Avril Stanley on the evolution, rebirth and future of Body & Soul

Words: Eva O’Beirne

After a two year hiatus and some proper time out to rethink and reimagine, Body & Soul has flipped its usual format on its head, halving its numbers and doubling its curatorial commitment.

Taking place from June 17-19, the strikingly smaller three-day event will be a grown-up affair, with the promise of an unparalleled creative experience in the beautiful Ballinlough Castle Estate in Westmeath. You can grab tickets on their website now.

We spoke to the founder of Body & Soul, Avril Stanley, about what you can expect from this year’s edition of the festival, the future of festivals in Ireland and how both her job and Body & Soul have evolved since the start of the pandemic.

Joy, unbridled and untarnished love, safety, togetherness and courage

The emotions that Avril hopes attendees will feel at Body & Soul 2022

Body & Soul became its own individual festival in 2009, but many don’t know that it was gradually built out of multiple collaborations with other festivals, the first being The Big Chill festival in 1998.

Focused on recharging, mindfulness and healing, Body & Soul has always been focused on how we experience festivals rather than the line-up of acts. When asked how she thinks attitudes to mindfulness and spirituality have evolved in Ireland since the start of her career, Avril mentions her previous role as a therapist, which gave her a significant insight to how we discuss our well-being in Ireland.

“Body & Soul was always intended to cater to both the mind and body, physically and emotionally allowing people to recharge. I suppose back then, when we first curated stages with Big Chill and Electric Picnic, people here were more dismissive towards these themes. Now I feel, we need to be aware of ourselves, our feelings, more than ever.”

The past two years have had devastating effects on the music and festival industry in Ireland – but Avril is no stranger to hardship. After all, the first Body & Soul was in 2009 when Ireland was in a deep recession.

The pain of the impact of the pandemic still resonates with Avril as she explains how difficult it was to see “so many talented and wonderful creatives” leave the festival industry to find work elsewhere. One positive outcome of the pandemic was that the filming of “Éiru” in 2021. A collaborative project with 13 artists, the film is still available to watch on the RTE Player.

To Avril, the emotional well-being of both attendees and staff is paramount. When asked to describe the emotions she hopes this year’s Body & Soul will evoke in festival-goers she lists: “Joy, unbridled and untarnished love, safety, togetherness and courage.”

Sustainability has been a core pillar of Body & Soul’s identity since its inception. When asked what it is like seeing the concept become mainstream, Avril details that she hopes to make Body & Soul’s camping grounds fully sustainable in the near future. “75 per cent of camping tickets sold this year were “Leave No Trace” passes, and we hope to expand this to 100 per cent by next year or the year after,” she explains.

Body & Soul is a participant of the Green Deal Circular Festivals, a collaboration of knowledge and best practice sharing between 22 European festivals and the Dutch Government. This deal, signed in 2019 at ADE Green, sees participating festivals agree to reduce their environmental impact as much as possible by 2025 – Body & Soul continues to be a pioneer in comparison to other Irish festivals.

The last two years have given us a lot of time to think. Not only about the experiences we missed so much, but about what else is possible in the future. With that in mind, Body & Soul is breathing fresh life and ideas into a festival that has been a staple of Irish summers for 12 years.

Releasing only 5,500 tickets (a third of their original capacity) whilst keeping their commitment to curation at the centre of their ideas this year, their focus is on developing a festival with a fresh perspective in the castle grounds of Ballinlough in County Westmeath.

It really is all about taking time to create and constellate a sense of balance in your life.

Avril Stanley

Avril explains that the theme of “Betwixt and Between” relates directly to this idea of rebirth and redesign: “We want it to be that turning point, that threshold that people can remember the past few months and turn to the solstice, the new cycle. The solstice after all is a turning point – its the moment of greatest light.”

“[The solstice] is that point of perfect balance, before things start to turn to the dark. And that’s the theme – it really is all about taking time to create and constellate a sense of balance in your life.”

When asked what makes Body & Soul special in comparison to the ever-growing amount of Irish festivals, Avril notes how Body & Soul is curated to allow for attendees to design their own festival experience, with emphasis on self-care, art and food as well as music.

“The festival has been redesigned almost, to reflect the wildness and beauty of Ballinlough. It has been untouched for two years after all,” she explains.

The ‘meeting point’ of the festival will now be The Beacon Stage. The 35ft tall, totem-like wooden structure will double up as a 360-degree performance space with surround sound speakers. Also equipped with a 100ft laser, it will act as a light tower during the night at the festival.

The Sanctuary has been overhauled and redesigned for the 2022 edition, providing a new wellness programme, workshops, hot tubs, seaweed baths and saunas. The Avant garden will feature jazz, electronic music, acoustic sounds and more with a ‘First Tastes’ dating experience, a drag brunch, a mini restaurant and creative workshops amongst other activities.

When asked what she is personally looking forward to the most from this year’s festival, Avril details her excitement to see people enjoy what she has helped create. “It has been two very long years of longing and anticipating,” she says.

“I hope this year’s festival allows people to enjoy it however they want to. Whether they want to put on their best frock, have a lot of drinks and dance the night away or if they prefer to wander the woods, gazing at the art and meeting beautiful strangers.”

“You can get a massage, seek a councillor or have some delicious food. Body & Soul is for everyone, and this year more than ever should prove that.”

This year’s line-up for Body & Soul features Róisín Murphy and Mogwai, as well as Sampha The Great, Remi Wolf, Yves Tumor, CMAT, Pillow Queens and Soda Blonde.

District has partnered with Hennessy to curate the Hip Hop House at Body & Soul this year. Aby Coulibaly, Mango x MathMan, Monjola, Strange Boy and many more will take to the stage to celebrate Hennessy’s dedication to investing in new Irish talent, securing its reputation amongst the Irish hip hop scene as tastemakers and champions of Irish music and culture.

From June 17-19, this year’s Body & Soul festival will be taking place at the beautiful Ballinlough Castle Estate in Westmeath. You can grab tickets on their website now.

Elsewhere on District: 10 things you need to do at Body & Soul 2022