekend because we’re so busy, but we always make a point of going to the Sunday night headliner, myself and Benny and a few of the core crew. I think that’s the moment to stand back and go, ‘My God, I can’t believe we actually did this’.”
Vantastival is on from May 31 to June 2, in Beaulieu House, Co Louth. Line-up and tickets: www.vantastival.com