Rock festivals - not like a trip to your grandma's house

David Bartal
David Bartal - [email protected]
Rock festivals - not like a trip to your grandma's house

Mayhem, music and masses of mud: With festival season truly upon us, David Bartal went to where the action was.


There are easier and more comfortable ways to hear live music than to tramp around in a wet or muddy field, but those ways don’t have the same appeal to me as a rock festival. What I don’t understand is why it always has to rain, and why some catastrophe always seems to strike just when one of my favourite groups is finishing up a set. It must be fate.

A few years ago when covering a larger and longer Scandinavian rock party, I teamed up with fashion designer Ylva Liljefors, who has a passion for hard rock and is a good photographer. We drove down to Roskilde, Denmark with her sister Maj, and emerged about 3 or 4 days later filthy and happy.

On this occasion, the two of us were joined by sister-number-three, Rebecca, who came down from Uppsala to celebrate her birthday; little did Becca know that she would be immediately whisked away to the Where The Action Is festival near the University of Stockholm, where she would hear over 12 hours of continuous rock music. She was wearing rubber boots.

Unfortunately I was not, which meant my tennis shoes and socks were soaking and frozen even before the first band started to play. We used thin, pink plastic ponchos supplied by sponsor Aftonbladet, which made us look like aliens from Mars. Other folks came up with ingenious solutions for remaining dry, like placing an empty bag, newspaper, or cardboard carton over their heads.

Most mobile phones didn’t work, by the way: That’s the result when 18,000 people all try to phone at the same time from the same place, so if you get separated from your mates, well, good luck!

One of the first groups to play, Sahara Hotnights, an all-girl band which has gotten airplay on MTV, didn’t pack much of a punch on this occasion. However, another Swedish outfit which I’ve been bad-mouthing for years, Mando Diao, was a happy surprise. Their full-bodied swinging sound — complete with trumpets -- appealed enormously.

A short while later, I hurried from the beer tent to hear the American group Dinosaur Jr., which was big in the 1980s. Sadly, this reunited band has not aged well, and we did a U-turn after listening to only a few painful minutes of squeaky guitar.

For some festival-goers, The Hellacopters were a highlight, especially since these Swedish veterans plan to break up after this summer. Their set heated up considerably when heavily-tattooed local rock legend Dregen —who plays with Backyard Babes—joined the Copters on stage.

The Hives, headed by charismatic crooner Howlin’ Pelle did what they always do. These stylish gents put on a high-quality, fast-paced and fun show that gets your feet moving, even if you’ve heard hits like “Walk Idiot Walk” a thousand times before.

But the main event for my crew was clearly the American super-group Queens of the Stone Age. This is what rock should sound like in the year 2008! Lead singer and tough-guy Josh Homme doesn’t make jokes and he barely moves onstage. But the Queens owned the crowd from the first note of their hard-pumping, mind-blasting music, which is sometimes spiced with a dose of neo-psychedelia.

Another plus: The Queens have attitude, an authentic bad attitude which feels necessary in this age of nice-nice preppie materialism. Lead singer Homme sounded dangerously sincere when he cursed out the security guards and threatened them with sodomy for being too scrupulous in controlling the crowd.

We elbowed our way forward toward the front of the stage like the other lunatics, as the Queens’ testosterone-prompting tunes vibrated up through feet and legs and stomach. Here’s a tip: Don’t eat a gigantic portion of deep-fried potato wedges topped with gobs of fatty mayonnaise if you plan on hopping up and down a half hour later.

Before the Queens finished their last tune, I felt my forehead get clammy as those greasy potato wedges started to do cartwheels in my tummy. I had to get out of the crowd in a hurry.

Ironically, I once had another mishap when listening to the Queens play live at a festival. On that occasion, I temporarily lost my wallet. But what the heck. If you get frozen feet or lose a sweater, or drink too many beers or get separated from your friends it doesn’t matter that much, not if you are hopelessly crazy about live music.

Queens' lead singer Josh Homme got it right when he bellowed from the stage: “Going to a rock festival shouldn’t feel like a trip to your fuckin’ grandma’s house.”


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