I both love and hate music festivals. Like everyone. This should sum it up.
And when you’re working at a music festival, it’s a mixed bag. On one hand, you totally get in free and with a press pass you can pretty much go anywhere and no one really stops you, and then you get to meet and hang out with musicians and photographers and other super cool people. On the other hand, you’re working, so you’ve got to be certain places at certain times for interviews and PR and stuff and nobody’s on time ever, so you miss lots of cool stuff that’s going on while you’re waiting. But in general, I like it. In fact, I like it so much, I do it all the time.
The Strawberry Festival was in Shanghai last week and it was pretty awesome. I did some working there and I also did a lot of not-working there. Here’s what it was like.
First of all, music festivals in China are just like festivals anywhere (but cheaper!). You go because of the bigger names (in this case, it was Deerhof, Travis, Lenka, Pony Pony Run Run) but end up hearing and seeing all sorts of weird and awesome shit that you did not expect to see.
These people played ridiculous music and there were like, four other people on stage who I’m pretty sure were not part of the set. Also, a guy did the worm for at least five minutes on the asphalt right in front of them and I watched that guy do the worm for five minutes in front of them. I was not high. He most definitely was.
There were five stages at Strawberry this year, as they added a new Taiwan Stage just to showcase more Taiwanese performers. This was in addition to the Strawberry Stage (the biggest with the best sound and largest crowds); the Love Dancing Stage (smaller and covered; not sure how “dancing” figures into it though I suppose you could dance if you wanted to); the Guava Electronic Stage (for all those who consider a computer an instrument); and then what I consider the best stage by far at this year’s fest, the A Cappella/School of Rock stage. In years past it’s just been the School of Rock stage, featuring a lot of college bands as well as super cute rockers aged 15 and younger. Have you ever seen a Chinese ten-year-old shred a Green Day cover? I have, and it’s awesome. But this year it was also an a cappella stage featuring, yes, shitloads of a cappella music.
Side note: for a brief time in my life, let’s say age 12 through about 18, I was obsessed with a cappella music. I thought that using an instrument to make music was cheating. So yeaaaaah, I was pretty psyched to see an a cappella stage. And so was everyone else! Do you want to hear an all-male Korean a cappella group cover Psy’s “Gangnam Style?” I don’t even need to hear your answer because I know your answer is “duh.”
And then you also get to see really awesome bands you love but haven’t seen in a while and you wonder if they’re still awesome, like Beijing band The Gar.
Swag is better at Chinese festivals. Who needs a band t-shirt when you can get a super cool face mask? It’s what all the cool kids and hipsters are wearing these days. Also, you won’t get bird flu.
Also, I don’t remember this from my American music festival days, but is meat-on-stick the popular festival food there as it is here? ‘Cause if it’s not, it should be. In fact, meat-on-stick should be the only festival food, ever.
The kebabs almost make up for the fact that the Strawberry Festival had NO BEER this year. Yeah. NO BEER. Bacardi was the drinks sponsor, but you can only drink rum mixed with surgery poison for so long before you just want a delicious beer. But apparently the organizers were unable to find a beer sponsor, and they’ve never heard of non-sponsorship beer selling, apparently, and the lone mini-mart on the festival grounds ran out of beer every day by about 11:00 so it was a beer-free festival, more or less. Though I did see some pretty enterprising Chinese folks who brought in coolers and sold beer that way. If only there had been about 300 more of them.
But the coolest thing about having a press pass? They don’t go through your bag at the media entrance cause you’re a “journalist” and shit which means as many beers as I can fit in my purse.
Doing interviews and stuff at festivals is not really the best, to be honest. All the writers who have arranged it get about five minutes after the performer’s set is over, and we end up asking the same questions and it’s about the most awkward, unsexy, assembly line setup around. You don’t really learn anything new about the artists because you don’t have time to actually build up any sort of rapport and so you’re just looking for quotes and they’re just trying to give you one so you can all go back home and be done with it.
Oh, and nothing runs on time. EVER. It’s not your fault; it’s not their fault; it’s just how things at big festivals are.
And with the big names, you don’t really even get five minutes, because they’re very famous and everyone wants to interview them, obviously, so we all have to do it at once.
And then you can always tell when a musician has wandered out of his or her handler’s care, because all of sudden we’re all taking pictures.
Okay, so I whinge and moan, but the fact is, it’s still pretty cool. Cool people, cool music, a cool venue. And sometimes you’re lucky enough to flash your pass and get into some cool places and you find yourself up on a roof somewhere, watching all the music and people below while the sun sets over the river and you think, “Eh, maybe it’s not such a bad gig after all.”