We’ve got a few suggestions for festivals that might inspire you to tap back into that youthful spirit… In a slightly more sensible manner
Summer’s coming, and for millions of people that means it’s festival time. I’m sure that a lot of you have spent at least some time traipsing across fields to see your favourite bands or DJs, sipping warm lager out of a can, only to have your view blocked by some idiot holding up a big sign.
Or stumbling around in the dead of night trying to find your tent in a sea of identical structures before giving up and just collapsing on the ground, only to find in the morning that the reason you couldn’t find it is that it’s been fallen on and crushed by some other drunken lunk. Don’t worry – we’ve all been there. You’re among friends here.
Nowadays, maybe you want something a bit more grown up. A nicer location maybe, a more eclectic range of music, perhaps an event you can attend with your kids, or simply the possibility of staying in something other than a cheap tent. If that’s the case, we’ve got a few suggestions for festivals that might inspire you to tap back into that youthful spirit… In a slightly more sensible manner.
Meadows in the Mountains, Bulgaria
Easily one of the most visually arresting festivals in the world, Meadows in the Mountains takes place precisely there, the meadows being high up in the Rhodope Mountains, a four-and-a-half hour bus ride from Sofia. Focussing mainly on electronic music, it was set up by an English father and son team and has gone from strength to strength in the six years it’s been running.
The mountains are supposedly the homeland of the mythical Orpheus, the poet, musician and prophet in ancient Greek religion – the site is close to the Greek border – and dotted around the local area are beautiful villages, ancient churches and sparkling rivers.
The festival operates a leave-no-trace ecological policy and is working closely with the local Bulgarian government to ensure that profits from the event go to the local communities. There are free donkey-cart rides to nearby villages if you need to stock up on delicious local produce, and even the option of nipping quickly across the border to Greece.
Bilbao BBK, Spain
Spain has a number of world-famous festivals including Primavera Sound and Benicàssim, but to combine a festival with a city break, BBK wins out.
Taking place on a specially built complex on the slopes of Mount Cobetas to the southwest of Bilbao, its proximity to the city means you can spend the mornings nursing your hangover with a stroll through the streets of the Old Town, stopping for a coffee and a sit down when required, or checking out what’s happening at the iconic Guggenheim museum.
With a good mix of international and local acts spread across three main stages and a large DJ tent, the attendance of around 100,000 people each year means that Bilbao has established itself as “the third Spanish concert capital” after Madrid and Barcelona, according to spokesperson Alfonso Santiago.
Adding to this, the Aste Nagusia, Bilbao’s city festival which includes free concerts, street entertainment, strongman games and nightly firework displays, and the Basque city has a serious amount going on every summer.
Outside Lands, California, USA
A festival not just for music lovers – although the lineups have become increasingly stellar since its inception in 2008 – this event in mid-August at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park is also a mecca for lovers of food, wine, art and comedy.
The Lands of the title are just that: particular areas of the festival site where attendees can go and sample the tasty wares of vendors who have set up their stalls. Beerland, Wineland, Chocoland and Cheeseland are among the areas to explore, as well as around 80 other vendors selling everything from local oysters to lamb tacos.
There are shuttle buses to and from the festival site from various areas of San Francisco and around. It’s a no-camping festival, so you’ll have to find somewhere to stay in the city, but hey, you’re staying in San Francisco – what’s not to like about that? Plus you want to try all those delicious beers and wines, right? Who’d drive?!
Colours of Ostrava, Czech Republic
Ostrava’s history is one of heavy engineering and mining, and after the bottom fell out of those industries, the city’s Vítkovice steel works fell into disrepair, a sad sight on the skyline. However, a few years ago the entire area was repurposed – retaining its unique character, but made safe – into a complex including a theatre, cinema, university lecture halls and more. It is in this location, surrounded by towering, rusting pipeworks and pylons, that Colours takes place.
It’s an unusual mix of all styles of music, from folk to rock to swing to EDM, and attracts a demographic of adventurous, curious 30-somethings from (mainly) the Czech Republic, but also from abroad as its reputation grows.
The eclectic nature of the festival is shown in its sprawl; none of the stages are massive by the standards of some other festivals on this list, but there are 20 of them, including a theatre stage, workshops, kids’ stage, a cinema, and live panel discussions with some of the artists performing. Oh, and one of them is in a theatre located inside a massive, disused gas container. If that’s not an unusual venue, I don’t know what is.
Flow Festival, Finland
Similar to Colours, the Flow Festival takes place at the now-defunct Suvilahti power station and its surroundings in Helsinki. Founded in 2004, it encompasses not only music, but is a celebration of urban spaces and visual arts, as well as having talks and film screenings along with the inevitable wide-ranging selection of food and drink.
Embracing the city’s avant-garde foodie culture, this is the one festival to visit if you appreciate that sort of thing. Most of Helsinki’s (frankly fabulous) restaurants will send food vans down to the site, so it’s not pushing it to say that we reckon this is the only festival on this list with virtually Michelin Star levels of catering. On top of that, it’s only a short hop from the festival site to the centre of Helsinki, so you could even extend your stay and explore the capital at your leisure.
This year sees the introduction of huge public saunas at the site, so you’ll be able to shed your inhibitions – and more – Finnish style. The artists on the bill are also weighted significantly (in number if not by reputation) in favour of relevant, in-the-moment Finnish and Scandinavian performers, keeping much of the local flavour it was renowned for despite the jump in size since its inception.
Festival No. 6, Wales
Named after the main character of the cult series The Prisoner – filmed here in the 1960s – Festival No. 6 takes place in the whimsical Welsh village of Portmeirion. Designed and built between 1925 and 1975 by architect Sir Bertram Clough Williams-Ellis in a sort of cartoonish impression of an Italian village, it’s a perfectly surreal backdrop to this cultural celebration.
Bands, DJs, comedians, theatre troupes, filmmakers, authors and artists are all part of what isn’t simply a music festival. “The oddest and most magical festival of them all” was how the Telegraph described it, and from the beach all the way up to the forest-covered hills that surround the village, you’d be hard-pressed to disagree. Around every corner, there’s another delightful surprise.
It’s also very family friendly, with a lot of people – bands included! – choosing to bring their kids with them. There’s a wide range of places to stay, from traditional festival camping to the Boutique Village (built specially for the occasion) to staying in some of the bizarre buildings that make up the village… Although these, fairly predictably, are the first to sell out. This year was no different.
It’s certainly not a number: No. 6 truly is one of the UK’s weirdest and most beautiful festivals. Be seeing you…
Electric Daisy Carnival, Nevada, USA
Las Vegas + festival = chaos, right? Well… yeah, kind of. The largest electronic music festival outside Europe attracts around 400,000 people over its three days and nights, and is a strictly no-minors-allowed sort of deal. The Las Vegas Motor Speedway is transformed into what can only be described as a playground for adults, with interactive art installations, a wide array of performers, pyrotechnic displays, and a party that really gets going way into the early hours ’til dawn and beyond.
Dressing to the extreme is actively encouraged, and there’s no camping or anything like that – you’ll have to take your weirdness back into Vegas with you. But, you know, it’s Las Vegas: no-one will bat an eyelid. Plus, with stage names like the Quantum Valley, the Neon Garden and the Wasteland, you can already anticipate what kind of stuff we’re dealing with.
The tagline of the festival is All Are Welcome Here, and you’re bound to find something to excite and entertain you, whether it’s the music, the fairgrounds, the rollercoasters and rides, or simply chilling out on a bean bag when it all gets a bit too much.
Great headliners, cheap beer, and camping by the sea. If that doesn’t tick all your festival boxes for the summer then… well, do something else. The main event takes place at Kosakowo Airport, where stages are erected both outside and in the hangers, but there are also free events at the Gdynia Open Stage, on the beach near the town of the same name.
The nearby town of Sopot is also a viable location if you’re looking for somewhere to stay close to the festival. In fact, the entire festival site is spacious compared to equivalent large events in the UK, for example. Intelligent gridding of the campsites means you won’t be camping on top of anyone else, or be stumbling over tent ropes in the dark. Except possibly your own.
It’s also an oddly energetic festival, and by that I mean there’s a lot of other things on offer to take part in than just watching bands and dancing. There’s areas for yoga, zumba, five-a-side football pitches and volleyball courts for the sporty among you, and if you’re here with your kids, there’s a huge children’s zone with crafts, circus arts, science experiments, slacklining, and a huge soft play area among other things. What’s not to love?
Newport Folk Festival, Rhode Island, USA
Last but not least, we come to the site of one of 20th century music’s defining moments. “Dylan goes electric” was a source of shock, bewilderment and straightforward anger to the thousands who had come to hear Mr. Zimmerman’s tedious brand of whiny acoustic folk, only to recoil in horror at having it replaced by a tedious brand of whiny electric folk.
Okay, so that’s just my opinion, but it has meant that the name of the festival is famous among music-lovers (and Dylan fans), and means that the town of Newport continues to have a festival. It takes place at Fort Adams, a disused military outpost and state park on a peninsula southwest of the town.
Newport itself is a famously upmarket place frequented by the sailing set, and was the filming location for the 1974 version of The Great Gatsby. It was also the site of two summer White Houses – the holiday residences of Dwight D Eisenhower and John F Kennedy. I think that gives you an impression of the sort of place it is.
At the festival grounds, as well as the music, which is spread over four stages, the festival lives up to its description as “digestible, intelligent, beautiful and well-planned” by having beer and wine gardens, art and craft workshops and sales, and stage revues. There’s a “park and bike” scheme if you’re staying in Newport itself, or there’s camping nearby.
So there you have it. Hopefully, that’s put a couple of ideas in your head regarding discovering something new this summer. And if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere and festival season has been and gone, watch this space. We might just have something for you later in the year…