We catch up with the DJ and booker behind Cork's Ska and Reggae Festival

Meet the woman behind Cork’s Ska and Reggae Festival, Kate O’Shea. ELLIE O’BYRNE catches up with the DJ, booker and festival founder
We catch up with the DJ and booker behind Cork's Ska and Reggae Festival
Cork Ska & Reggae Festival founder and DJ Kate O'Shea

NO matter how much job satisfaction a career brings, pretty much everyone will experience a period of “burn-out” at some stage.

Not so Kate O’Shea, the woman who’s been in charge of booking bands for busy city centre venue The Crane Lane Theatre for the past 11 years; Kate says her love of music and the variety her job brings means it’s something she hasn’t experienced to date.

“I love dealing with the artists, especially meeting international acts that I love and then getting to see them perform,” Kate says.

“Sometimes it’s a long process: I might have booked them six months in advance, so there’s the anticipation about getting in a new act, because you’re not quite sure how they’ll be and you hear good stories and bad stories about some people. But I’ve had fantastic times and conversations with artists.”

Like many people in bookings and events management, Kate forged her own unique career path.

Originally from Friar’s walk, and having gone to primary and secondary school in Ballyphehane, it was her love of music that led to her DJing in her teens.

“I studied music in school and it was one of the only subjects I liked,” she says. “I started DJing at 17, and when I started it was all Drum ‘n’ Bass, and it was all vinyl. But I grew up listening to David Bowie and The Cure and all those kinds of acts.”

Having studied Video Production in St John’s College of Further Education and Radio in Coláiste Stiofán Naofa, all the while working in bars, Kate eventually landed a job in the Comedy Club on Coburg Street, where she also DJed.

“Then, in, 2006, the Crane Lane was opening so I came looking for a job,” she says.

“I started off bar-tending and was managing it after six months. Two years later, the general manager gave me the job of the bookings and events. The same acts were here every week. I just saw a bigger future for the place, to get into the music scene in Ireland and go bigger than local.”

Kate took a couple of bold decisions and managed to attract noteworthy acts, including Canadian singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith and Alabama 3, the Brixton band best known for having written the theme tune to The Sopranos; acts that helped put the Crane Lane on the map as a mid-sized Cork venue.

As well as booking acts and dealing with details like flights and accommodation, bands’ technical requirements, and advertising and social media for the venue, Kate also DJs in The Crane Lane at least one night a week, moving away from her Drum ‘n’ Bass roots to incorporate more crowd-pleasing fare.

“Over the years I’ve become more eclectic, but I still do love good ’90s dance tracks; I can’t resist it,” she says with a smile. “I’ll start out a night with some indie and maybe some ska and reggae; generally upbeat stuff, and I’ll stay away from anything that’s too much in the charts.”

As well as bookings and DJ sets, Kate is also the woman behind Cork’s fledgling Ska and Reggae Festival, now entering its third year.

“I just saw a gap in the market in Cork for it and gave it a go,” she says of the forthcoming three-day festival.

“I had all the connections to make it happen. The first year of the festival, we had queues around the corner on the Friday night. People travelled from Donegal in campervans, people came for the whole weekend, from all over the place.”

Three years in, Kate is looking forward to welcoming a combination of local acts like classic Cork two-tone ska outfit The Service and UK dub act Dreadzone this year. And she’s ambitious for the future of the genre-specific festival, which is a destination event for Ireland’s crowd of loyal, dyed-in-the-wool ska fans.

“Year three is a real test,” she says. “The first year was extremely successful and the second year was good, but I don’t want to spread it too much, I want to make it sustainable before it grows. Ideally, eventually it would be great to have an outdoor stage, a big headline act and a more impressive city-wide impact.”

With such deep enthusiasm for music and her work, it’s easy to see why Kate hasn’t encountered career burn-out, but it’s not like there haven’t been challenges along the way. Now married to chef Vincent Ryan, Kate has two children, eight-year-old Corrina and toddler Alice: combining late nights DJing with parenting can be exhausting, but she’s battling through the sleep deprivation, she says with a smile: “Yes, it’s tough when you are getting in at three and then up again at seven. But when my youngest starts school that will ease off a bit. I don’t want to give up the DJing; I love it too much.”

There’s also a frustration in the 250-person capacity of the Crane Lane: “I’d love to have a big venue to work with. I’m restricted in size here, and that limits what I can do. We tend to start bands out and then they go off and get promoters and start playing big venues and we have to wave goodbye to them.”

One frustration that’s eased in recent years is that the world of music is becoming less male- dominated, she says.

“I used to get comments like, ‘Can I speak to the manager to give them more details?’” she says. “And I’d say, ‘I’m the manager,’ and they’d say, ‘No, the real manager. Where is he?’ But it’s gotten better over the years.

“I think people aren’t as ignorant of women’s abilities any more, especially the bookings business has gotten a lot better in recent years. But with the DJing, even now there’ll be guys that stand next to you while you DJ, watching you like a hawk because they think you can’t possibly be mixing. It’s like, ‘yes, I do have hands!’”

Cork Ska & Reggae Festival runs from Friday, July 26 to Sunday July 28. Full line-up on https://www.facebook.com/corkskareggaefestival/

More in this section

Sponsored Content

Add Echolive.ie to your home screen - easy access to Cork news, views, sport and more