Next month sees the fifth Open House Festival to be held in Bangor. And in the view of festival director Kieran Gilmore the town is the main attraction.
He explains: “We are not about big headliners. For us the town itself and its people are the star attractions of the Open House Festival.”
This year’s festival is expected to be the most ambitious and creative programme yet.
Kieran says: “We have lots planned and the team are busy putting the festival together. In short there are more than 142 different events in 41 venues across the 31 days in August.”
He continues: “Many of our events are hand-curated and completely unique to Bangor.
“We’ve even got our own locally brewed festival beer – alongside 40 food and drink events showcasing some of the best of Northern Irish produce, craft beers, gins and whiskeys.
We really like the format that the festival has of being a month long and using a lot of unusual venues, some new and some which have proven to be popular in the past. The festival is also about working closely with local businesses.Kieran Gilmore, Open House Festival director
“And because the festival is open to everyone, more than a third of the events are free.”
This year’s festival offers an exciting array of national and international artists from America, New Zealand, Canada, England and Ireland, including the likes of Courtney Marie Andrews from Arizona, who recently wowed audiences on Later With Jools Holland, and the Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band – one of America’s foremost country blues bands.
The extensive 2017 programme covers music, words, food and drink, film, comedy, theatre, tours and visual art.
Highlights include Lennifest – a specially curated celebration of the late Leonard Cohen in the town’s Walled Garden, and an audience with Belfast born writer, Bernard MacLaverty who’ll be launching Midwinter Break, his first his first his first novel for 16 years.
Kieran says that format of the festival has proven to be very popular.
He says: “We really like the format that the festival has of being a month long and using a lot of unusual venues, some new and some which have proven to be popular in the past. The festival is also about working closely with local businesses.
“We have never been about parachuting huge international artists in Bangor for a couple of hours and then them leaving quickly afterwards.
“We see the festival playing a regenerative role in the town and it’s important that the festival has longevity as well.”
While Kieran may not be originally from the town his heart is very much in Bangor.
He says: “I am not originally from Bangor but Alison the festival manager is from the town.
“I am from Belfast and I came to be here in Bangor after Alison and I got married and started our family.
“We have been living in Bangor now 18 years after we met in London after a music gig.
“So our lives have been very much focused on music and art and the important role that they have played in our lives together.”
Explaining why the Open House Festival was moved to Bangor, Kieran says: “We began with a pilot festival in 2012. In that year we ran events on five consecutive Fridays of music in the Goat’s Toe. It was really just to test the water and they were really successful.
“A lot of people told us when we first brought together the idea of a festival that we would never get audiences in Bangor paying for tickets for music events.
“And I think we have really proved them all very wrong. So after the success of the pilot we decided that we liked the idea of running it out across a month. We liked the month long format.”
Kieran says that they learnt a lot from running the festival in Belfast but decided right from the start that they needed to do something different for the seaside town.
He says: “We had learnt a lot from the events in Belfast, whereby it was usually run over a long weekend or maybe five or six days.
“We found that there was so much pressure to get the kind of acts that we wanted to attract and to have them shoe horned into a small window.
“So when we started the Bangor festival we made the decision that we didn’t want to repeat what we had done in Belfast. We also didn’t think it would have been the right format for the town.
“We decided to create a festival in which we could catch performers who were coming to Ireland in August.”
For more information on the Open House Festival click on www.openhousefestival.com.
August is a good month for a festival
August is a good month for a festival in Bangor, explains Kieran Gilmore.
He says: “We thought August was an appropriate month to hold a festival in Bangor to be honest.
“We think that the festival is perfectly tailored for the town.
“We knew that what worked in Belfast would probably not work for Bangor, so that’s why we took a different approach to the festival.”
Explaining the rationale behind the choice of August for the festival, Kieran says: “We thought July was a quiet month and wouldn’t be good for a festival.
“And then we decided against September because we were very keen to have it during the summer.
“So by simple elimination the decision was made to hold it in August.”
He adds: “We think it’s an ideal month because of a lot of people will be back home from their main summer holidays and there is that gap between returning from holidays and the schools going back, people are still in the summer mood and may be at a loss as what to do, so we decided to try and fill the gap and it has worked so well.”
It of course means there isn’t much time for him and his family to enjoy a typical Northern Ireland school holiday.
He jokes: “Unfortunately it means that we don’t have holidays, but I am certainly not complaining.”
Building confidence in arts and culture
The key to the inspiration for the Open House Festival is helping regenerate Bangor.
Kieran Gilmore explains: “What inspires us is seeing and hearing people now talking the town up.”
He continues: “Five or ten years ago people were all-to-readily running down the town.
“But now there is a much greater confidence, and it’s not just because of the festival, there are different things happening in the town which are helping to trigger regeneration in the town and it is helping people who live here live a much better and happier life.
“There is a definite growing confidence in the town and we think that Bangor’s future is firmly linked with art and culture.”
Kieran admits that Bangor’s future cannot solely rest on retail and needs much more than that.
He says: “Retail is not going to change Bangor future for the better. It’s just not going to happen.
“I believe that retail and local businesses will benefit once arts and culture becomes established in the town, and we hope that the Open House Festival, it will get more people visiting the town and will also encourage the people of the town to come out into the town.”
Kieran says that the Open House Festival is getting to showcase what is good about Bangor.