By Jill Menze, July 12th, 2010
From high up in the Japanese mountains to a 16th century Norviliskes Castle, music festivals have cropped up in some fascinating and little-known locations over the past several years. Whether you’re an electronic music aficionado, traveling with a kid onboard or itching to get a taste of unique global culture, these six festivals offer a bit of something for everyone not found at your average corporate-sponsored event. Open your eyes, your ears and your minds to what they have in store.
Fuji Rock Festival
July 30 – Aug. 1
Naeba Ski Resort, Japan
Offering a twist on what one might find at a remote ski locale, the Fuji Rock Festival transforms Japan’s Naeba Ski Resort into a live music and cultural Mecca. The three-day event, now in its 14th year, is the largest outdoor festival in the country, attracting upwards of 120,000 – 130,000 people to the scenic mountains and forests, this year to see such acts as Muse, Belle & Sebastian, Air, MGMT and John Fogerty, as well as many local Japanese bands. The festival boasts that it’s the “cleanest festival in the world,” a feat that promoter Johnnie Fingers says took festival organizers years of showing-by-example to achieve. “We gave the illusion that the festival is naturally clean, like when a band finishes and the audience leaves, we clean it up before the next show,” he says. “When they return, it’s fresh and they don’t want to make a mess. The result is the audience really enjoys the fact that the festival is clean and feels a responsibility to keep it that way.”
In addition to eight music stages, Fuji Rock offers a circus area, kids play place, movies, shops with handmade clothing and jewelry and a gondola that lifts people through the mountains to a chill-out area with spectacular views. Unlike most festivals in the West, Fuji Rock prides itself on showing little evidence of corporate sponsorship, giving the event the true illusion of a mountain getaway.
June 2 – 6
The premiere electronic music and digital arts festival in North America, Montreal’s MUTEK attracts electronic musicians, artists, fans and industry folk from all over the world. The event, now in its 11th incarnation, takes place in five venues in the heart of downtown Montreal and features more than 50 local and international artists and DJs, including Mouse on Mars, Theo Parrish, Matmos, and Moritz von Oswald, among many others. Although MUTEK serves as a platform of exposure for live music acts, the festival also offers showcases, panels and workshops designed to provide industry insight into the latest emerging trends in the music and digital art scenes. All this provides the event with a community-based feel for likeminded electronic music enthusiasts, making it more than just a live-music destination. While MUTEK in Montreal is the central location of the event, bringing with it a first-hand taste of Canadian life and culture, there are international versions of the festival as well, in locations such as Mexico City, Argentina, Chile and Spain.
June 25 – 27
On the surface, Lithuania’s Be2gether Festival may look like a music festival, but it’s much more than meets the eye, priding itself on its cultural significance of uniting Eastern and Western Europe. The event is held in the unique location of Norviliskes, Lithuania, near the 16th century Norviliskes Castle, which is about 50 meters from the Lithuania-Belarus border. Festival marketing manager Egle Remeikaite says the idea of the event is to unite those living separated by the border, and to come together “despite political systems, age or religious views.”
The location is set in a remote, somewhat difficult spot to reach, but for those from the area, Be2gether serves as the only event of its sort, offering not only music from acts like Empire of the Sun, Casiokids and WhoMadeWho, but also art exhibits, theater, circus performances, movies, body painting, sporting events, massage tables and even a mud pool. Now in its third year, Be2gether has grown from a crowd of 7,000 to more than 13,000, proving just how powerful the draw of the event is, and connects those looking for music, activities, gorgeous atmosphere and more on common ground. “Norviliskes is a very special place,” Remeikaite says, “and music opens borders.”
July 16 – 18
Stoke Park, Guildford, England
For those seeking a more family friendly destination, look no further than GuilFest in Stoke Park, Guildford, in the U.K. The independently run festival, now in its 19th year, features activities for all ages, and even won the Best Family Festival Award at the 2006 U.K. Festival Awards. Along with live music by such acts as The Human League, Orbital and Just Jack, this year the festival also features a number of different areas and activities including a comedy zone, theater tent, ’70s disco dancing, and an extensive KidZone.
Additionally, you’ll find arts and crafts exhibits and catering from all across the globe, giving the festival a diverse and international feel all in a comfortable family setting. The town of Guilford itself is one of the most picturesque towns in South England, and even served as the setting that helped inspire Lewis Carroll in penning Alice In Wonderland. Anyone in need of a getaway just outside the event can kick back at Guilford’s outdoor swimming areas Lido and the Spectrum Leisure Centre, just beyond the festival grounds. The peaceful nature and laid-back vibe of GuilFest make it the ideal destination for all interests and ages.
June 23 – 27
As the largest greenfield music and performing arts festival in the world, Glastonbury is a renowned destination with countless things to offer. The event’s origins date back to 1970, the day after Jimi Hendrix died, when 1,500 people were in attendance and admission was one pound and included free milk from the farm where it was held.
It has since grown to hosting crowds of more than 90,000 people, set in the mythological Vale of Avalon, and attracts such huge names in the music world as U2, Muse and Stevie Wonder, who will perform on the festival’s historic Pyramid Stage. But big names are only a small part of what Glastonbury has in store. Niche musical tastes are met with the likes of jazz, acoustic and dance tents, while kid-friendly spots and art exhibits, poetry readings, theater, circus events and global cuisine offer a vast array of cultural experiences. There’s even spots like the politically charged Leftfield tent, where concertgoers are encouraged to take part in political discussion and performance.
All Tomorrow’s Parties
Sept. 3 – 5
All Tomorrow’s Parties in Monticello, NY, is unlike any other festival in the States— a specialized, boutique event tucked away up at Kutscher’s Country Club in the Catskills. The unique, almost eerie location (ATP founder Barry Hogan describes it as “an old Jewish resort… think The Shining meets Cocoon”) is free from any and all corporate sponsorship and, rather, someone is selected to curate the event, and this year filmmaker Jim Jarmusch is doing the honors. “We don’t let trends dictate our lineup, instead we invite curators to pick the bands and it’s like bringing your record collection to life,” Hogan says.
ATP New York started in 2008 as a sister event to ATP in the U.K., and hosts only a select 3,000 festival-goers. Typically, more indie-type bands and exclusive performances are the main music draw, with Sonic Youth, Iggy and the Stooges, The Breeders and many more rounding out this year’s lineup. In addition to two music stages, the festival also features comedy performances, as well as a game room at the country club, hosted by Steve Albini. “[ATP] is a festival that cares about bands,” Hogan says. “We do this because we believe in their music, not because we expect it to make us rich. If we thought like that, we would get into bed with sponsors.”