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Eddie O'Callaghan (Garden Festival) Interview: a holiday with a musical backdrop

We caught up with one of the founding promoters behind the Garden Festival, Eddie O'Callaghan.

Jimmy Coultas

Last updated: 7th Jun 2013


We LOVE festivals here at Skiddle. We’ve had some glorious experiences in differing locations over the years, moments of magic delivered via bands hunched under a poncho as the British weather does its worst, breath-taking hands in the air euphoria in European warehouses sound tracked by thumping techno, and even basking in the African sunshine to chilled out grooves.

The joy of the Festival is that there are so many different types, in so many different places. The Garden site in Tisno though certainly stands out as one of the best of the lot, boasting its own secluded sandy beach, shimmering beautiful seas and skies, and a series of on-site arenas that make it that very special combination of the intimate and the expansive. But it hasn’t always been that way.

It’s hard to think now such has been the widespread proliferation of them in the nation, but back in 2005 Croatia was still a beautiful country with a very recent memory of struggle, and the last place on earth you’d think would be a mecca for festivals. One event changed that, the Garden. It quickly became not only a festival but a site for a collection of other like-minded soirees and, after relocating from the original site in Petrcane to Tisno last year, remains the focal point for a very unique musical and way of life focused party.

As part of a series of stories investigating the magic of the region (Skiddle is uprooting shortly to Croatia to check the action itself – hard life), we spoke with one of the people behind the Garden from the very off, Eddie O’Callaghan, to try and get an insight into why they’ve been able to create such a magical environment. Jimmy Coultas delivered the questions.

For those who don’t know, can you tell us what the Garden festival is and what it incorporates?

We like to think of the Garden Festival as a holiday with a musical backdrop because the vast majority of visitors come for a full seven days for what we consider are the finest underground dance music acts from the past, present and the future.

What have you got in store for this year’s festival?                      

There really is so much going on during the full week that it’s hard to single anything out! In addition to the main live stage and the beachfront stage, onsite we now have an incredible 18 boat parties running during the festival and seven club nights hosted by some of the world’s top promoters. Barbarellas was a real highlight last year, being fully open air for dancing under the stars and sunrise, it’s really special there.

Sounds great. Can you tell us a little about how the Garden festival started then?

Nick and Charlotte Colgan had come to Croatia back in 2004 for a holiday and were so struck by the extraordinary potential of the beautiful Dalmation coast that they opened an outdoor lounge bar by the water in the town of Zadar. After visiting them and feeling the same way about this place, we all put our heads together to persuade friends, DJs and promoters we knew from many years in the underground music scene to get together for the first Garden Festival.

It was still very hard to get to Croatia back then so we have to thank those 300 pioneers who first made it over in 2006. They were all serious music lovers who went back inspired, and in turn inspired their like-minded friends to come with them - and this pattern has repeated itself over eight seasons until now The Garden Festival feels like a huge extended family.

What have been your favourite moments over the years on site?

Again way too many to mention but year after year we do take delight in seeing people come again and again, who have built up lasting relationships founded on a mutual love of music and a thirst for a great time.

For someone who hasn’t been to the Tisno site before, what makes it so special?

Tisno is really a stunning site, it’s like a natural wooded amphitheatre running down to its own private beach and a bay where the boat parties depart from. There are onsite apartments, luxury camping and Podpads so up to 700 people can stay onsite. It even has its own restaurant and shop so in full swing it feels like the funkiest village with everyone 100% up for the best party imaginable. The town of Tisno is really beautiful too – lots of restaurants, bars, shops and a wide range of places to stay, it’s a picture-post card place.

Can you tell us about the other festivals there this year?

There will be five festivals in all, the Electric Elephant is first up after our festival and is run by the guys who put on the legendary Electric Chair in Manchester. It’s a super quality event and for those who have the stamina we do a super cheap Double Whammy ticket so you can stay for both.

After that it’s Soundwave who are now in their fifth year, with a brilliant line up geared more towards lovers of bass, soul, hiphop, reggae etc. Following them is Suncebeat which is put on by the guys who are now in their 26th year of Southport Weekenders. This brings an amazing extended family of older soulful dance music lovers who certainly haven’t forgotten how to party. Finally we have Stop Making Sense who meld together a really eclectic mix of music and promoters from all over Europe.

With Croatia rapidly gaining festivals and events by the minute, what do you think the future holds for the country as a dance music destination?

There has been an extraordinary profusion of events now coming to Croatia, but with The Garden Festival being an intimate smaller capacity event (between 2500 and 3000) we are able to concentrate on quality without having to plan for huge crowds in the future. Our hope is that Croatia, as a destination for music heads, will retain an overall reputation for always caring about the quality and avoiding the obvious commercial routes as much as possible.

We know you have close ties with We Love… in Ibiza, so you’re arguably one of the best people to comment on the similarities between the white isle and Croatia. How much of the Balearic vibe proved an inspiration to what you have created?

Yes the guys behind We Love... are good friends and we feel that although we are on a much smaller scale we share a genuine love for the scene and an ethos of trying to provide the very best music and vibes available. There is no question that the early Balearic vibe was inspirational to us musically and we have attempted to recreate the innocence of those early days. Those that remember have compared our outdoor Barbarellas Discotheque with the glory days of Amnesia, and there are very few places anywhere now where you can dance under the stars until the sun comes up.

And as a final note, who would be your dream three bookings for the festival? Or have you already had them?

I can’t mention anyone current or their fee will go up! Seriously though it would have been a dream for us to book Gil Scott Heron before he died, Laurent Garnier would be great and maybe if Prince has a night off at some point? You did say dream bookings!


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