Oh, G! Festival – how on earth do I explain you? Let’s see…
Once upon a time I was reading Conde Nast Travel Magazine (my friend Roger says that is the “whitest” thing a person can say), and an article about music festivals in Europe caught my attention. “I’ll be in Europe soon,” I thought, so I read on. I have never been to a music festival, and honestly at this point, feel I’m too old for them, but G! Festival was not your typical music festival – or so the article said.
I read about the “chill” atmosphere, the “family friendly”-ness, people sitting down during some acts, and the stage by the sea. I saw photos of emerald green mountains, waterfalls, and the aforementioned stage by the sea. It sounded magical. I looked up who would be playing, and was slightly disappointed to see “Rag ‘N Bone Man” was the main act. I knew who he was, just wasn’t a fan of his “big hit” out right now, “Human.” Most of the names I didn’t recognize, nor even attempt to pronounce since they were Faroese, Icelandic, Danish, or from some other region of Europe I’m unfamiliar with. But then I also saw the Harlem Gospel Choir on the list. Say whaaaa?! I bought my ticket.
About a month before I was to leave, I actually started to research the islands and the festival. I was shocked to realize that the temperatures could get down to the 40s (8-9 Celcius). This was especially upsetting since I had decided I would be camping, since I 1) was on a budget, 2) waited too long to find an available airbnb or hostel near the festival. I was also starting to regret my decision to go the more I read about the unstable weather conditions, and how it was basically guaranteed to be rainy and super windy most of the time, with lots of fog. You mean I wouldn’t even be able to see the gorgeous landscapes surrounding me, nor be dry or warm for 5 days straight? Lord, help me.
It was very difficult to find much information about the festival itself, or the campsite. The one article I found only mentioned that the author felt she was much older than everyone who stayed there, and felt like it was some sort of “Faroese rite of passage” to stay at the campsite. I didn’t look into this too much. Until I arrived.
I think a girl I met the second day of the festival described it best when quoting John Mulaney, “It’s like looking out over a sea of drunken toddlers.” I got there around 6pm the first night of the festival, and was obviously late to the party. The site was basically just one large sloping area of land that led down to the sea. There were port-o-potties just outside the campsite entrance, but otherwise no facilities of any sort, no trees, no shelter of any kind. This wouldn’t have been such a big deal if each tent of toddlers wasn’t trying to outdo its neighbor by having the biggest, loudest sound system. Guys, one tent had a table stacked with car batteries. That’s what they used to power their sound. When one died, they just tossed it and grabbed another off the pile. For 4 straight days and nights. If we were lucky, we got a break from about 5-7am, but even then it wasn’t guaranteed.
Aside from the unbelievable sound and ground rumbling, I don’t think I saw a single person bring in a bag. Not one person with clothes, or a toothbrush, or a sleeping bag, or any normal item you would take camping, hell not even camping, just anywhere to spend the night. All they were bringing in was case upon case of beer and cider. I later found out that there are only 5 liquor stores throughout the whole country, so I was impressed by the effort it took to plan ahead and get the alcohol, and then the strength these children showed by carrying stacks taller than they were. What happened to the “chill” atmosphere – the “family friendly” –ness?? I was wanting to know as well. Oh, and me referring to them as children is not just me being a curmudgeonly old woman, the median age was definitely 17 years old – almost half my age.
I took care to stake my tent down well – I wasn’t gonna let those windstorms I’d read about take me out! – and got the hell out of there. (Normally this is the part of my solo travel adventures that I curl up in a ball on my bed and think about not moving until it’s time to get back on a plane to somewhere familiar, but well, I had no bed, and the noise was really that excruciating.) Technically the festival was in a different town, but it was only a 10 minute walk from the campsite. I was starving, so I paid way too much money for what essentially ended up being ramen noodles (guys, everything there is so expensive), and promised myself I would buy some food at the store the next day. I was still friendless, so I wandered down to the beach to secure a spot for Rag ‘N Bone man. It was about 9pm when he came on, and everyone was already completely pissed. The boys next to me decided to crawl on each other’s shoulders, so I spent half the show literally pushing a guy’s butt out of my face. So far, G! Festival was not delivering on its promises, and I was dreading going back to the campsite.
The only cool thing about the festival up until this point was their environmental-friendliness. (If it hadn’t been so insanely foggy, the landscapes would have been cool too, but at that point I hadn’t seen them yet.) They decided to reduce waste by serving beer and cider in reusable cups. If that’s where it stopped, it wouldn’t be that cool of an idea, but then they took it further and said that for every cup you brought back to the bar, you got a little over a $1 discount off your drink, and at $10 a beer, I thought that was a pretty sweet deal. To sweeten it further, if you brought back 6 cups, you just got the beer for free. I don’t know if people didn’t fully understand this or if people were just super drunk and didn’t care, but many people just threw their cups on the ground the first night, and I snatched them right up. I decided then that I wasn’t going to pay for a drink during the whole 5 days I was there, so it became my mission to find cups. Unfortunately, all the children there soon realized the bar would give them money for the cups as well, so it soon became a competition between me and the children – they were like little vultures and could move in between people quicker than I, it was immensely frustrating. I’m glad I got as many cups as I did the first night though because everyone soon caught on, and pretty soon it was impossible to see a cup just lying around. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant waste reduction idea. Oh, and I never paid for a drink the entire time I was there.
After having all my plans foiled the next day (see my next post), I decided to give in and just sit in the hot pots on the beach. I went back and forth between the freezing arctic waters, to the 110 degree hot pots. Right as I was about to leave to catch a bus, the pots started filling with people, and after much consideration, I decided to forget about the bus and stay in the pots in hopes of making a friend. Soon after, a guy from Indiana, and a girl from New York joined me. I was elated at seeing other “foreigners” at the festival because we seemed to be few and far between. Turns out they were my age, and we had all, unwittingly, set our tents up right next to each other at the campsite, all the with same “old person” mindset of being as far from the music as possible. We hadn’t realized though that that also made it prime bathroom real estate, and constantly had people tripping over our tent stakes on their way to take a piss, while we laid in our tents praying the grass would soak it up before it flowed downstream to our tents.
Anyway, with my new friends, and commiserators, I was feeling much better about the festival. We even made friends with some of our campsite neighbors who were excited we were American and told us we could get beer from their tent anytime we wanted because they way overbought. We also went to a bunch of the shows together, which led to my personal favorite moment of the festival: Ben Gibbard. Long after I had already bought my ticket to the festival, it was announced Ben Gibbard would be performing and I was stoked! I became even more stoked when it became apparent that no one on the islands had a clue who he was, so my new friend, Ryan, and I were the only two, sitting directly in front of the stage watching Ben do his sound check. Guys, it was magical. Then the concert started, and there was still hardly anyone at the show. I was sad for Ben, but also super happy for myself because I was front row and center, with tons of room for dancing, taking pictures, and generally enjoying the show in the “chill” atmosphere I was promised. He sang every single song I would have personally asked for (by both Deathcab and Postal Service), and at one point I looked around, and we were all crying. It was at that exact moment that going through everything I went through to get there all became worth it. Ben right in front of me, crooning and playing the piano, surrounded by new friends, waves lapping at the shore just a few feet from where we were standing, amidst the majestic Faroese mountains – it just doesn’t get much better than that.
Right after, we went to watch a badass girl band that Kristin wanted to see called Nelson Can. They were super impressive and we all danced our little hearts out – all the while keeping eyes peeled for cups (I had gotten Ryan on board with the cup collecting). I even saw the girls sightseeing the next day and made them take a selfie with me. So cool.
Other highlights were Eivor and the Harlem Gospel Choir. Eivor is from the exact village the festival is in, and everyone considers her a national treasure. After hearing her, I could see why. Her music was the perfect embodiment of the Faroese landscape. I didn’t realize that a landscape could be embodied by sound, but Eivor has done it – very mystical and Viking-like. Then The Harlem Gospel Choir was just super fun. They had EVERYONE singing and dancing, and even got asked back later that night for a few more songs – the only act that performed twice! It was so crazy seeing thousands of people at a secular music festival singing “Hallelujah” praise songs.
There were tons of other acts – like an experimental cello/bass/light show act, a super talented group from Guinea, Africa, and lots of DJs – but the only one I didn’t get to see that I really wanted to was a doom metal group from the islands called Hamferd. I didn’t see them because 1) they didn’t go on til 2am, and 2) the night they performed was one of the worst storms ever. I just kind of assumed that the rest of the night’s performances would be called off due to weather – wrong; the Faroese are super hard core! I might as well have gone to the show though because I definitely didn’t get any sleep since I was too busy praying to God that I didn’t get whisked away by the strong winds and rains.
As wonderful as all the music was though, I think the most memories were made in and because of the hot pots. I’m pretty sure this is the only music festival to have hot pots like this, and if not, the only one I would trust to get in them. The hot pots were cleaned out every night, and volunteers were checking temperatures, handing out water, and generally keeping everything running smoothly 24/7. As Philip, a guy from Austria, said, “Half the festival happens right here in these pots.” There was just something special about sitting in a wooden hot tub, heated by real wood-burning fires, with 20 other people at a time, surrounded by the Faroese landscape. This is where I met my American campsite-mates, this is where I met the guys who gave me a place to shower, this is where I met an amazingly generous local girl who shared her dad’s homemade fish jerky (heavenly!!!), and this is where I lost my fear of spending the whole festival alone. What a thrill running into the Arctic waters, and then back into the warm embrace of the hot pots, filled with all my new friends.
In the end, I made memories that I will cherish forever, and am so glad I went in spite of no one going with me. I’m already dreaming of next year’s festival – I don’t even care who’s playing – and running into familiar faces. I went to have a unique music festival experience, and I’m pretty sure there is no other festival on earth that could even come close.