Host of talent to be showcased at Cork Lights festival

While uncertainty persists around case numbers and how the Covid crisis develops into the winter, at time of writing the Quiet Lights festival is set to showcase emergent musicians from the folk and traditional oeuvres at venues around the city from tonight. Mike McGrath-Bryan talks to festival founder Jonathan Pearson.
Host of talent to be showcased at Cork Lights festival

The Quiet Lights festival boasts a lineup that includes Lisa O'Neill.

It only seems like your writer is able to catch musician and promoter/manager Jonathan Pearson when he’s on the go. Having established himself closer to home as part of alt-rockers Former Monarchs, and striking out alone as chamber-pop soloist North Side Drive, he these days divides his time around the world as an artist manager, among other hats.

Maija Sofia: Will perform in Cork as part of Quiet Lights Festival.
Maija Sofia: Will perform in Cork as part of Quiet Lights Festival.

The last time we had a big music chat was for your writer’s now-inactive Red on Red podcast, for RedFM - he was able to chat for half an hour over the phone before having to attend to a performance from Crash Ensemble, an Ireland-based contemporary orchestra. On a busy Friday evening, he’s an hour away from opening doors on a gig for Right Here, Right Now festival at the Opera House, while also making sure all is in readiness for this weekend’s Quiet Lights festival.

Entering its fourth installment after limited Covid-era activity, Quiet Lights is a gentle little affair, focused on emerging voices in Irish and international folk and traditional music, and in pre-Covid times, focused on running gigs at non-traditional venues in the city.

Boasting a lineup that includes singer-songwriters like Lisa O’Neill, Junior Brother, Emma Langford and Maija Sofia, bands like folk-proggers Trá Phaidín and duos like Varo and Lemoncello, Pearson and company have made the best of the post-Covid conditions.

“I'm still kind-of hoping that nothing will happen in terms of restrictions, it probably won't, but with the rise in cases, I'm not sure. Last year we had to cancel - the new restrictions came in the day before we were going to announce Quiet Lights 2020. We had things going on in the summer, and we were going to have like 50 people in the Everyman and 100 people in the Opera House and all that, and then it got canceled.

“But I'm feeling good, and people are buying tickets, which is good, because I work in a lot of different events. And I think things that are geared towards 35-year-olds and younger are selling in advance - and things that are geared towards 35 and older, are not selling, (which is the reverse of the usual balance of advance tickets and walk-up).

“So I mean, I'm cautiously optimistic. I've worked with all the venues, they're all extremely controlled environments, and it's good that we can invite an almost all-Irish lineup.”

Emma Langford: Performs as part of the Quiet Lights Festival.
Emma Langford: Performs as part of the Quiet Lights Festival.

It’s an interesting time to try and get any festival off the ground, but like many other events of its kind, this year’s Quiet Lights was a re-up on bookings made in 2019 and 2020, in the hopes of a resolution to the now-protracted Covid crisis.

It’s a point of pride for Pearson to have held faith with most of his booked artists - even if there’s one or two that got away.

“Last year, we had some really big names, which I won't name, but we had some fairly big acts that we normally wouldn't be able to get, they found themselves stranded on the island as opposed to touring, that we never announced, and we won't be releasing those name, but a lot of this year is a reprogramming of that.

“We also have the Featured Artists strand, which isn't there this year, due to the fact that we're just trying to get concerts back up and running. We had Myles O’Reilly in 2019, and in 2020, we had Lisa O’Neill, so she’s going to come down.

“The rest of it is the usual Quiet Lights mix of paying homage to the sensational folk revival artists that we have in Ireland mixed with a bit of weirdness, and mixed with the bit of collaboration.”

Pearson, then, was quick to sense the rise in cases in recent weeks, and how they might affect proceedings for the second year running.

He, like the venues with which he’s working, have been operating in straitened circumstances - and regardless of the events of the coming days, the festival will be operating in the strictest of safety.

“The venues have been amazing. I mean, all the venues in Cork and Ireland in general. They are the most briefed, educated people on what they can and can't do. They are so, so cautious around what they should and shouldn't do.

“I reckon we have a lot of bigger venues that will be fine, no matter what restrictions come in such as the Triskel, the Everyman will have people nice and spaced; smaller events like Coughlan's, the amount of tickets that we put on sale is not capacity, so people will be able to go in there and feel safe.

“We've had these dates booked with them for you know, 9, 10 months, and they've all been fantastic.”

Niamh Regan: On the bill for Quiet Lights festival.
Niamh Regan: On the bill for Quiet Lights festival.

There’s one space missing from the line-up that reflects the changes we’ve already seen in the city, however.“I'm very sad that we don't have the Kino this year. That's the one thing that I'm very sad about, I think it's a real loss. And I think it's the biggest venue loss in Ireland, not just in Cork, y'know, that we've lost that.”

The venue selection for the festival had always been exciting pre-Covid, but circumstances don’t necessarily allow for non-traditional venues at present - not that that’s stopped Pearson from hatching plans as the 2022 funding applications go out.

Having run gigs at the chapel at Griffith College Cork, among other spaces, recent plans for more regular events at the space have been a catalyst for a venue search for the years to come.

I absolutely do. It was such a mammoth task to get the festival to where it is right now, using the infrastructure that we're lucky to have in Cork, using places like, like the Everyman, and the Triskel, Coughlan's, established venues. We have used Griffith College in the past - they are, I believe, taking out their big marble altar in the middle of their space, which means I'd be able to lump a big, huge grand piano in there, hopefully next year.

“I've always wanted to do something in the Crypt at St. Luke's, so I'm sure we'll do something there - and I’m very optimistic about the Green Room at the Opera House becoming a new little hub for kind-of weird gigs.”

Quiet Lights festival kicks off tonight (November 18) and runs until Sunday. For more information on gigs, see panels or visit quietlights.net.

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