Upstart keeps the festival vibe local in Cork 

Coming together as a response to its founders’ gig withdrawals amid the Covid crisis, Glounthaune’s Upstart Festival enters its second year and intends to stay on the festival calendar, with a mix of new and established Leeside bands, plus an emerging Limerick favourite. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with founder Jesper Pedersen.
Upstart keeps the festival vibe local in Cork 

First Class and Coach will have a headline slot at the festival.

In this parish, we’ve spent the last two-and-a-half years talking about how things have been affected by the Covid-19 crisis and its circumstances, but if there’s something we’ve been slow to address, it’s what been created by the crisis - the ways and means in which people created new opportunities and made the best of the situation to create something in response to Covid-era life that could add to the local music scene as the circumstances continued to change.

One such case is that of Glounthaune-based rock all-dayer Upstart Festival, its second instalment happening this year on Saturday September 10, kicking off at 4pm and featuring headline slots from The Love Buzz and First Class & Coach (Fifa Records labelmates, no less), as well as Limerick garage-rock dark horses FONDA, and emerging Leeside outfits Little Known and The Cliffords.

Festival director Jesper Pedersen talks about the response to the festival thus far:.

“This year, so far, tickets are going at about three or four times the rate of this time last year, which is really positive. It's something that we didn't know about when we were starting last year. Just to get the feedback that we're already hearing from fans, and everybody that we talked to when we've been around the city with flyers.

 Alternative rock trio The Love Buzz are headliners at the Upstart Festival in Cork.
Alternative rock trio The Love Buzz are headliners at the Upstart Festival in Cork.

“We're hearing from a lot of people who know the Cliffords, a lot of people who know The Love Buzz and the other bands as well. We've been saying all along, we're about new music, and supporting up-and-coming talent.”

Glounthaune is an unassuming location for a rock festival, albeit an auspicious one - the home of the late, lamented Cathal Coughlan, no less. Still, like any endeavour to get music up-and-running outside of the cities and established music spots, it’s not been without its hassles to get off the ground - keeping things small and manageable has been the key, says Pedersen.

Anne Marie said, 'we should have a gig next year'. And I went 'no, we should have a concert next year'

“It happened a bit by accident. It was a group of friends, who had a Christmas do in 2019 for our local vinyl club at the Rising Tide. As we're leaving, a friend in (Cork shoegazers) Flywheel, Anne Marie said, 'we should have a gig next year'. And I went 'no, we should have a concert next year'. That's actually how it happened.

“We had local bands, The Naildrivers, Flywheel and A Cow in the Water, all were happy to take a chance on it. It was an event that had never happened before. So we had three out of five bands, we were lucky enough to add Fyunnkay, 2021 UCC Battle of the Bands winners, and Pretty Happy, who became our headliners. And that was it, we had an event, and we had a lot of local volunteers who really made it happen because it is all a community event.

 Cork band Pretty Happy headlining Upstart Festival 2021
Cork band Pretty Happy headlining Upstart Festival 2021

“It's all run by volunteers. We paid professional sound staff, the stage crew and our artists, and everybody else who does this gives us their time. It's just been brilliant. It really adds to the atmosphere, it means there's a welcome for the guests, and some of the best feedback we got was from guests last year who turned up and said it was just a great day out.”

That community spirit is at the heart of the festival’s decision to continue into the post-Covid circumstance, and it helps that the effort that goes in has been well-received by other locals, never necessarily a guarantee at the best of times when discussing festivals.

“We were pretty nervous at the start, you know, was Glounthaune going to accept the rock festival? What we managed to do was inform neighbours, got everybody locally involved, and we made sure it was well looked after.

“All the fans were on our side, I think they could sense the atmosphere. It meant that the next morning, we left the field spotless, and that was important to locals, y'know.”

Asking about working with the bands and corralling them all together on the day leads down the inevitable path of the wider setup and maintenance of the day - or for Pedersen, making sure all involved are put in contact, and allowed to get on with the process of making a festival happen.

“To be honest with you, we get out of the way. I don't have a background in the music industry, so I know that the last thing you want is the middleman. We let the artists talk directly with the sound engineer, Ian Walsh is doing backline, Outline Ireland are doing the sound, they're the professionals, so we let them get on with it. If there's anything they need. They just shout to us, and we'll make sure that it gets arranged, but the guys know exactly what to do.

 Cork band Flywheel at Upstart Festival 2021
Cork band Flywheel at Upstart Festival 2021

“In terms of getting the bands, that's been fun, because you've got to get out there and have a listen to a lot of bands that I didn't know were there ten years ago, and there's just so much brilliant talent out there at the moment. We've come across bands that are no longer around, that we missed, and this is going to be the kind of thing where we're going to be telling people, 'look, there's great bands out there, don't miss them, get out there'.

First Class & Coach just blew me away when I heard them, definitely a Sonic Youth vibe going

“You're going to have up-and-coming bands, the Cliffords have just had their first single, Little Known, they've been touring extensively in Cork and Dublin. FONDA, we think are really overlooked. We came across posters where they were supporting Fontaines DC, Just Mustard and the Altered Hours at a couple of events. First Class & Coach just blew me away when I heard them, definitely a Sonic Youth vibe going. The Love Buzz, they're brilliant, they will be an absolute riot to have at the end of the day, and they will be our headliners this year.”

As the second edition of the festival gets underway, the temptation is to ask Pedersen of possible visions for its future, perhaps some grandiose vision of matching what the local festival in Mitchelstown did, in going from the town square to Deer Farm and expanding to a 20k-cap weekender in the process.

That community vibe seems to be front and centre, though - for now, the crew are keeping it tight-knit, small, and good craic to be part of.
“Ironically, I haven't got an ambition in terms of growing it till it breaks. That's one thing we've talked about with the team- this could get bigger and bigger, and eventually, the field can't take it, it's kind of a logistics thing, we have a good chance of having a really nice event. We have to gradually find what the capacity is, that might be a bit more than the thousand or so we're hoping this year. But we can't jump to that without knowing for our volunteers, who are friends, neighbours, can we handle this.

The Cliffords in action at UCC’s Battle of the Bands, 2022.
The Cliffords in action at UCC’s Battle of the Bands, 2022.

“We want to make sure that we're giving something that works for everyone involved, for guests and everything, we can give them a good day out. When we find that point, whether that's the number we're at this year, or maybe a little bit more next year, we'll hold it then, we don't want to go until we break.”

Upstart Festival takes place on Saturday, September 10, at Craig’s Field in Glounthaune village, Co Cork. Kickoff is at 4pm, tickets €20 from eventbrite.ie. This concert is open to 16s and over, with support from the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport & Media, Cork County Council and Glounthaune Community Association.

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