SoFFt Nights is a music festival with a difference. For one thing, it isn't an annual event – there were six SoFFt Nights last year, although they were smaller events, due to Covid concerns. For another, there are two Fs in its name, but that’s nothing to do with Fianna Fáil, nor is just affectation, as Oliver Callan deduced while talking to festival organiser, Natasha Duffy, it’s an acronym, standing for Spirit of Folk Festival (not sure where the T fits in, but let’s not quibble). Natasha was asked by Oliver to describe the vibe of the festival:

"It started off, obviously, as a pandemic baby, really. So, we developed it so that people could come and be in an intimate, safe environment and come and enjoy music. And it was very small, it had to be small all through 2021."

This year, SoFFt Nights is getting bigger. It’ll take place in Dunderry House in Co Cavan on the June bank holiday weekend and Natasha has added sensory spaces to the festival, which she says, sit alongside the music.

"The new spaces are these kind of sensory spaces, and they kind of sit alongside the music festival, so it’s still full-on music festival. We’ve got theatre, art, storytelling, all that sort of stuff. But we’ve these new sensory spaces, a sensory cave and then we’ve a sensory space in the woods, that’s going to be a complete lighting design as well."

The story behind the incorporation of these sensory areas into the festival is a fascinating one: last year, as lockdown was happening, Natasha was diagnosed with Attention-Deficit-Hyperactivity-Disorder (ADHD), a condition that’s on the neuro-diverse spectrum. That was the spur that got her thinking about adding sensory areas to SoFFt Nights:

"As somebody who organises festivals and events and spaces, I kind of thought to myself, 'This is something that I can create, I can do and I can make a bit of a difference.’"

The sensory areas mean, Natasha believes, that anybody can go to a music festival, regardless of whether or not you have ADHD or autism, or any kind of sensory overload. If you want to dance, sing along and dive straight into the live music, you can do that. But if you need some space and some calm to gather your thoughts, that’s available too:

"I’ve created these spaces whereby people can disappear away from the music and the dancing and actually relax and chill out and have time to kind of process everything. So, there’re two areas, there’s one in a replica megalithic cairn, right? So it’s like walking into Newgrange. It’s incredible. And I’ve commissioned a neurodiverse composer to create a soundscape for it."

The second area involves a lighting design created by two designers who’ve worked for the likes of Cirque du Soleil. There’ll be an immersive lighting environment in the woods and lots of hammocks:

"So, two separate areas where you can disappear away from the bit of madness if you want to and then go back in and have the dance."

Oliver wonders how Natasha knew she had ADHD. It turns out that, although she had an inkling something was a little different for most of her life, she didn’t get a diagnosis until she was 37 – most people are diagnosed in childhood. And, indeed, Natasha’s experience of school wasn’t easy:

"Unless I was really, really interested in the subject, I couldn’t sit down and do my homework at night. And not for lack of trying. I’d sit there and, I can only explain it as something almost physical happens, you know, the problem with concentration, you know? And you’d be there, you’d read three lines and your mind’s gone, you body’s gone, you feel tense and it’s just really, really difficult."

The diagnosis wasn’t without its challenges, happening as it did during lockdown, but it came as something of a relief to Natasha:

"I was finally able to actually contextualise what had been going on for me my whole life... Answer all the questions that had been there for me since I was probably 5 or 6, you know?"

The diagnosis allows Natasha to bring an understanding that wasn’t available to her before into her work and, she believes, underlines the importance of getting a diagnosis.

You can hear Oliver’s full chat with Natasha Duffy by going here. And you can find details of the SoFFt Nights festival here.