For me, this felt like a very truncated version of the Strawberry Festival. Last year, I went all three days and while the ticket lines were a nightmare on day one, I generally felt pretty good about it. I think that watching the slow deterioration of all the perfect preparation that goes into a festival area is almost as fun as catching the bands. The flip side of that is that when you turn up on day three where everything’s trampled and dirty, you don’t feel like you were a part of making it that way, and it all just feels… unsanitary.
None of this was helped by the alcohol ban that I didn’t hear about until I got there. I don’t like getting drunk off my face at festivals, but I like to have a beer on a hot day in the park, so I really disliked the ban. Of course, people still got their beer, and by the time the sun started setting, one of the stalls behind the love stage and some enterprising ayi managed to smuggle in enough beer for whoever heard about it.
I’m sure the chengguan had their reasons for the ban — however unfounded they might be — but I wonder if anyone will ever learn that putting rules like that up at a chaotic festival? Isn’t really going to work. I went to a festival with campgrounds in Australia one year where this group of guys had taped goon sacks to themselves to smuggle alcohol on the grounds. Others filled shampoo bottles with vodka. And that was just because they were stingy bastards; there was alcohol at the festival! Never underestimate the population’s creativity when it comes to getting alcohol with their music.
In other things non-music related, I was really unimpressed with the food choices this time around. I generally love festival food, and China does it really well, but this time just sucked. There were lifeless sandwiches and spaghetti, the obligatory chuan’r and roujiamo meat sandwiches, but even the noodle choices were uninspiring. Where’s my quail egg chuan’r??
The combination of turning up late and having to explore the grounds didn’t make for the best music-seeing experience, I must admit, but I did get to see some solid favorite acts of mine. First were Life Journey. I went down to the front-ish for a while, but after getting burned in the sun and wind, and realizing that they were going into the ballad section of the show, I moved back. I’m not digging their current sound as much as I used to; it’s all feeling a little boring to me, so I hope they make some upbeat tracks soon.
Later on was Zhou Yunpeng, the blind folk artist who seems to have captured everyone’s heart. Last year he performed at the smaller Love Stage, but this year he was at the main stage, the Strawberry Stage. The crowd was incredible, and the difference was clear. Last year, everyone sat in front of the stage quietly with some people in the back standing on the concrete. This year, the crowd stretched on for ages, everyone standing and singing along. It was inspiring.
I also got to see all of Hanggai’s performance, which reminded me just how much I love them. I was with a friend of a friend from Mongolia, and he said they were kitschy and he didn’t like them because they were just revamping old folk tunes and doing nothing original. While I think it’s a valid point, that doesn’t negate the fact that Hanggai rocks. They have an incredible stage presence and energy that just doesn’t show anywhere else. Their recorded tracks might be great, but their live performance is where it’s at. No wonder they’re touring the world these days.
We capped off the evening with a brief look-in at the Queen Sea Big Shark performance, which was as much flashing lights and bright red costumed as you’d expect it to be. They’re playing to such huge audiences at these festivals, it never ceases to amaze me that they can play smaller venues without a hitch.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see a lot of the minor acts, but I did enjoy the inclusion of the Taiwan stage. When I sat down on the grass near it to eat lunch, I didn’t know what stage it was (by day three, almost all the flags were taken down from having been ripped by the wind), but as soon as the young woman on stage started singing, I knew that it was the Taiwan stage. Nobody makes adorable indie pop quite like the Taiwanese.
On the whole, I would definitely say that I enjoyed myself. There were some drawbacks, atmospherically, but the music was still good, as was the company, so we made the best of it. And sometimes, just having someone to bitch with about not having any beer is just as entertaining as sharing a beer with them.