12th Open House Festival

Watch a video from the festival launch, listen to a podcast with festival director Kieran Gilmore and sign up for the CultureNI e-newsletter below for a chance to win tickets galore

With his pristine Harley-Davidson parked down a cobbled sidestreet, Kieran Gilmore, director of the Open House Festival, meets CultureNorthernIreland in an alcove in the John Hewitt Bar, here to give an insight into how this year's programme is shaping up.

Gilmore says that the success of the festival has been due to its gradual, organic growth. He has never pictured the festival standing still, and hopes that this year, the 12th, will be no exception.

'It's a very different beast to the first few festivals, in that they were traditional Irish music-based concerts making up the programme. We've always wanted to establish ourselves as Ireland's premier roots music festival, for want of a better word, and we think we're getting pretty close.'

In the early days, without the money to invite acts from overseas, Gilmore drew on Ireland's indigenious roots, putting on traditional sessions and concerts in various venues. With increasing confidence and fan support, it wasn't long before Open House experienced some expasion. 'As we got bigger and more adventurous, we realised there was an appetite for American folk music. We began to introduce that into the programme.'

With this year's festival bringing in indie giants Modest Mouse, gothic-Americana act Iron & Wine and London trio The White Lies, no-one can accuse Gilmore and his team of resting on their laurels. Acts like Wilco, Old Crow Medicine Show, Field Music, Lissie and the Mercury-Award nominated Irish act Villagers join Mumford & Sons on the bill, one of the UK's hottest acts.

The festival hasn't forgotten it's own roots, however, with a full programme of free Irish traditional sessions happening in venues thoughout the week, beginning September 6 and wrapping up September 12.

This year sees the beginning of a clubnight called Communion, one of the founding members of which is Mumford & Sons' Ben Lovett. Communion is a folk night that started up in 2006 in west London to provide a platform for the newest acts, with sister nights having since sprouted up in Brighton, Leeds, Bristol, Dublin, and even Sydney, Australia. Belfast's own night kicks off with the launch of the third EP from The Lowly Knights, A little give, a little take: The Even Keel.

Seasick Steve also makes a return to where it all began, having supported Hayseed Dixie in the Kings Head, performed a free solo show in the John Hewitt and crammed in a busking session or two back in 2007. Since his last performance at the festival, Steve has become an international star. He is only too keen to give credit where it's due. According to the grizzled old axeman, the Open House Festival is 'probably the reason I’m playing music. If I hadn’t done that gig at the Open House Festival in Belfast, I don’t think I’d be playing now.'

Gilmore reveals that a bronze plaque of Steve has been commissioned and is to be hung above the door of the John Hewitt, honouring the bluesman's appearance in the venue and to recognize his support of homeless incentives in Belfast through charity events.

However, it simply wouldn't be Open House without Chillifest rearing it's flaming head. The 'hotter than hell' food and music phenomenon features Hayseed Dixie headlining the marquee stage, funky festival sideshows, and of course, Ireland's only hot chilli pepper eating contest.

Before Gilmore's Harley rides out, music mogul Terri Hooley pops up to voice his support. Belfast's punk godfather says that the festivals happening today in the Cathedral Quarter are something that - in the Good Vibrations days - they 'could only have dreamed of'.

Belfast's music scene today isn't simply awake, it's got a fire in its belly that can not be extinguished.

The Open House Festival runs from September 6-12. Sign up for the CultureNorthernIreland e-newsletter and enter our competition (this coming Thursday) to win tickets to Mumford & Sons, Seasick Steve, Wilco or Chill Fest, or log on to BelfastMusic.org to win tickets to see Iron & Wine or Modest Mouse.

Eddie Mullan