Electrifying the picnic: the music festival turns techie

4 Sep 2008

It all began in the Seventies at Glastonbury with free love and lots of mud, but the modern music festival has evolved. From connecting with nature to connecting via Bluetooth, the picnic has been electrified.

This year’s Electric Picnic music festival at Stradbally Hall Estate saw the modern music fan escape to the cultivated wilds of Co Laois, armed with toilet roll, a tent and the all-important mobile phone.

With the boutique festival’s repertoire of not only musical acts but also eco-workshops, comedy gigs, yoga classes and cookery demonstrations to list but a few, Irish telecoms and technology firms have spotted a growing niche in keeping the music-loving public informed and connected at the touch of a button, navigating their way round the dizzying array of activities that the modern festival has come to offer.

O2, already an established presence at the music festival, introduced the ElectricNav service for the first time this year. Festival-goers simply subscribed via text and, on the day, were sent a link to download the guide in time for the kick-off.

The service was free for O2 users, while subscribers to other operators paid the standard data charge as per their own network while accessing it.

What O2 aimed for with ElectricNav was to turn the mobile phone into a real-time gig guide: “Ultimately we developed this to help you get through the weekend. It’s a tool to help you have a better experience of the festival,” says Johnny Cahill, head of communications and sponsorship for O2 Ireland.

“A lot of what we hear is that — with so much to do and see at festivals such as Electric Picnic — the challenge is to figure out what’s going on, where to go next and what time your favourite bands are playing at.”

A music festival is like any organised event — consumers need regularly updated information to make the most of their experience, says Cahill.

Another increasingly popular mobile-based technology at the music festival is Bluetooth. Shane McAllister’s mobile-comms firm Mobanode teamed up with Nokia to bring a free digital goodie bag straight to the handsets of all Electric Picnic-ers.

At the Nokia tent, Mobanode sent out a free Electric Picnic ringtone — fittingly for this kooky but grown-up festival it was the song Pure Imaginationfrom Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

McAllister’s firm also provided a mobile torch for Nokia handsets: a simple application that turns the screen white so your trusty mobile can double as a light while you rummage around your tent at night or act as a flashing beacon if your friends are trying to find you.

“We’re also sending out the O2 ElectricNav via Bluetooth so non-O2 customers can avail of this free in the Nokia Bluetooth zone.”

Mobanode has already teamed up with Heineken for the Oxegen festival to provide similar services, MP3 tracks, event guides and competitions, all via Bluetooth, something that it also extends to sporting events throughout the year.

With all this mobile-oriented activity, Nokia correctly predicted many festival goers would arrive with low batteries and no charger, and so it provided a solar and wind-powered charging station that powered up over 50 phones at a time in an eco-friendly manner.

For Nokia, this is a savvy move, acting as an image boost and valuable service at the same time — something more tech firms have realised the festival goer appreciates — and a more efficient branding exercise than the banner ads of old.

“Mobile technology fits in with the way the festival model has evolved over the past few years. The old model involved large groups of people heading to see one or two bands — the Slane-type model.

“Now, you’re seeing more complex, diverse festivals such as Electric Picnic and Oxegen where the lists of artists and things to do and see is mind-blowing. With this, O2 has a great opportunity to help people make the most of the modern festival experience.”

It is the main form of communication throughout the festival, says McAllister. “People are more likely to be there without their wallet than their mobile phone! You’re talking about a tech-savvy crowd that is more than happy to use their mobile phones to their full potential.”

Also at Electric Picnic this year was IMtv (Irish Music Television) — a multimedia platform for Irish music that lives online through social networking site Facebook, as well as peer-to-peer web TV service Joost and the increasingly popular micro-blogging site Twitter.

Before the event, IMtv founder Stephen McCormack  said: “IMtv is bringing two camera crews to capture the sights and sounds of Electric Picnic and we will be using our Twitter account to keep festival goers up to date and able to interact with other Twitter attendees about their experiences.

“Festivals are where technology and entertainment converge.”

By Marie Boran

Pictured: Shane McAllister, Mobanode