Still riding high on the stellar success of 2018’s festival, Westival (Westport Music and Arts Festival) returns for another six days of creativity and craic – and some shockin’ shenanigans for Halloween – from Wednesday, October 23, to Bank Holiday Monday, October 28.
This year promises to be another decadent banquet of the arts, with a whopping 62 events on the schedule. Expect everything from art installations and exhibitions to music and theatre, as well as a host of other live performances that might be less easy to categorise but will pack a serious creative punch.
Feedback from last year’s Westival was overwhelmingly positive, with many saying it was one of the best the town had ever seen – and that’s saying something, considering the festival is one of the country’s longest-running arts events.
Commenting, boundlessly energetic Westival Director Conor Wilson said: “Last year’s festival enthralled over 5,000 people over the six days of Westival. We set the bar high in terms of the calibre of acts and artists that we brought together, and this year we have focused on building on last year’s success by putting together a broad line-up that we hope will captivate the interest of both local and visitor alike.”
The festival will open on with the much-anticipated launch of the Westival Gallery in the old Dunnes building on Castlebar Street. People are still talking about last year’s Westival Gallery exhibitions – a visual virtuoso in a venue that is truly transformed into something sublime.
This treat for the eyes will be followed by the Westival opening party, and a treat for the ears: The Castle Nightclub’s Live Lounge will be filled with the rousing sound of seven – yes, seven – horn-playing brothers from Chicago (sons of the legendary jazz trumpeter Phil Cohran). The incredible Hypnotic Brass Ensemble specialise in everything from hop-hop to jazz to funk, soul and rock, with a bit of calypso and gypsy thrown in. These guys have been named one of the New York Times’ Top 20 Acts to See Live – and with good reason.
Other melodious highlights include a night of music and song with the inimitable Paul Noonan (Bell X1) and Mayo native, Other Voices award-winner Maria Kelly. A superb show in prospect, in the heavenly surrounds of Holy Trinity Church. News of another gig in the same acoustically awesome venue – the Bird On The Wire show with Pauline Scanlon, The Whileaways and a ten-piece orchestra – spread like wildfire. The idea of the much-loved Leonard Cohen songbook being reimagined by accomplished musicians in such an amazing setting soon saw demand exceed supply, and the show quickly sold out. But before ticketless Cohen fans could descend into despair, another show was added – though tickets for this are moving fast too. If you want to go, don’t be dawdling.
Music lovers will also be thrilled to hear that the magnetic Le Boom will be playing in the Westival Club at The Mill Times Hotel. This show will be one of the electro-indie-house-pop duo’s last gigs before they take a sabbatical, and an energetic live performance that will keep fans buzzing ’til they return. They’ll be supported by none other than Westport’s own rising star of the rap world, Uppbeat, who’s been making a name for himself nationally and internationally.
Less easy to label are intriguing events like the mesmerising How To Square A Circle aerial show by Ronan Brady and Aisling Ní Cheallaigh. Ronan – a former Roscommon footballer – is known for his tantalising performance in Riot, the Dublin fringe-festival show that went on to sell-out around the world. Together, he and Aisling – a gravity-defying circus performer – have created a show where circus meets theatre: Jaw dropping aerial acrobatics brought to life with a story about ‘friendship, ego, love and the joys of a cup of tea’.
Movie buffs and music lovers will mingle while their bones tingle when Dracula Live bites into Westport Town Hall. The 1931 classic, starring the legendary Bela Lugosi, will be accompanied by a dramatic live score that was commissioned by the Bram Stoker Festival in 2016.
Film fans will also flock to ‘Shooting the Mafia’. Directed by Kim Longinotto and produced by Westport-based filmmaker Niamh Fagan, it offers a powerful exposé of the Sicilian Mafia, warts and all. This is no glamorous ‘Godfather’.
And if Harry Potter gets your pulse racing, don’t miss ‘Behind the Scenes at the Harry Potter Movies’ at Tertulia Bookshop, presented by the shop’s co-owner Neil Paul, who worked in lighting and special effects on several of the Potter films.
This year’s art offering is top tier once again. The festival sent out an open call to artists to submit work on the theme ‘Brittle/Fragile’. Describing the response as ‘incredible’, Wilson said he was blown away by the variety and standard of the artwork that was submitted to the festival. “We are so impressed by the calibre of artists involved this year, they are a testament to the creative heritage in Westport and in Ireland. Many of the artists and performers moved away to cultivate their careers and are excited to return to Co Mayo to be part of a festival that honors their art the way we do at Westival.”
The theme is also reflected to great effect in Westival’s main exhibition, ‘Vitreous’, which features artworks created by five internationally acclaimed artists who work in that most brittle and fragile of mediums, glass. The five artists are Dublin-based Sinéad Brennan; Zoe Garner and Dr Joanne Mitchell, who are both based based in the UK; Linda Mulloy, who is based in both Westport and Brighton, and Westport’s Emma Bourke, whose glass sculptures so enchanted visitors to the Westival Gallery last year.
The Custom House Gallery is hosting two prestigious exhibitions for the festival. Camille Souter, one of the country’s greatest living painters and a Saoi of Aosdána, lives on Achill Island. Her eponymous show will feature work from her incredible 64-year career. Large exhibitions of Souter’s work are are exceptionally rare, and it has been 20 years since Mayo has hosted an exhibition devoted to her stunning work.
The Custom House Gallery is also hosting a show by renowned landscape artist and printmaker Norman Ackroyd. His work ranges from minimalist, nearly abstract impressions, to detailed images. His art rarely includes the human figure; the landscape subjects are often of old human habitation. His Westival exhibition, ‘Connacht Coast’, includes dramatic etchings of our western coastline.
Fascinating work by world-renowned artist and printmaker Diarmuid Delargy will also be on show in the Clew Bay Gallery. Exploring themes of the natural world and extinction, Delargy’s work could not be more timely.
Another unmissable arty offering is the much-loved annual exhibition in McGing’s, now in its 12th year. Coordinated by local aritsts Gráinne O’Reilly, Breda Burns and Caroline Masterson, it contains small works created by artists who explore the theme ‘Kinstugi’ – the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery using precious metals, celebrating the cracks and scars. Imperfections are cherished, and mended things stand as testament to care and love.
Look out too for ‘Looking for Ghosts’, a photographic exhibition documenting the colourful Irish rave scene, often at dawn as the party finishes and a world of wild liberation slowly wakes up to the mundanities of the everyday and its intrusive realities.
Get stuck in
Those who like to get stuck in themselves should check out the host of visual art workshops, from the messy and fun Art Attack Paint Dance to the interactive and creative Visual Reality Workshop. The popular Plein Air Paint-Out returns for al-fresco art, while acclaimed photographer Michael McLaughlin will impart his considerable wisdom to snappers of all levels, and renowned artist Jimmy Lawlor will share insights into painting techniques. Teens can get stuck in too, with the Carnival of Adolescent Antics sure to inspire young musicians and street artists alike.
A new addition, Drag + Draw, invites artists and doodlers of all ilks to partake in some sensational life drawing with a glamourous subject, a drag queen model. Half show, half art session, this one is sure to entertain.
More glamourous fun is infused into the festival line-up with the hugely popular Dirty Circus rolling into town. This sizzling, glittering burlesque cabaret will wow with drag, pole, comedy, music and more as this decadent troupe of singers, dancers and performers doles out tricks and treats, both devilish and divine. This potpourri of postmodern fun retakes ownership of sensuality, feminism and performance to expressively embrace body diversity and all gender identities – with a sequinned sashay and a bejewelled eye on theatrical inclusivity. A saucy celebration of body confidence that will surely see the room temperature soar…
Speaking of tricks and treats, the Westival Halloween Ball invites all grown-ups to get in touch with their inner ghoulish child, get dressed up in creepy costumes and dance the night away at the Westival Club at The Mill Times. This year’s theme is Shock and Awe, and the night will feature music from three top-tier Irish acts – the fabulously funky Zaska, hip-hop duo TPM and deck diva DJ Glamo.
To find out more about these and a host of other Westival happenings, from street performance to literary events, family fun to theatre, check out westival.ie.