Mudbath or no Mudbath, Sunflowerfest Returns

Festival director Michael MacGowan on inspirational anecdotes, charity donations and cleansing body and soul

Sunflowerfest takes place in Tubbys Farm, Cabra Road, Hillsborough, from August 17 - 19. How would you describe the festival?

Sunflowerfest is an experimental weekend festival of great music and arts. We hope to nurture the mind, body and soul through a wide range of music, creative workshops, film, storytelling and interactive art. This year we also have a new feature, Sunflower Bliss, an area bringing together the worlds of yoga, kirtan and conscious dance.

Sunflowerfest relies on it’s volunteers. They fill in the cracks and make sure that the festival is fun and safe for everyone. We also have a tradition of donating £2 of every weekend ticket to charity, and this year we are very pleased to be working in partnership with Oxfam.

The festival is now in it's third year. In the current economic climate, festival promoters are finding it difficult to shift tickets. Has it been a struggle?

It's more a labour of love than a struggle. The support we have had from lots of people who have been to previous Sunflowerfests is overwhelmingingly positive. They give us support and encouragement, because they know musical festivals are tangible signs that Northern Ireland is healing and emerging from the dark past.

The growth in popularity is vindication for us that we are on the right path. 1,000 people attended in 2010, which grew to 3,000 last year. This year ticket sales would indicate that popularity is increasing, with a sell out a real possibility.

What performances do you look back on and think, 'It was worth it'?

Everyone who has performed at Sunflowerfest has made it worth while. There were comments written on the Wishing Tree last year that can express the love better than I can. One wee girl or boy was having such a good time that he/she said on a note tied to the tree, 'I wish my Granny was here.'

Music festivals aren't for everyone. What would you say to those disenchanted former festival goers who are thinking of dipping their toe in the music festival pool again?

It might rain – in fact this year could be a mud bath – but the site is well drained and able to cope. The food will be good quality and fairly priced. The programming has been thoughtfully put together with something for everyone. Disenchanted festival goers will certainly miss out...

If you could book three acts from throughout history to play the festival, who would they be?

Rory Gallagher, Led Zeppelin and Elvis Costello.

Everyone has a favourite festival anecdote. Mine involves bumping into Ian Brown – literally. What's yours?

So many anecdotes, but the lady who attributed her anorexic daughter's life-saving turnaround in health to her visit to Sunflowerfest 2010 stands out. The girl said to her mum on the way home in the car, 'Don't worry mum, everything is going to be OK now.' After the festival she started taking an interest in life again and started eating and going out with her mates. The mother is now a real active helper/supporter/co-ordinator.

What album will you be listening to on the drive to the festival site on the very first day in 2012?

It would be great to have the luxury of listening to music! I will be running around like a drinks waiter at a wake before the festival kicks off. I will have slept on site the night before and will be on the phone constantly, so not even Perry Como's Christmas collection will get a look in!

What acts should we look out for this year?

We have over 120 fantastic performers, all of whom justify a packed audience – fingers crossed. Check out the full festival programme and chose your favourite.

Visit the Sunflowerfest website below to book weekend camping or single day tickets.

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