The Swedish summer music festival circuit kicked off in earnest this weekend, with ‘Where the Action is’, held over two days at Stockholm’s Stora Skuggan. In fine festival tradition, the heavens opened an hour before the bubbly and tuneful Miss Li took to the stage on Friday afternoon, turning the festival area into an instant swamp, and pleasing only those who’d splashed out on brand new gummi boots.
With the financial crisis having inevitably put the squeeze on good free stuff, the press area is an overrated venue these days, but it’s still a good place to avoid long queues for the porta-loos and take cover from inclement weather. I squeezed past the predictable throng of outrageously phallic telephoto lenses and late model MacBooks, to sort myself with a warming brew while I planned my festival strategy.
After years of trying to micro-organise my festival schedules to pack in every possible act, I’d decided this year I was going to keep things simple, and stick to the acts I really needed to see. The Friday line-up was a retro dream. Evergreens the Pretenders, the Pixies and Neil Young were all lining up on the main stage, along with the unconventional and quirky Seasick Steve, with convenient hour-long breaks between gigs.
After grabbing a handful of free earplugs and cokes from the fridge for my mates, I pulled my anorak over my head and trudged back through the rain to take my position up close, left of centre, for Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders. Chrissie is just as sultry as she was when I saw her years ago as a pubescent kid in Adelaide, on an early Australian tour. And that voice!
Then it was Mississippi bluesman (or song and dance man as he apparently prefers) Seasick Steve, who busked, jammed and tramped his way around the US backblocks for years before being ‘discovered’ just a couple of years ago. The rough diamond puts on an entertaining show, including songs about nasty tic-like bugs that lay their progeny under your skin, and the story about how he came by the beat-up electric guitar he plays in his gigs, the ‘Three-String Trance Wonder’: “We know about you Sherman!”
I finally caught up with the Pixies after years of near misses, and Neil Young wheeled out all the old favourites to take the night home. Although these days Young tends to drift into prolonged distortion-fuelled riff jams with his Electric Band, he is still, as Chrissie Hynde observed, a God.
So with the festival circus winding its way down the country over the next few weeks, here are my tips for getting the most out of whatever festivals you plan to get along to this summer:
• Bring your rain gear – rubber boots and a lightweight waterproof jacket, which can be stowed away if the sun comes out. Better still, a plain old green garbage bag has more spontaneous street cred. Oh, and sunscreen – remember, this is Swedish summer, so you need a bet each way.
• Take the time to graciously answer the questions from the market research staff who are in your face as you come through the entry gates, but feel free to give outlandishly false answers in order to mess with the sponsors’ stats.
• Don’t try to pack in too many bands. They’ll all be back next year, or in Arvika or Gothenburg or somewhere else sooner or later. Pick a few acts you really want to see and take it easy in between gigs. It’s all about the peace and love, so chill out!
• The people from Luger seem to have somewhat of a monopoly on organising these events, and they do a pretty good job with the logistics, including plenty of franchised food and drink outlets serving up a reasonably broad selection (all certified to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in accordance with Kyoto targets). But if you want to be sure of getting some decent food without lining up for an hour, get in early, or you’ll be eating cold and soggy veggie burgers.
• Don’t rely on your mobile to hook up with your friends – 20,000 people sending simultaneous text messages through the same base station really messes with the network.
• Don’t leave early to get the best seat on the train – you may as well just stay home and listen to iTunes. (Confession: your correspondent drifted away in the wee hours as Neil Young’s drawn-out rendition of Rockin’ in the Free World ticked over the twenty minute mark.)
Leave at home!
• Silly shoes.
• Umbrellas – you’d be beaten up by the mob in two minutes if you tried to put one up, even if they were allowed in.
• Any other contraband on the banned list – drink flasks, alcohol, drugs, weapons – check the festival homepages for details. (Try it by all means if you’re game – a guy next to me was swigging whisky from a pair of binoculars – but if they catch you at the gate you can go and find something else to do for the weekend.)
To find the festival coming to a venue near you this summer, check out Festival info.
See also: PHOTO GALLERY