Adam Norman and Richard Bull, owners of espresso bar Doppio, closed up their café for the two festival days, but I prised the door open for a rejuvenating café latte on Saturday morning as they were grilling a couple of croissants for their lunch. For them, closing was a matter of priorities.
“This is an event, a happening. It’s once a year, so we close and have a good time with 24,000 other people,” Adam said. “You meet customers who say: ‘are you open tomorrow?’ and you say: ‘No.’”
Adam thought the club aspect of the festival was a nice idea, but that it clearly wasn’t working: “When you’ve got 24,000 tickets and everyone wants to see Familjen it’s pretty tough. You can’t put a circle in a square.”
Richard said they’d also found clubs taking advantage of the festival arrangement: “We tried Rio Rio but they were letting paying customers in first, and the pass-holder line wasn’t moving at all.”
I asked the baristas how they get the most out of a festival: “Don’t plan too much. People plan the whole day before they get there and then get disappointed,” Adam said. “People plan their meal times and their beer times, you know it takes the fun out of it all,” he added.
There was a relaxed atmosphere in Slottsskogen in the early afternoon sunshine, as festival-goers wandered in and took positions on the lawn, ready for the first acts. I went back-to-back with Joan as Police Woman and Gothenburg’s own acoustic muse, José González.
Joan, a fixture in the US indie rock world, played a silky smooth set of bassy soul in the Linné tent, and then a happy crowd had filled the area in front of the Flamingo stage to enjoy José’s classical guitar finger picking and reflective lyrics. Flashes of a young Bob Dylan complemented the decidedly “peace and love” atmosphere.
Jesper Hallning, a student at Örebro’s art college, was sketching the scene, which he was going to scan onto his blog. Jesper thought the festival line-up was great, but found the schedule was too tight, a sentiment echoed by many I spoke to: “More space between the artists would be good, time to take a beer or something,” Jesper said.
I could only agree, but this correspondent was on a tight schedule to cover every time slot. Last-minute headliner, Kelis, swanned onstage with the observation: “My god, there are so many blondes here!” and put on an effervescent show.
Then Sahara Hotnights, who have settled into a safe but still satisfying pop rock formula since I first saw a raw guitar-rock outfit in Melbourne on their 2005 Kiss & Tell tour, hit the Flamingo stage, cranking out a great set to a big audience.
US hip hop group N*E*R*D, with producer, rapper and singer, Pharrell Williams, played the Flamingo stage later in the afternoon. A huge get for the organizers, N*E*R*D delivered a punchy, mouthy show for a fist-pumping crowd.
Other highlights on the Saturday afternoon were the “Queen Bee”, Lil’ Kim, who made up for committing the cardinal festival sin in arriving a half-hour late by bouncing her way through a sexy hip hop set; and Swedish favourite, Håkan Hellström.
A friend from Seattle tipped me off about indie outfit, the Fleet Foxes, who have been generating a lot of buzz on the club circuit there, even before the release of their self-titled debut album this year. There’s no doubt that word is getting out, as a large crowd gathered at the Linné tent for the evening slot.
While the quintet might look like remnants from the grunge era, with long hair and flannel shirts, their melodic rock has folk roots, and the Fleet Foxes themselves describe their music as “baroque harmonic pop”. The band seemed genuinely overwhelmed by the appreciative and knowledgeable audience’s sustained applause after each song. Watch out for more from the Fleet Foxes!
The Flaming Lips put on a spectacular sound and light show later in the evening, as the crowd swelled to maximum capacity. From the moment front-man Wayne Coyne rolled out into the crowd in a huge transparent plastic bubble, this was going to be a different gig.
The crowd was entertained with dozens of dancing Teletubbies, a stunning laser light show and a video backdrop choreographed with exploding streamers and smoke machines.
And then it was over to Neil Young and his electric band to take home the festival. There’s very little to say about the esteemed Mr Young that hasn’t been said a thousand times, so this correspondent put away his notebook and just enjoyed the two-hour show.
So how did the festival stack up with the people who count – the fans? Those I spoke to generally agreed the line-up was a good mix of bands and styles, with something for everybody spread out over the two days, although conflicting band times is an ongoing challenge that’s not unique to this festival.
Slottsskogen received unanimous praise as a festival venue, with the expanded festival area, well laid out stages, the scenic park and its city location. As Adam Norman put it, “I can’t think of anywhere else they could have a festival like this.”
The day festival/club combination concept was popular, but the blatant abuse of the system by clubs must be fixed if this innovation is going to work for future festivals.
The organization also got the thumbs up, with a wider selection of quality food at reasonable prices this year compared to last, plenty of unisex toilets (no long queues for the ladies while the lads walk in and out), and good queue management.
The Flaming Lips maestro, Wayne Coyne, perhaps summed up Way Out West the best: “This is only the second year of this festival but we’ll keep coming back… it’ll be really cool!”
My festival highlights:
The Flaming Lips
Band to watch: