Now that it’s been three years since David Bowie’s death, festivals and tributes have become more of a celebration rather than the genuine loss felt in the direct aftermath.
Like the passing of Prince a few months later, the death of David Bowie transcended the usual few days of tributes and celebrity obituaries. In 2016, each Bowie night felt like a bittersweet wake for maybe the objectively greatest pop star of them all — especially after he’d just released his final masterpiece Blackstar two days before he passed.
The first official Dublin David Bowie Festival happened in January 2016 after a few years of marking Bowie’s birthday with gigs and DJ nights in the Grand Social. So to receive the news of his death while the festival was in full swing was a sobering blow, with last-minute candle-lit singalongs organised.
The spirit of that communal gathering ensured that the Dublin Bowie Festival would be an annual event, way beyond the scope of the original weekender.
This year’s festival runs for six days, while last year’s was five, and once again it caters for all strands of Bowie mania — from glammed-up Ziggies, Aladdin Sanes and Halloween Jacks, to dead-eye Thin White Dukes and blonde quiffed Let’s Dancers. Like last year, it’s a mixture of gigs, talks, workshops and markets, with Bowie’s cult movies being screened as well.
The spectre of Starman, Major Tom and Hallo Spaceboy hangs over the festival this year, with a loose space exploration theme. There’s a screening of Nicolas Roeg’s avant-garde sci-fi movie starring Bowie as the enigmatic Thomas Newton, while his son Duncan Jones’ film Moon will also be shown at the Lighthouse Cinema. Astronomy enthusiasts will also get a chance to stargaze at the Phoenix Park Visitors Centre and some ‘sidewalk astronomy’ at Strand Road Car Park.
The gigs are obviously the main draw, with the grandest event kicking off the festival on Monday at the National Concert Hall, with ‘Space Oddity and other songs from the Bowie Universe’ performed by I Heart Bowie, the Trinity Orchestra and “very special guests”.
On Tuesday, Bowie’s underrated 1996 avant-rock album 1. Outside gets a full performance courtesy of Art-Crime Inc.
On Wednesday, the most high-profile gig takes place at the Olympia, when bona fide Bowie alumni play a wide-ranging set full of classics and left turns. Led by pianist Mike Garson — of iconic Aladdin Sane solo fame — the band also features Earl Slick, Carmine Rojas and Dubliner Gerry Leonard, who was Bowie’s band leader on the Reality tour and played on 2013’s triumphant comeback LP The Next Day.
On Saturday week, Ireland’s most famous Bowie cover band — and the act who headlined all the early birthday gigs — Rebel Rebel are playing the Academy, while the Salty Dog Allstars add a pirate theme to their special in the Grand Social the same night.
Audiophiles and Bowie deep cut fans should also set aside a few hours to hit Dublin’s newest music pub The Big Romance on Parnell Street on Saturday week, for a vinyl playback of the Berlin trilogy, Low, Heroes and the criminally underrated Lodger, while La Cucina is hosting two Bowie brunches on Saturday and Sunday week – see if you can order a dish of red peppers and milk, David’s diet in the mid-70s when he was recording Station To Station in the grip of cocaine psychosis and occult-based paranoia.
There’s no shortage of DJ nights at the Grand Social, and to appeal to Bowie fans’ more flamboyant sides, top Irish drag queen Veda Beaux Reves will be so swishy in her satin and tat at the George on Friday week.
Of course with all this partying you might have knocked a few brain cells out of joint, but you can still test your knowledge at the Queen Bitch Quiz at the Grand Social on Sunday week.
It all finishes with In Memory of a Free Festival in the Grand Social on Sunday week, when festival performers will gather again for a special toast to the man himself.
For info on all the events, visit dublinbowiefestival.ie