Sitting sipping cider, soaking up sunshine and the sounds of summer. Bliss.
And there was me planning that ‘rain failed to dampen spirits’ line. I might have got a touch of colour instead.
Mingled with the sounds from the stages around Ballymully Cottage Farm a few miles from Limavady, there is a relief in the air, a collective sigh of ‘at last we’re here again’.
If you didn’t know, Stendhal syndrome is ‘a psychosomatic condition involving rapid heartbeat, fainting, confusion and even hallucinations, said to occur when individuals become exposed to objects, artworks, or phenomena of great beauty and antiquity’. Seeing the smiles on faces, the dancing on the grass and hearing the music echoing around the farmland, the name of the festival has never been more apt.
Only a week ago the Stendhal Festival, celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, didn’t seem possible. Though reduced in numbers to around 2,500 from the usual 10,000, the smaller crowd added to the chilled atmosphere. No queues. Plenty of room to social distance. A gentle re-introduction to the festival scene.
With mobile phone reception patchy at best, there was little choice but to leave real life behind. Those who snapped up the limited tickets were just glad to be living again.
“We’re just sitting here soaking it all in,” said Rachel Kazaca, who had come from Donegal for the weekend with her three kids Owen, Ellen and Hayley.
“The kids love the camping, so we’ll be staying in a tent and just having a lovely family weekend.”
Seventeen-year-old Molly Hogg said she had found a little slice of heaven, just a few miles from home, as she tucked into a pizza with friend Hayley McGinnis.
The Limavady singer-songwriter has been a regular performer at Stendhal over the years and said there was nothing but joy at finally getting back on the stage.
“I’ve done my set so I can lie back, relax and enjoy it,” she said
“I love it. It’s one of the most surreal feelings finally being back, being able to perform.
“And the sun’s out. When I performed here in 2019 it was wellies all the way.”
Moving around the six stages hastily constructed on site to keep the music and comedy coming, artists can’t resist the ‘it’s great to be back’ and ‘you’re the best audience we’ve had all year’ lines as they shake off the cobwebs of Covid.
“I’ve been involved at the festival for the past eight or nine years,” said Kerrie Hanna from Belfast, who this year is helping out with music workshops for some of the younger festival fans. “I’ve missed this so much.”
Smiling beside her, Kat Jamison said: “I love everything about it. It’s warm, sunny, my work is done for the day and I’ve a beer in my hand. It’s wonderful to have it all back.”
It was a first festival visit for Rachel Moore from Derry, at her Hippie Shades Tie-dye clothing stall, run with friend Sinead Hill. “I basically grabbed every bit of stock I had and got here any way I could,” she said. “I started making the clothes in my garage a few years ago, but have just been selling online. It’s great to see the faces of customers.”
They will all get to do it again today — and there is a 5,000 capacity second Stendhal festival planned for August.
Of course, I did get stuck behind the obligatory tractor on the way there, but it didn’t feel like much of a problem after the last 18 months.