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From Sziget, Eastern Europe's Biggest Festival

Aug 16

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8/16/2007 5:31 AM  RssIcon

Sinead O'Connor, the Killers join in the muck and music on an island in the Danube

Maybe it was all the thunder and lightning which scared and soaked the festival site Thursday and Friday that drove the crow legged Rastafarian to stumble along in the post-storm mud in what could only be his girlfriend’s pink knickers. He was tame however compared to the Italian who took it all off and stumbled around the muck and pools of rainwater near the main stage, taking mad runs at screeching girls and his mortified friends, his penis swinging in the wind.

Not officially nudist, Sziget is nonetheless one of the best natural locations in the world for a rock festival, an island on the outskirts of one of Europe's finest looking cities. The line up at Sziget 2007 in Budapest (taking place from Aug 8 to 14) isn’t bad either. Sinead O’Connor shares a main-stage bill with The Killers, Nine Inch Nails and Chris Cornell as well as Brits like Razorlight and The Rakes to play in front of 60,000 festival goers, many of whom arrive by a ferry up the Danube.

Maybe the best value of the whole week-long festival are the few dozen Roma gypsy bands who travel from the Hungarian hinterlands, Romania and the Balkans to play. No other rock festival can boast such a strong world music line up, and that's thanks in part to the world music lable Putumayo, which brought the gypsy bands to a special Roma stage on the festival site. A big name on any world music rankings, Romania's Fanfare Ciocarlia pulled a bigger and more boisterous crowd on the World Music stage than several of the western groups playing the main stage.

Sziget is more established and laid-back hippy than many among the dozens of more opportunistic recent arrivals to Europe’s festival scene. It started in 1993 as a way for Hungarians to party off the traumas of a post-war era of totalitarian socialist rule. In the hometown of classical greats like Franz Liszt, the event is starting to pull really big name rock to its main stage. There's plenty of local talent to fill the other 20 stages offering world music, jazz, blues, electronica and lots of other stuff that's not easily categorized. Promising magicians compete for attention with mind-bendingly sexy belly dancers from Turkey who perform in a giant tea tent of hookahs and tea.

Like most everywhere else there's punks and drunks littered around the main entrance who can't afford to come in. Just as well because you have to leave all bottles at the gate - Coca Cola is a major sponsor. The festival has moved on from its hippy origins. ATM machines around the site make it easy for a few hundred stalls to sell. Sziget organizers have everything covered, including a branch of Hungary Post allows festival goers to greet the folks at home.

There's no shortage of t-shirt stalls but the invisibility of security– try finding someone who can tell you where the exit is when you’re tired – allowed some of the inebriated to go stark naked mad. Others were better covered. A grandly sized EU tent had the most comfortable couches south of backstage. There was more than the rain to tempt festival goers onto the deep blue couches. Like free pens and balloons - you have to do a quiz to get an umbrella. Outside beefy men in yellow impermeables power hose the loos. Inside local thinkers and polticians debate the cuntry's issues with youngsters and their musical heroes.

Next door in this "Civic area" of tents the country's culture ministry try to engage youth on the country's parliamentary process by offering pens, mugs and t-shirts. Given that they're emblazoned with a print of the parliament, one of the city's finest looking buildings - and that's saying something in Budapest - the maroon coloured t-shirts are worth having, if you can answer enough questions about the Hungarian political system.

Socialist sports rain down on the Sziget site too. Anyone bored by the music can play table tennis, for free. Budapest is a dream festival town, something to thank socialist egalitarianism for. Great public transport and millions of square metres of accommodation in this town were built by the socialists – the underground system is an identikit of its deep-bellied counterpart in Moscow, Pyongyang and everywhere else Soviet engineers took their trade. There's plenty of traces of the old communist era in the shop signs and proletarian looking old signs for state-owned restaurants and shoes shops which have faded into the decorous, unpainted facades of downtown buildings.

With sights like that this city doesn't need a festival to bring backpackers in. Yet caretakers and housekeepers of the graceful old tenements built during the Austro-Hungarian empire hang out with clipboards at Keleti train station to spot anyone loading a backpack, rasta hats and faded Guns n Roses t-shirt. Others just camp.

(to be continued, watch out for photos coming soon)

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2 comment(s) so far...


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Re: From Sziget, Eastern Europe's Biggest Festival

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Re: From Sziget, Eastern Europe's Biggest Festival

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