It’s been 15 long months but this weekend revellers will finally get a chance to let their hair down again as Northern Ireland hosts its first outdoor music festival since the start of the Covid lockdown.
The stage is set as around 2,500 music fans will be permitted to descend on Limavady for the two-day Stendhal Festival, thanks to the easing of restrictions by the NI Executive.
Starting on Friday and continuing through Saturday, the festival, based in its usual location at Ballymully Cottage Farm, will be smaller than in previous years.
But event director, Ross Parkhill, said it was simply “brilliant to be back” after so long on the sidelines as Northern Ireland begins to claw back the millions lost in hospitality and tourism revenue and enjoys a taste of freedom.
“We are buzzing to finally, finally be able to say we are 100% on for the festival,” said Ross, who has pulled together a line-up featuring the best in Northern Ireland music, comedy, arts and north coast hospitality.
“It’s safe to say we’re beyond thrilled and I know that it’s not just us that feels the same way.
“At long last, our indigenous musicians, technical staff, crew and everyone else who works in the industry can start climbing the ladder back to normality.
“There is a way to go but knowing that the process has now started in earnest is an incredible relief.”
When the last Stendhal Festival was held in summer 2019, more than 10,000 people were on site, with many camping out Glastonbury-style over the weekend of music, comedy and family fun.
This weekend’s event will celebrate the festival’s tenth anniversary, with performances from And So I Watch You From Afar, Lyra, Kila, Ciaran Lavery and more than 60 musicians, comedians and family performers.
And while it does represent a step back towards normality, Ross was keen to point out that there will still be a few differences at this year’s events.
“Obviously the biggest difference is capacity,” he said.
“In 2019, we had 10,000 visitors but this weekend it will only be a quarter of that. We could run for more people but we want to ease ourselves back into things because there are a number of new protocols around social distancing that we have to implement and manage, and we want to ensure that we get that spot on.
“Social distancing will be required, masks outdoors are optional but recommended, while masks in any indoor spaces will remain mandatory. We must ensure that campers remain in their bubbles in the campsites at all times and that people do not enter other bubbles’ tents. There is quite a list of things we must put in place and that our visitors must adhere to in order to make sure everyone follows all the protocols, so yeah it will be different but happily, it will be happening.
“It might not be our biggest event ever, but it will be one of our most important,” he said.
There’s plenty more in store across the summer months for festival lovers starved of entertainment.
Stendhal Festival will return for a second event from August 12-14, with organisers hoping to double the number of visitors to 5,000.
And Northern Ireland’s largest cultural diversity festival, the 15th Belfast Mela, has confirmed a week of activities and entertainment from August 23-29.