Vantastival is a labour of love and an inspiring example of how necessity truly is the mother of invention.
In 2009, in the depths of the Irish recession, Louise Tangney and her now husband, Benny Taaffe, found themselves unemployed. They were living in a Nissen hut on a beach in Waterford, contemplating, like so many were during that time, what to do with their lives.
But Benny had an idea – something that had been brewing in his mind for quite some time. The pair both loved festivals and always stayed in campervans. They also had plenty of experience working at events around the world, including building an Irish bar in the desert at Burning Man.
While campervan-first festivals were popular in the UK at that time, Benny noticed a gap in the Irish festival scene. Together they started to devise a plan for a festival that would bring campervan culture in Ireland to its full glory.
But little did Louise know when they approached the Tourism officer at the Louth County Council, that their plan would soon become a reality. The pair were met with enthusiastic approval from the council and encouraged to proceed immediately.
And so began their journey to bring Vantastival to life.
Vantastival invites campervan enthusiasts and music lovers alike to set up camp on the banks of the Boyne (just ten minutes from Drogheda) and enjoy an eclectic, hand-picked lineup of the finest talent on our island.
Celebrating its tenth anniversary this June, the festival has gained a deserved reputation as one of Ireland’s most unique independent music festivals, with a strong sense of community and friendship at its core.
Building the right support network
Louise and Benny jumped in head first. As unemployment was widespread in Ireland at the time, they rounded up friends and family to help out. It wasn’t long before word spread and friends of friends appeared to help them build Vantastival from the ground up. While no one was getting paid, Louise describes the remarkable enthusiasm that people brought to the project. Suddenly, they felt like they had a purpose again. This brought a real community vibe to the festival, which still lives on today.
“Vantastival remains family-run and people appreciate that. I’ll often get emails from people saying “I met your auntie behind the bar” or “your brother-in-law helped get my van started” and so on.” – Louise Tangney
Louise also needed support to promote the festival and began reaching out to campervan clubs around Ireland. Type 2 Ireland was first to step up to the challenge.
Type 2 Ireland is a not-for-profit online community run by and for classic VW owners. Member Louisa O’Callaghan fondly recalls the first year handing out flyers around Cork City.
News of Vantastival sparked incredible excitement amongst Type 2 Ireland members. They had been reading about campervan festivals in the UK, but couldn’t find the same opportunity at home.
Louise and Benny made the decision to offer a discounted price for campervan clubs and have made it a priority to keep prices low over the past ten years. And contrary to most festivals, campervan owners can park on site right next to the arena at no extra cost.
Holding onto the BYOB policy has also helped to keep costs down and give the overall festival a more laid-back feel.
“Having a BYOB policy throughout the site means we have much fewer barriers and security checks and results in a much more relaxed vibe.’”- Louise Tangney
Once word spread throughout the club, more and more people wanted to get involved. Over the years many club members have become festival vendors and member bands like The Twisted Sisters and Don’t Fear the Natives have featured in the lineup.
Creating a loyal community
“I think the thing that makes Vantastival stand out the most from other events is the sense of community involvement in the festival and the accompanying sense of ownership our patrons have over it.” – Louise Tangney
It’s no surprise then that Type 2 Ireland continue to return to Vantastival year on year and use the festival as one of their biggest annual club meetups. Members from around the country drive their VW vans to a specific spot and convoy to the site together. Louisa describes the craic they have admiring one another’s vans and the rivalry that comes with the annual camper van cook-off, sponsored by Cully and Sully.
“Vantastival is great at promoting the club atmosphere. they put us into a site where we’re all together and surrounded by our own community. Everybody’s looking out for each other.” – Louisa O’Callaghan
This is hugely important when it comes to the family-friendly aspect of Vantastival – something which is very close to Louise and Benny’s hearts as their own family has grown alongside the event.
Keeping the site small makes it easy for families to get around and the enchanted (and alcohol-free) walled garden filled with activities allows kids to play safely.
“Like a lot of people we used to go to festivals all the time when we were in our 20s. When we had kids in our 30s we still wanted to go but we needed to be able to bring our kids with us and know that they would be safe. Having been to so many festivals ourselves with our children, we know what’s important to make it a good experience for both kids and parents. There are families that have grown up together at Vantastival, meeting each other once a year and camping side by side.” – Louise Tangney
“One of the really nice things is you can get lost there, but not really get lost. There are lots of familiar faces and I think that’s something that Louise and Benny and all the crew have built gradually over the years. I’ve never felt that the making of profit is the main concern – the feeling I get is it’s primarily to build a community.” – Mark Graham
Maintaining this feeling of intimacy is something that Louise and Benny have made a conscious effort to hold on to, even as the festival grows. Mark shares a story that highlights just how much Louise and Benny really value their regular punters:
“One of the people who had gone to Vantastival, Todd, regularly travelled over from America. And there was one year he couldn’t afford to travel over, so they sold t-shirts with his face on them to get him to the festival.”
Marks shares an incredible moment where Todd is on stage playing the mandolin and everyone is cheering him on wearing his face on their t-shirts. Having met at Vantastival, Todd later flew from Texas to watch Mark and his band, King Kong Company, play in London. It’s an incredible testament to the strength of the friendships that are built at the festival.
“It’s not just an event”, says Mark, “it builds a sense of community.”
Finding the best Irish talent
Mark has been a regular attendee from the very beginning and has worn many Vantastival hats over the years.
He first attended as a punter in a vintage 1974 VW van, next as a journalist, writing his Irish Times column on ‘A Year of Festivals in Ireland’, and finally appeared on stage with King Kong Company. Mark has returned with King Kong Company four times over the years and will be headlining this year at Vantastival’s 10 year anniversary. With a love of festivals and a real interest in music, Vantastival felt like a natural home for Mark.
“It’s a festival that I really enjoy being at, as well as playing at it. I think part of the reason for that is you get really nice people there.”
Mark notes that one of the things that truly sets Vantastival apart is their devotion to championing exceptional Irish talent.
What started as a gathering for campervan owners, soon became an opportunity to showcase some of the best independent Irish artists around the country. The couple runs a process of open submission and any artist writing their own original music can apply – no festival experience necessary.
Louise and Benny listen to every application and take the time to offer feedback to all their applicants – a process which takes months. Vantastival has showcased over six-hundred up-and-coming Irish acts since its inception and provided a platform for their future success.
“There is so much musical talent in Ireland. We continue to be blown away every year by the quality of music received from the artists that apply to play at Vantastival.” – Louise Tangney
For the first time ever, and to celebrate their ten year anniversary, the lineup will be curated without the open submissions, bringing back all the favourite acts that have played over the years.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years since we started on this adventure. We are in a great place with the festival right now and for our tenth outing, we just want to make sure it’s the best Vantastival yet for everyone who comes. We are delighted to be bringing back some of our own favourite acts who have played over the years.” – Louise Tangney
Choosing the perfect partners
The couple applies the same thought and consideration when it comes to choosing sponsors. Finding partners that fit with the ethos of the festival is essential to preserve their values. This year, iconic brand Firestone will return as the title sponsors.
“2019 will be the fourth year that Firestone has sponsored us and they really get what we’re trying to do with the music and help us to support up-and-coming acts.” – Louise Tangney
Understanding your audience
Above all else, it’s Louise and Benny’s deep understanding and devotion to their loyal followers that has allowed them to stay true to their Vantastival roots.
“Like in any business, it is so important for us to know our audience and our target market. We always listen to the feedback received from our patrons and that’s how we improve the festival year after year.” – Louise Tangney
Building a festival from the ground up is no easy feat. Louise and Benny are still the sole organisers of Vantastival (alongside close friends and stakeholders Yvonne Heery and Mark Staunton) and the workload is enormous. They take two months off after the festival every year to spend the summer with their three kids, then it’s back to prepping for next year’s event.
Louise says running a festival is a constant learning curve, but her biggest piece of advice for festival creators is not to bite off more than they can chew:
“If we were to do this all over again I would start much smaller. We were very ambitious and really had no idea how difficult it can be to sell tickets to a first-time event. I think a lot of first-time event managers fall into the same trap.
Luckily for us, even though we lost a lot of money in the early years, we continued to grow until we did pass the breakeven point. Now we have a successful event that keeps two of us in employment year-round and employs many more seasonal staff, while bringing a significant boost to the local economy in Louth.”
Ten years on, Vantastival is a festival that has steadfastly stayed true to its core values. The intimacy of the festival is central to its charm and undoubtedly driven by the friendships and family ties maintained throughout the years.
With so many festivals becoming commercialised as they grow, it’s heart-warming to discover a festival where community, loyalty, and thoughtful choices shine through in every detail – a true celebration of campervan lifestyle and genuine Irish talent.
Vantastival will return to the beautiful grounds of Beaulieu House and Gardens from 31st May to 2nd June to celebrate ten years with a very special lineup, featuring King Kong Company and Afro Celt Sound System. If you want to become part of this community, grab your tickets on Eventbrite now!
Feeling inspired? Turn your passion into a project by setting up your first (or next event) and create your own community along the way.