There are a lot of unique experiences to be had in Europe, particularly cultural ones. You have wine tastings, volksmarches, and spa towns, amongst countless others. For those looking for more extreme excitement you have Okotberfest. But for those really looking for a memorable time, you have the 3 day music festivals that liter the European country sides from June to August.
While the US has it Bonorro and Burning Man festivals, which require months of planning and 1000 mile treks, these 100,00 person campground festivals are a dime a dozen here in Europe. From Ireland to Spain to Belgium to Germany, every big country has theirs. Festivals with a size and scope of America’s beloved Woodstock, often happening right down the road from you. Take your pick of the type of music and overall scene you’re looking for, and tickets are a few mouse clicks a way.
Fears of large groups getting together seem to not be such a concern in Europe as it is in the states; where the idea of 100,000 people camping out for three days would evolve into some sort of demilitarized zone once the local law enforcement was done. It’s often amazing what would go for “strictly forbidden” in the states is often met with a shrug here in Europe. I find many rules come down to an issue of mind over matter. If no one minds, it doesn’t matter.
And Rachel’s and I’s experiences with festival life were no different. Once again showing us how uptight we, as Americans can be about things other countries let slide. Underage drinking, open containers, public nudity? As long as there is no violence, Who cares?! The police sure didn’t.
Minds opened, and inhibitions partially in check, Rachel and I, and our good friend Todd, did some research to sort out what kind of festival we would like to tackle this summer. With dozens to choose from, it really came down to what we wanted. So we made a list of what we were looking for: 1) It had to be close by (within 4 hours), 2) Be a festival *not* just for teenagers (i.e. no young Pop bands), 3) Needed to have a cool vibe (i.e. no Heavy metal [sorry Todd] or Techno only festival) and 4) We didn’t want it to be *too* big (<70,000 people).
So, based on all this, we settled on …Germany’s Southside Festival! The Southside Festival is in in its 9th year in Germany. It caters to a modern/alternative scene, had some older bands for us thirty-somethings, and was about 50-60,000 people in size. This year’s headliners were to be the Cure, Blink 182, Mumford & Sons and Florence & the Machines. Now, those were the headliners in my opinion. With so many new and old bands (over 40), if you asked 5 people I’m sure you’d get at least 3 different answers. Several of the bands that closed each night (there were 4 different stages) were even German, so they must have had a big following as well to earn that right.
Interestingly, Southside is the “sister” Festival to Germany’s Hurricane Festival. A “sister” festival translates into a matching festival with the same lineup appearing on the same weekend elsewhere. They just change up the days each band appears so they can appear twice in the same weekend, and then fly the bands back and forth. Many of the more famous festival in Europe also have sister festivals appearing across the boarder in nearby countries, an interesting concept. Check out the websites for Southside and Hurricane (links above). Same shows, just different band order.
Now, Rachel, Todd and I were choosing Southside so woud could get basically get a “quasi -festival” experience. And by quasi I mean we’d go, but we’d be staying a hotel a brief shuttle ride away, rather than sleeping on the grounds in an RV or tent. I’ve done the whole camping thing before, and that just gets old too fast now. There’s little chance of sleep inside the camp-cities, and 3 days without a hot shower is just not worth it.
Now that’s not say I haven’t done the BIG festival thing before. Stateside back in 1994, I went to the Woodstock II festival, which featured another 3 day straight lineup, but had a few more people. About 350,00 people in all by various accounts. That was the year of the “mudpeople,” of which I was gladly one (all other festival pictures redacted for, uhm, copywrite reasons, LOL). But that was another lifetime ago. And after the Woodtsock III festival in 1999 went all Lord of the Flies (massive bonfires erupted, and violence began to break out), you’re hard pressed to find crowds *that* large ever getting together in the States again.
This isn’t to say there still doesn’t exist some large festivals stateside. Bonnaroo attracts 60,00 folks. The infamous Burning Man get’s 50,000. The Coachella festival in Indio, California is listed as the biggest in the states, with 75,000 people per day. Now this isn’t to say the US can’t handle crowds. Check out a 100,000 NASCAR event to see how quickly a 20 acre tailgate party can show up literally overnight.
Here in Europe they are not afraid to still go big. The Werchter festival in Belgium pulls in 100,000 per day, and don’t forget the world famous Glastonbury Festival which attracts close to 200,000 people per day of the festival. That is mind boggling. Now, yes the original Woodtsock attracted close to a million people, but remember nowhere near those numbers were planned for. The proper logistics of supporting close to 200,0000 people a day is staggering. Shuttles, bathrooms, food, security, crowd control. It’s like supporting a city overnight from scratch.
After Glastonbury, there are still several dozen other festivals that all pull in over 50,000 folks. For a full list of the largest music festival in the world check out this link, or this snapshot summary (Hurricane/Southside made the list at 16 by the way.)
Check out this full list of Festivals in Europe. Crazy eh? There are hundreds. While we are at it, here is a useful guide to *every* festival in the United States, if you are into, well, you know, smaller more tame crows. LOL, I’ve been here only two years and already I’m making cheeky pro-Europe comments. (plus using words like cheeky, apparently).
So tickets in hand, hotel reservations in mind, we descended upon the small town of Tuttlingen, Germany with about 60,000 of our soon to be closest friends. Stuff stashed at our hotel, we queued up at the neared bus stop with several hundred people packed to the gills with camp gear, clearly planning to live out on the fair grounds. Waiting in line I was offered, and quickly accepted, 2 free beers within 10 minutes. The festival vibe had alreyad begun, plus Wow, cops had no problems with all of throwing back beers in line, and even on the shuttle bus. God bless Europe.
Passing an ocean of parked cars, and cresting the hills of the fairgrounds we looked out on Neubiberg Military Airfield, which would be home to the Southside festival for the next 72 hours. It was an immense space. The bus crowd was charged with electricity, and hand carried speakers and free beers were already filling the aisles. Finally arriving at the fair grounds it really took a good while to get our bearings on what we were looking at. Apparently much of the RV and tent crowd had already arrived the night before and there was campers as far out as we could see, and people wire still pouring in (even by wheelbarrow). My first comment to Rachel was “there has to be more than 60,000 people here…”
Over the top of the tents we could see the giant crowned sign in the distance. Wow, …Welcome to Southside.
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