Over the last two weeks TMV had the privilege to attend the Benicassim Festival in Spain close to the sea, and then last weekend we attended The Secret Garden Party in Cambridgeshire. What was the difference between the two? Punter numbers, atmosphere and commerciality were the main differentiating factors.
Kicking off, I was rather excited to be attending Benicassim, with the likes of Kings of Leon, Franz Ferdinand, and The Killers each headlining one night. This festival proudly promotes itself as the most environmentally friendly festival in Europe as well. Upon arrival via a bus from the seaside port of Orpesa 6 miles away from the festival site, I was struck by the fact the site was miles away from any beach. There were streams of festivalgoers walking, driving or being bussed in from the surrounding towns.
First up, I was aghast by the fact the site was set in concrete and what little grass there was, was so dry there was no point sitting on it (and very limited seating overall throughout the event site). The site was also incredibly dusty, in fact so dusty that as the sun went down our sunglasses remained on as safety goggles to prevent debris getting into our eyes.
Sadly, Kings of Leon had to cancel their performance due to the wind blowing off certain roof sections from the main stage. Topping off the Friday night, there was a bush fire no more than 50 meters away from the festival site and the press area. Luckily, the wind was blowing in the wrong direction! Saturday’s performance by Franz Ferdinand did however, blow me away! What a great live band!
Yes, the numbers were impressive with over 150,000 festivalgoers in attendance. However, that is where I stopped being impressed, the security was rude, and the prices for food or alcohol were a total rip-off (€7.50 per vodka and coke, and €8.50 for a baby serving of Pad Thai. Reinforcing this was the lack of food options and size of the festival site was extremely small considering the number of punters. Very little room to breathe or chill out. The fact there were only two vegetarian food options on the whole site, (and I do not mean two separate food outlets I mean actual menu options) was appalling.
Topping off the less than average experience was the fact the company we booked our accommodation and transportation to the festival with – Danspfib S.R.L, were rude, our hotel room constantly stunk of sewage and then they did not provide enough buses. A hint for any punters thinking of attending next year in 2010, give this company an extremely wide birth.
In contrast The Secret Garden Party was one of the best festivals I have ever experienced. Firstly, there was masses of green grass, the food options were immense, the security polite. Yes only 12,000 people but up from 5000 last year. In terms of environmental friendliness, I would have to state SGP is way ahead of Bencassim. So many stalls were using solar power (albeit charging £5 to charge you mobile phones was a bit steep in TMV’s view).
Line-up wise, Phoenix on the Friday night was awesome and my personal favorite Rodriguez Y Gabriela played an amazing set on the Saturday evening. What really made SGP stand out in comparison to all other festivals I have attended was the carnival atmosphere, with small venues where you could catch something genuinely unique, whether that be a theatre performance, mud wrestling in the hay bale constructed coliseum or talks on cosmology. Obviously, personal opinion does come into this hard equation.
Overall, yes, the large festivals can attract the global artists and it is hard to compete with that just from a line-up perspective. However, the vibe and atmosphere I fear over the last few years have been compromised at these big festivals as they have lost the carnival/festival feel they used to possess.
On the flip side, numerous small boutique festivals have popped up over the last few years. Is that a sign that festivalgoers are moving with their feet and showing big festivals they have lost their way? Not in TMV’s view as the fact that many of the big festivals sell-out year on year is a testament to their staying power. However, it does signify that a certain audience that was probably not catered for before now have many options to choose from that suit their music and atmosphere tastes better.