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Stendhal set to kick off first Northern Ireland music festival in 16 months

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ON TRACK: John Cartwright

ON TRACK: John Cartwright

ON TRACK: John Cartwright

It has been a long time coming, but Northern Ireland’s first music festival since 2019 is set to kick off next weekend.

The Stendhal Festival, situated at Ballymully Cottage Farm in Limavady, is celebrating the announcement from the Executive on Thursday night that live music in outdoor spaces is now allowed to return.

“We’re all really, really happy,” said festival organiser John Cartwright. “We’re now focusing on getting this over the line.”

Like the rest of the live entertainment sector, the pandemic had a crushing impact on the festival, with bosses forced to cancel last year’s show at the last minute.

Delays to the relaxation of restrictions led them to worry that the same fate may strike again this summer, so the statement from Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey came as a huge relief.

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A previous Stendhal festival

A previous Stendhal festival

A previous Stendhal festival

There has been no outdoor gathering for a music or entertainment event as big as Stendhal anywhere in Northern Ireland for 16 months, and very few in all of Europe, but the festival’s organisers are confident that they can hold the two-day camping event safely.

Mr Cartwright explained: “Based on the legislation now and what was said [by the Executive] on Thursday, we could bring a lot more people onto our site than we had planned to, but we don’t want to.

“We have an opportunity to get music back on the agenda and to keep it there, without any backward steps. We have an obligation to ourselves, to the musicians and staff and to the public to make sure that we run this correctly and we are determined to do that.”

Over July 9 and 10, Stendhal will host 2,500 people, roughly a quarter of its usual capacity, as they watch Belfast rock band And So I Watch You From Afar, Portadown singer-songwriter Jealous of the Birds and Derry pop-punk trio Cherym.

A second event will run from August 12 to 14. Circumstances permitting, 5,000 visitors will be allowed.

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ON THE BILL: And So I Watch You From Afar

ON THE BILL: And So I Watch You From Afar

ON THE BILL: And So I Watch You From Afar

All Covid-19 restrictions will be enforced on the site, with campers asked to keep to their home bubbles, in line with guidelines on overnight stays.

Masks will be optional outdoors and mandatory in indoor areas, with marshals on patrol to ensure compliance with the rules.

Mr Cartwright was reluctant to criticise the Government’s role in easing restrictions but said: “I don’t want to look back and complain, but it would have been helpful if the process had started sooner than it did.”

Limited numbers of tickets remain and the organiser is confident that it will be a special weekend. “It might not be our biggest event ever, but it will be one of our most important,” he said.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​


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