Welcome to The Electric Picnic - where it's perfectly acceptable to drag a two year old girl through some mud in a painted cart.
Kids are everywhere (and by 'kids' we mean actual toddlers - not the 'kids' who were supposed to turn up to wreck the place because The Killers were playing). Toddling around Mindfields, on their dad's shoulders in the Electric Arena, rolling about the grass at The Main Stage. They're making us behave - who wants to swear in front of a two year old, let alone fall about drunk?
The weather helps - three days of glorious (yet bearable) sunshine and light breezes. The ground is relatively firm and a lot of people turn up on Sunday wearing their shorts.
The food helps - green curries better than those in noted Thai restaurants, ostrich burgers like you get at the Continental Market and beers you would actual buy for a quiet drink in the house. A selection of wines at one stall, some ridiculous looking cupcakes at another. And you rarely have to queue. Everyone here - punters and security alike are in such good form - no aggro, no hassle. It's a beautiful thing.
Nine years this festival has been running yet it still feels secretive, a special club. Very few of us understand why there's a single door to nowhere in Body & Soul, or why that stage in the forest is built into a ship, yet we're happy to pretend it all makes sense. This is a festival where brand new Icelandic pop courtesy of relative unknowns Of Monster & Men is way too big for a 3,000 capacity arena. Where their fellow Icelandic minstrels Sigur Ros can headline an entire day. Thankfully, it's also a festival that welcomes a mess of Irish talent - the bill is sprinkled with a number of notable acts from up North. But we'll get to that.
Friday eased us in. Five minutes at Grandaddy made for 'The Crystal Lake' and 'AM 180' - genuine classics. Metronomy and The Maccabees justify their achingly cool reputation and haircuts with proper songs. Christy Moore wins the battle of old skool v. nu skool - the likes of 'Joxer' and 'Ride On' feel as familiar as 'Happy Birthday' afterall. Ed Sheeran is a worthy runner up, showing off a decent flow during 'You Need Me' with his cover of 'Chasing Cars' sung by several hundred girlfriends on shoulders. They're lapping it up.
Earlier Wonder Villains opened the Electric Arena. New songs 'Blonde' and 'Tiger' show great promise, but just as it is for Rainy Boy Sleep, Not Squares, Gareth Dunlop and A Plastic Rose later in the weekend, there's only a handful of people their to witness the first few songs. Each of these band's profile in the south is much lower than we assumed which is a little disappointing. Each gathers a healthy crowd by midway through their set, new fans onboard, which we guess was the whole point of them being here.
Early Saturday is well spent lazing about Mindfields. The market makes for a decent lunch, eaten in the company of some spoken word. Yesterday we had a Vaccines q&a and Ed Sheeran on Today FM to keep us company, today it's a young lady waxing lyrical about previous EP indulgences and the state of the nation in general. Not great. Some comedy is a better option - the Comedy Tent MCs are seeing how much 'stuff' they can fit in some poor guys afro. Daft.
Saturday's musical line up is a little crazy. We see Dexy's theatrical set go nuclear when a souped up 'Come on Eileen' is played before one of three unforgettable highlights of the weekend - Ham Sandwich on the Cosby stage. Niamh Farrell is nailing that Donna Summer cover and it turns out 'The Naturist' is just as good as 'I Feel Love'. We didn't even need those confetti cannons. The Irish love-in continues - David Kitt is reprising his classic 'The Big Romance' album with a little help from Richie Jape while Turn turn back the years, legends in their own backyard.
Then there's Villagers. Oh my. That first album was incredible, the second is blatantly much better. 'The Waves' has jaws dropping - all these new songs do. Conor O'Brien will be a superstar this time next year. Even Bono is watching though we're not sure why that's important.
Those not watching a hot-panted Bronagh Gallagher from up a tree (hello, John Rocha) are at The Roots, who are schooling every band on the planet. No bass here, instead a marching band tuba. That guitarist is outrageously good and ?uestlove could drum in his sleep. They're covering Guns n' Roses, Minnie Ripperton, Sinead O' Connor and James Brown, seemingly all at once.
Then, a moment. A young lady is down the front with a banner suggesting she may be a good choice to sing 'You Got Me' with the band. Rolling the dice, they invite her onstage. That din is a mixture of encouragement and tension - we're not sure what's going to happen here - can this random member of the crowd actually sing? Turns out she's amazing. The band smile and laugh, ?uestlove takes a photo and the entire arena is a noisy sea of smiling faces. Three hours of The Cure playing 'the hits' is suddenly something of an anti-climax.
Things settle down on day three. ATL wanders through Body & Soul, taking in all sorts of random curios - art installations, laptop battles and the scantily clad in hot tubs. During the day it seems a little tired here, to an EP veteran anyway. A lick of paint, some kind of new spin - anything to reignite the place. At night, however, it all makes sense again. This is a place to get lost in. Schedules are torn up.
Not by us, however - it's back to the music. Cashier #9 have filled the Cosby Arena - the first Northern Irish band of the weekend to do so. Well, Bomb City 7 and Axis Of have filled the Oxjam tent - granted that only took about 25 people. A lovely place to be all the same - Lafaro and Rams will also play what's essentially a Northern Irish takeover.
Inevitably, Guy Garvey is proving once again he's the nicest man on the planet. Bigging us up constantly (he's a massive fan of EP, that becomes clear), he'll invite the Irish Youth Choir onstage for 'Lippy Kids' before toasting us all with a little local whiskey. 'One Day Like This' is just….well you get the picture, I'm sure.
It's a warm up for The Killers, a 'controversial' booking. Combined with the fact Oxegen wasn't on this summer, some quarters assumed this pop acts addition to the bill would make for a mods and rockers style stand off, ruining the festival. Absolute nonsense of course - this is the nicest, most respectful gathering we've seen at any Irish festival (let alone any Electric Picnic) and The Killers go down very well. Other people are watching Glen Hansard cover Van and The Divine Comedy or James Murphy's gloriously deep and suitably dark DJ set at the dance tent. No biggie.
Sunshine and every form of entertainment imaginable. Nice people, many in colourful fancy dress, all getting a little silly, forgetting themselves. Impossible to top.
Electric Picnic then. Worryingly perfect.
Photos: Carrie Davenport