Most years, May festival season is a hair-tearing, brain-draining, heart-wrenching decision making period, complete with printed-out lineups and timetables and figuring out if you can really be in Tongzhou and wherever MIDI is held all in one day. And on years when Ditan Folk Festival throws its hat into the Labor Day calamity, it gets even worse. Thankfully, as far as I can tell, this year is an absolute no-brainer.
Day 1, April 29. Strawberry Festival, Tongzhou Canal Park
Without Ditan Folk on this particular day, it’s between heavy hitters Strawberry and MIDI. And while MIDI’s first day has a good array of hard rock and metal groups, there’s nothing we can’t see at MAO Live House within the next month or so. And even if things were different, they’d be up against some seriously good acts at Strawberry’s opening day. Every single stage is jam-packed with awesome bands I’d pay good money to see elsewhere. The Strawberry stage has headlining foreign act, Blonde Redhead, alongside Hanggai, Re-TROS and New Pants. The Love Stage has indie pop rockers Convenience Store, the blind master of folk Zhou Yunpeng and rarely-seen punk rockers Reflector. The new Planet Stage has smaller-name foreign acts like Arms & Legs (US), Jeans Team (UK) as well as Hong Kong’s Killersoap. Plus, the Overload Stage kicks MIDI’s ass for metal groups, with veteran act Voodoo Kungfu alongside younger (but still just as hardcore) A.J.K. And even the electronic stage has stepped up its game, with Migas’ resident Nassdak, Lantern favorite Elvis.T and Italian newcomers and Haze regulars The Pipesmokers. As though that wasn’t enough, they also have their School of Rock stage with fresh young bands out for some festival experience, the experimental Cha stage and the “Strawberry Life” exhibition hall which will host cultural activities and events. There’s no reason not to get your ass to Tongzhou on the first day of May holidays.
Day 2, April 30. Ditan Folk Festival, Ditan Park
It’s hard for a little folk festival in a park to win out over mosh-pit wonders like MIDI and behemoth juggernauts like Strawberry, but Ditan Folk Festival has a solid chance this year. Even though my favorite band (Residence A, in case you had forgotten) is playing at MIDI, and some of my indie pop indulgences (Perdel and The Life Journey) are playing Strawberry, my heart belongs at Ditan. Two of my favorite folk acts are on that day, with Yunnan wunderkids Shanren and always-interesting experimental artist Xiao He likely closing out the evening. Bluegrass starlets The Randy Abel Stable are also performing, as well as the very talented French multi-instrumentalist Zhang Si’an. All in all, weather permitting it’ll be a lovely day to just sit in the grass listening to quality music amongst your friends. Stay in the city and recoup some of your energy.
Day 3, May 1. MIDI, Shunyi Olympic Rowing-Canoeing Park
I know that the word “Shunyi” makes people shudder at the thought of getting taxis to and from, but it shouldn’t be too difficult. MIDI has a 10-minute shuttle bus to and from the Fengbo (俸伯) subway station, which will be great on the way there, but I do worry about the fact that the last train is at 22:11; the last train at the Line 13 interchange is 23:24, and that will likely get you to Dongzhimen after the last train anywhere else leaves. Still, it’s doable, and I’m sure there’ll be a plethora of heiche willing to get you home. At any rate, transportation issues aside, the lineup is going to be a good one. The VANS stage plays hosts to Xi’an hip-hop crosstalkers (who famously cussed out Japan in their last appearance in Beijing) Black Head, one of my favorite high-energy punk rockers SUBS and old stalwart of the scene, Miserable Faith. Other stages host Aussie hardcore rockers Arcane Saints, veterans of the punk scene Misandao, the bizarre addition of indie pop-rock group Perdel and foreign rockers The Amazing Insurance Salesmen. Should be a great night, and check out the photos of the park — it looks amazing.
It’s worth noting that Day 2 & 3 are easily interchangeable, if you don’t like Xiao He or really don’t think Black Head are worth it. MIDI April 30 brings Mos Def, Residence A, Muma & Third Party, Voodoo Kungfu and folk artist Hao Yun. Ditan May 1 has solid Ningxia acts like Li Dong and Buyi, as well as funk outfit Afrokoko Roots and folk legends Traveler.