Shiprocked – New Edition launched in Dublin

The new (2014) edition of Shiprocked – Life On The Waves With Radio Caroline was launched in Dublin last night, with former Caroline and RTE 2FM broadcaster, and current-day drive time 4FM presenter Gareth O’Callaghan doing the honours.

The book is already in stock at most large retailers in Ireland, and will be on sale in the UK shortly.

Below are some pictures from the launch event, in which selected extracts from the text were presented alongside archive TV news footage and of-air audio to give a flavour of 1980s Caroline for the 100 strong crowd who turned out at The Odessa Club for the occasion.

Big thanks to Johnny Bambury for this excellent series of shots.

(left to right) Gareth O'Callaghan, Steve Conway, and Liberties Press MD Sean O'Keefe

(left to right) Gareth O’Callaghan, Steve Conway, and Liberties Press MD Sean O’Keefe

Gareth told the audience how much he enjoyed reading Shiprocked (twice!) and also spoke of his own fond memories of working on board Radio Caroline

Gareth told the audience how much he enjoyed reading Shiprocked (twice!) and also spoke of his own fond memories of working on board Radio Caroline

A number of former Caroline staffers were present for the launch, including Caroline North engineer Michael and his daughter Sue (Michael centre in shot) and former Caroline newsreader turned music journalist Stuart Clarke (right)

A number of former Caroline staffers were present for the launch, including Caroline North engineer Michael and his daughter Sue (Michael centre in shot) and former Caroline newsreader turned music journalist Stuart Clarke (right)

Falling under the magic spell of Caroline . .

Falling under the magic spell of Caroline . .

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Keeping The J in DJ – episode 3 of An A-Z of Great Tracks [15Jan2014]

Here is the playlist for the third episode of An A-Z of Great Tracks. It’s my aim each week as we go through this marathon, to post not only the playlist for the show itself, but also my thoughts on the music involved, the production process, or anything else that comes to mind as I am on-air.  And this week, although we are still very much at the beginning of the letter A musically, we will be thinking much of the letter J . .

Episode 3 aired on Jan 15th 2014 on 8Radio.com, in its regular weekly slot – 8-9pm Wednesday evenings  – and as from this episode we have a repeat slot on the following Saturday morning 10-11.

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So this week I want to share some thoughts on the presenting aspect of the show, as the pleasure that I get from doing that in a fairly flexible environment managed to turn  what had been a pretty ratty day for me yesterday into a very enjoyable evening. The great Caroline presenter Bob Lawrence once told me that there is nowhere on earth more fun and exciting than being behind the mic on a live radio show, and as I walked into the 8Radio.com building last night and the day’s cares melted away, I smiled and thought about just how right he is.

Presenting live can be about so much more than simply playing a set sequence of tracks, if the station you work for allows you to exercise your “J” skills.  The “J” in this case is the “jockey” part of “disc jockey“, a term that has tended to fall out of use in the radio world in favour of “presenter“, and not wholly for the obvious reason of “presenter” sounding more upmarket.  There is a subtle difference between the meaning of the words that actually underlies a lot that has changed in radio.

But let’s start with the music from the track listing above. A good diversity this week, of styles (from indie and classic rock through to pop) eras (classic Cohen through to recent albums from Bell X1 and Editors) and feels (upbeat and punchy, softly emotional, sparkly near disco).  Some weeks I have to work hard at my selection of A-Z tracks to achieve balance, and others just fall into place naturally, and this was one such week. The quirk this week was the double appearance of Procul Harum, this sort of thing will happen from time to time, but works out nicely in this case as we get to hear a lesser know (but wonderful) track first, with the more obvious one rounding off the show. My “should I or shouldn’t I?” track this week was the Duran Duran one – I thought about it, slept on it, asked a couple of friends, and then went with my gut instinct of “In”.

But if you look at the track listing above, simply as a listing of music to be played one item after another, there is still a little something missing. If you were to play these, juke-box style, on your mp3 player, you’d probably enjoy a lot of the tracks, but the switches in style and mood might be jarring.  This is where the presenting  – or I should say “jocking” – comes in.

Disc Jockeys were originally named because they would, in an aural sense, “ride” the discs they were playing, melding them together by beat or interspersing them with chat in such a way that no discernible gap was left in the “set”, and such that a collection of individual tracks were transformed into a whole. The style in which this was done would vary by context – in a disco or club building energy, keeping momentum on the dancefloor and seamless mixing of tracks are very important, whereas on radio there is a need to integrate a much wider mix of styles and speeds of track, and the necessity to give lots of information which in a club would distract or ruin the buzz.

There are really two styles of presenter on radio – ones whose show is predominantly personality driven (think Chris Evens or Chris Moyles) and those in whose programmes the music is the star, and they are the enabler of this music for the listener. (for the record, I would be in this second group).

The tragedy of a lot of modern radio is that it is assumed that unless you are doing a personality driven show, there is little or no need for personality, and no need for “jocking skills” in order to present a music show. And many radio stations rely on rigid presentation formats which effectively turn these shows into a simple jukebox/random mp3 player, with the presenter only allowed to make preordained “paint by numbers” interjections.  And here is the difference between the “DJ” and the “presenter” – in many cases, no matter how talented the on-air staff are, they are restricted to simply “presenting” a preset menu of items, in which each segue, each station ident, each spoken link is fixed and immutable “play song A, play ident 313, play song B, short link promoting the breakfast show, play song C  . .etc”

Radio station idents (or jingles as they used to be called) can be wonderful tools when used in the right way – the right one, at the right point, can build energy, act as a full stop after a cold ending song, block or transition between moods, and, just occasionally, help to keep the station identified, if you haven’t spoken for quite a while. But mainstream radio, more and more, has fallen into an utter fear of the listener not knowing which station they are listening to, to the point that on most stations it is mandatory for the presenter to play an ident after every single track, unless there is a spoken link (and sometimes as well as the spoken link).

This over-use serves another purpose, it helps disguise the fact that tracks are not longer (for the most part) put together to complement each other, but just random pairings from computerised rotations, and so something is needed to separate each one. The sad thing is that even tracks which would go wonderfully into each other end up being divorced by idents. And radio, far from being the friend of old, starts to sound like an insecure partner, constantly clamoring for you to notice them.

One of the most difficult transitions I ever made was when I was working for a former pirate station which then went legal, and later still got taken over by a big conglomerate. The free playlist of the pirate days gave way to something more structured in the legal era, but that was fine. the DJ still had control, could switch the running order of tracks as long as all were played, and could choose when to speak, what to say, and when and where to put idents.

But gradually, as time moved on, it became more and more locked down. Idents became mandatory between every track. Running order no longer to be changed. And, eventually, when taken over, the playlist eventually included defined points where you were allowed to speak, with instructions for the topic “promote new music” “promote next show” etc, and even duration “short link”. And the problem with these is that they were computer generated according to a predetermined format, and totally out of context with what was around them.  So when you were playing a new track from a band who might be in for interview later on another show, you couldn’t promote it there, because you had no spoken link scheduled at that point.  Where you might have spoken to break or build mood after songs A and B and before C, you now had to play A, B and C together, with idents, and then speak before D, despite the fact that if played together, C and D would actually have been wonderful partners.

Now, I have no problem with a music format. I’ve run tightly formatted music stations myself. Likewise, I’ve no problem with general guidelines for presenters – there should be a “house style” or whatever based on the audience you are addressing and the ethos of the station. But if you don’t marry that with a little bit of creative freedom for the on-air staff to “ride” the show, move stuff around, use thier best judgement to create natural breaks and changes – you are really only tapping a fraction of their talent, and only getting half of the product that you could actually be serving up to the listener.

OK, so I’m not saying that I’m some great DJ here. I’ve always regarded myself as merely “competent” and a “safe pair of hands” and have no illusions of being a superstar. I could never reach, nor aspire to, the heights of great personality presenters like Evans of Moyles, or top notch music presenters like Peel or Harris. But I’ve been around a long time, and worked with a lot of smart people (Hello Bob!) and more importantly, I’ve listened to a lot of radio, and learned what pleases me. And so I like to think that, if not a superstar, I am at least reasonably good at turning a bare bones playlist, such as the above, into something closer to a seamless whole.

And again, thanks to the enlightend leadership of Simon Maher at 8radio.com, I am allowed a free hand to structure the show as I choose. No restrictions on what I say and when I ID – he trusts to my common sense.

Given that I’m presenting an A-Z, the running order is less flexible in terms of music, though as I’m choosing only around one in six of the tracks from my library, I do have some scope to keep things balanced, and look for pairs of tracks that work together. But I probably have to work harder to make the show flow than I would if I could just drag and drop any track anywhere.

So, I start off the the list of tracks I’m intending to play (as from the image above) and first look at how they go together, and where I might want to speak.  And then sprinkle in a small number of idents, not placed everywhere as on mainstream radio, but specifically at certain points according to what I am trying to achieve. And I choose each specific ident (rather than just playing any ident) for each slot, again according to what I’m trying to do.

I walk into the studio with my playlist ready, and a plan of what’s going to be done, but that plan is subject to change – and is always changed – while on-air.

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So above is the end result, this is what my playout system shows after I finished the show last night. (I have my own music library and playout system which I use for this show)  This is pretty close to what I went in with, but with a couple of minor changes (I put a break (music stops) between Bell X1 and Editors as I had more to say than could fit in the intro, and I dropped an ident over the start of Nick Straker Band literally 5 seconds before the track was about to begin. It just felt right.

You can see that, apart from the standard Top Of The Hour ID for our sponsors, I’ve only used 4 station idents in the whole hour. Ah, the joy of being able to let two pieces of music play into each other without having to have an intrusion between them!

The red “BREAK” sections are where I am talking dry, between tracks, with nothing playing.  At other points I talk over intros (at The Cure, Duran Duran, and Bat for Lashes).  For my own convenience, I’ve colour-coded my idents. Yellow idents have music or effects and play on their own to separate tracks from each other, while green ones are “dry” and play over the intro of the next track.

The Procul Harum “A Salty Dog” track and the Richard Ashcroft “A Song For The Lovers” work beautifully together, and segue nicely, to break them apart with either an ident or a spoken link would have been a travesty.  Those two could also have led into The Cure track, but I wanted to speak here because I was delineating it, and the two that followed into a group of three which all featured “A Thousand” – one of the fun parts of the A-Z being the way that tracks will group themselves together thematically in this way.

Speaking after the end of the “Three Thousand Tracks” (!)  breaks us up from Editors, which is very different, but the Genesis track that follows that is much slower, and so a yellow ident is needed to keep them apart. And so on.  Duran Duran is more poppy than the other tracks in the show, but luckily the slightly disco-esque Nick Straker track is there to pair with it. I hadn’t planned on putting a dry ident over Nick, but when it got to 5 seconds counting down, it just felt overwhelmingly right.

That’s the fun of live radio when you are allowed to have control over what you do. You press play at the start of the show, and suddenly you are at the wheel of a mighty juggernaut roaring down the freeway at top speed, you can’t stop, you can’t get off, you have to keep control of it, and make all the little adjustments neccessary to keep it moving forwards in the centre of the lane . .

It’s really addictive stuff, and no matter how you are feeling when you arrive at the station, once that red light goes on, nothing else matters.

By contrast, a live radio show where every little detail is pre-scripted, immutable, and not really designed to flow feels like flying a plane . . on autopilot.

I can’t stress highly enough how many really good people there are out there in radio, the majority of them way better than I can ever hope to be, but who are sitting, with their hands tied, behind a microphone, and being told to “sound excited”.

Isn’t it better to be excited?

It’s time we put the J back into DJ don’t you think?

Steve


Late Night Studio

I’m currently on-air at 8Radio.com till 2am.

That lovely heady vibe of a late night radio studio, lights down low, music up loud.

There really is nothing like it!

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8Radio.com On Air [30Mar2013]

Tonight sees my first show with 8Radio.com, and my return to the Irish airwaves

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Simon Maher’s new Irish station 8Radio.com launched at midnight Friday, and is live online, as well as on FM in three cities – Dublin (94.3), Cork (106.7) and Limerick (105.5).

It’s been great today to hear it blasting out as I’ve driven around the capital, listening to voices old and new go through the excitement of first shows.

It’s just over an hour to 11pm when I myself will take the helm for the 11pm-2am slot, my first time on FM in Ireland since I left Phantom 105.2 two years ago.

During the intervening time I’ve been a regular presenter on Radio Caroline (and still am) but nothing quite beats the thrill of being live in your own market.

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What Do DJs Dream About?

Steam-punk style radio ships, terrible choices, but above all: dead air.

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I often tell people that many of the ideas for my stories and posts come to me in the small hours of the morning, but this one is very literally so – I’m writing this fresh out of bed, having just woken from one of those dreams . .  you know, the ones radio presenters seem to have.

This one was a modern variation on the age-old basic theme, so before I recount my latest fevered imaginings, let’s have a look at the theme.

We all have a vast array of dreams, from the wild and wonderful to the mundane, and of those we can remember amongst the many unique and sometimes inexplicable ones there are also those that come from time to time that fit into certain basic themes that many people share: dreams of childhood, encounters with partners long estranged and parents and other relatives who have passed away. There are the erotic or romantic dreams, repetitive and unfinished dreams, and of course the classic dreams of anxiety.

Many people seem to dream of finding themselves naked in strange places, but I don’t seem to suffer from those.

For me it is usually a different terror – I find myself back on the day of my first Leaving Cert exam, conscious that the results will affect my life and job prospects, but somehow aware at the same time that it has been 30 years since my last class, I’ve forgotten almost everything of the course, and the exam is about to start NOW. (there is also another one I have occasionally, where I have to choose between going back out to sea with Caroline and losing my home and financial stability, or going on shore and being stable, but missing out on wonderful times)

These are all dreams or types of dreams that most, if not all people share

But there is another dream, which comes maybe once or twice a year, which I call the DJs dream.

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The details vary slightly from time to time, but the basic formula is always the same (hey, that sounds like a description of commercial radio formats!)

I’m in a radio studio, on air. It’s a really important show. This is make or break for me. I’ve (unaccountably) been asked to fill in for someone on a huge station, BBC Radio 1 or RTE 2FM or some such. It’s a one-off, but if I perform well I will be invited back.

The track is coming to an end and I can’t find my next one. (In years gone by the dream would having me desperately trying to cue a vinyl record but unable to find the right groove on the album for the track, these days it is more often flicking through a set of CDs or playout system and unable to find anything that will play). or perhaps, as the song run out, and the dreaded silence starts, I really want to press play on the next track, but my arms just won’t move . .

Minute follows minute of agonising dead air, and I desperately struggle to hit something that will put audio back onto the airwaves again. I know everyone is listening, judging. My opportunity is slipping away and I am helpless . . .

I thought that was my dream alone, but over the years I’ve heard it back from many other people in the industry, all of whom, like myself, are (or seem to be) normal, well-adjusted presenters, with no particular anxieties, content with their careers etc.  I guess it comes from the horror of dead air that fills the radio presenter, and fact that we are so keyed up during our shows to be ready to put something – anything – on that will fill the gap left by a misfiring computer or a suddenly defunct CD.

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Speaking of misfiring computers, I had a dream around 8 months ago that I was totally alone on a radio ship miles out at sea (I think it was Radio Seagull) and about to go live on air. I had my laptop with playout system and tens of thousands of tracks with me, and an outstanding playlist prepared. The studio was ready to go, except that no where on board could I find a cable to connect the laptop to the mixing desk, and there was no one else on board to help me, and no other music, only what was on my laptop . .

As I’ve been a newsreader as well as a presenter, I sometimes have a different style of the dream. This comes about once a year also, and in it I am back out at sea with Radio Caroline, which is for some reason broadcasting again on high power AM, and expecting at any moment to see a government tug coming over the horizon to take us away. We’ll only be here for a few days before the powers that be silence us, so it’s really important for us to make those few days count. And day after day after day in this dream I wake up at around 9am to find that I have overslept and missed my morning news shift. That’s bad, but at least I have an evening show. But I fall asleep again and miss that too. Today, and tomorrow, and the day after . . .

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The Radio Caroline of my dreams (I’m talking actual dreams here rather than aspirations) is a very strange place.

The ship. seeming perfectly normal above the waterline is yet enormously bigger underneath, with vast Lord-Of-The-Rings style underworld caverns full of clanking machinery, unguarded pits, and hissing steam pipes.

Hissing steam pipes? Yes, for in these dreams the radio ship is steam powered, and down in the very darkest depths our engineer can be found stoking an enormous furnace . .

Above the waterline it is different too, with extra corridors of lavishly furnished cabins, which we discover during the dream, and wonder how we could have been unaware of them all the years that we were previously out at sea.

The dream I’ve just woken from this morning though, was biased in the other direction – modern, clean, but equally frustrating.

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Along with Simon Maher, Richie McCormack and other former Phantom 105.2 heads, I am in a makeshift radio studio in London. We’ve decided to bring the goodness of old-style pirate Phantom to London, and are launching a temporary licenced station to bring Irish indie and unsigned music to the UK, convinced that we will take the market by storm.

Richie is presenting the breakfast show, and I’m the news guy.

It’s just touching 8am, and time for the first news bulletin. I have, for some reason, typed it into my iPhone, and will be reading it from that.

As the news jingle tails away I have lost my place on the phone, and am swiping through the various home screens desperately trying to find the notepad app.  The dead air is beginning, and Richie starts ad-libbing to fill it, looking at me anxiously. I find the app, but am then confronted with a seemingly endless set of pages of other text i have to swipe aside to get to the news bulletin I have prepared.

This is so unfair – I’ve slaved over this bulletin, I’ve bought stories from AP and reuters, I’ve chased down stories myself, this was going to be the perfect, pithy yet punchy two minutes of news, But i can’t find it and I’m swiping and swiping and swiping . . . time stretches on, it’s five past 8, then ten past, and poor Richie is still ad-libbing, while managing to stay remarkably patient. He should be killing me by now.

I have an idea. We’re an Irish rooted station. Why don’t I go to the RTE news site and give our public some Irish news? I quickly find RTE news on the phone, prepared at this point just to read out their stories verbatim, but all that comes up is a series of ads for an Irish Garden Festival due to be held in five years time . .

As with all these dreams, there is never any resolution, and poor Richie is probably waiting still. It does dawn on me that that it might come as a surprise to the poor guy to find himself starring in my nightmare, but hey, my subconscious was obviously going to go with the top-flight A-list presenters for this important venture, so who else could I possibly have chosen? The guy was a legend on breakfast.

Well, from vinyl to CDs to playout systems to apps, my dreams of radio are adapting to modern technology, but the underlying theme is staying the same.

Well, at least that’s it done for the moment. There won’t be another radio-based nightmare for six to nine months or so, and goodness knows what technology I’ll be using in that one . .

Steve


So Who Are Radio Seagull?

Radio Seagull, from the lightship Jenni Baynton

The recent test-transmissions on 1395Khz by Radio Seagull have driven quite a few Google search requests to this blog, so I’ve decided to give a quick run-down on the station for any new visitors, as well as for those who follow me for my other content and might be curious.

Please note my disclaimer: I am a Radio Seagull presenter myself (Saturdays 7-9am and pm CET, 6-8am and pm UK/Irish time) so you are reading an insider rather than an outsiders point of view. Having said that, I also have to point out that all views are my own, and not neccessarily endorsed by the station.

Hey, these are just some guys I was close to when I took this picture. Pretty supportive too.

So, what is Radio Seagull?

Radio Seagull is a full-time, permanent, licenced terrestrial, English-language radio station based in The Netherlands, specifically the town of Harlingen, in the northern coastal area. As well as AM coverage emenating from Harlingen, the station can be heard worldwide via its online stream, accessible from the station website – www.radioseagull.com

 

How can I hear Radio Seagull?

In The Netherlands the station shares its AM frequency (1602Khz) with Radio Waddenzee, a regional station servicing the north of The Netherlands in the Dutch language. Waddenzee is heard from 7am-7pm and Seagull from 7pm to 7am on mediumwave, however Seagull is available 24 hours a day online.

(Radio Waddenzee takes its name from The Wadden Zee, a large area of sea on the fringe of the North Sea, but partly protected by a chain of islands 20km or so from the coast.)

As well as terrestrial and online outlets, Radio Seagull is sometimes carried as a sustaining service on other stations around the world. Currently the station is being relayed as the content of a series of test transmissions on 1395Khz on AM, which are being made from the Radio Seagull ship, the Jenni Baynton. These are scheduled to continue until mid-November (but Seagull will continue to be available on its permanent frequency of 1602Khz, at all times).

 

What type of programmes does Radio Seagull have?

Radio Seagull features both modern alternative and classic rock, as well as a wide variety of specialist music shows.  Some presenters specialise in new and alternative music, others present more general shows. Details can be found at the website www.radioseagull.com.

In order to cater for international listeners in different time-zones, the schedule is organised into groups of programmes in 12-hour blocks,  repeated once the same day – so that, for example, a show aired at 3-5pm will also be aired at 3-5am, giving people in different parts of the world the chance to hear each show in their “daytime”.

Seagull presenters (left to right) Steve Conway, Chris Kennedy, Mandy, Dave Foster

How is Radio Seagull different from other stations I can hear on the internet, or local stations on FM?

Radio Seagull’s programming philosophy is to gather together experienced and professional presenters from around the world, people who are passionate about the music they play, or very knowledgeable in their specialist area, and to give them complete creative freedom to produce the best shows that they can.  Unlike larger commercial radio stations, there is no restriction on playlist size, and as a result the music you hear on air is incredibly diverse and wide-ranging.

Radio Seagull's Martin Smith samples life at sea

Presenters come from all across Europe and further afield to work on Seagull, and many are people who have been involved in radio for a long time.

Radioship Jenni Baynton, home of Radio Seagull

So what’s all this about a ship?

Radio Seagull (and its sister station Radio Waddenzee) are housed on board a former British Lightship (LV8), the Jenni Baynton, which is normally berthed in the harbour at Harlingen. The ship itself is an attraction, bursting full of history, and much restored since its acquisition by Seagull in the early 2000s, and it makes a wonderful base for the radio station – lots of room for studios, engineering facilities, radio mast, and cabins where crew and visiting DJs can be accomodated during special offshore broadcasts. The station also has landbased transmission facilities.

But the ship is more than just a static base.

Once a year, for the last several years, the station has put to sea for periods of about a month each summer, with crew and DJs living on board, a great opportunity for friendships to be rekindled and knowledge to be swapped, as well as recreating some of the excitement of the old offshore radio days (a number of the Seagull presenters, myself included,  are veterans of the former offshore pirate stations such as Radio Caroline).

Sietse Brouwer, founder and owner of Radio Seagull & Waddenzee.

Who is behind Radio Seagull?

Seagull is the brainchild of Sietse Brouwer, a Dutch businessman and radio presenter who also spent some time working with Radio Caroline in the 1990s. Sietse has a passion for good radio, and a great love of ships, and putting the two together in his home town of Harlingen has occupied a great part of his time for the last 10 years.

 

Where can I get more info / how can I listen?

The best place to start for both is the website – www.radioseagull.com

 

You can also see more of my pictures from Radio Seagull’s offshore adventures at the following pages:

https://steveconway.wordpress.com/seagull/the-jenni-baynton-at-sea/

https://steveconway.wordpress.com/seagull/inside-the-jenni-baynton/

https://steveconway.wordpress.com/seagull/jenni-baynton-crew/

https://steveconway.wordpress.com/2011/06/07/dreamy-seagull-pics/

If you are a new visitor, I hope this has answered your questions, and made you curious enough to listen.

I can be heard every Saturday 7-9am and pm CET, (6-8am and pm UK/Irish time).

But don’t just listen to me – the rest of the presenters are superb!

Steve


Seagull 2011 Offshore – People Pics

Time for some more photos from Radio Seagull’s recent spell offshore. This time it’s the people shots.

This is by no means everyone who was on board during the week, just a mixture of some of the Radio Seagull and Radio Waddenzee presenters who came and went during the two weeks I was there.

Seagull presenters (left to right) Steve Conway, Chris Kennedy, Mandy, Dave Foster

Radio Seagull's Martin Smith samples life at sea

Paul Dennis waves goodbye after a week on board presenting shows for Seagull. Former Radio Monique DJ Jan Veldkamp can be see at the front of the boat.

No matter how bad the weather . . while we stay warm and dry indoors looking through rain-spattered portholes, station owner Sietse is outside keeping things running smoothly.

Wim Brik and Peter Tenorman from Radio Waddenzee

Win van Egmond and Jan Peters enjoy some rare sunshine on the back deck.

Here I'm in action in the downstairs studio (studio 2) presenting a Seagull show in the early evening.

Looking back at the Jenni Baynton as I departed at lunchtime on a grey, choppy Monday. Shortly after this picture, the ship moved from it's position in the middle of the Waddenzee to one of the islands for a music and culture festival.