There was a time when music festivals used to be all about the salt, music and human waste management. I’m talking about horrendous food (boring burgers, normal noodles and shitty sausages), great bands (big heavy hitters like Metallica, Oasis and Green Day) and a campsite cesspit, where if you looked hard enough you could see the reflection of somebody else’s hind-quarters as they went about their business.
I appreciate that this isn’t a pleasant image to conjure up right at the start, but it certainly sets the mood. Because a great deal has changed since then, as was clearly evident last weekend during Heartland Festival.
My partner and I arrived a little later than planned on the first evening (Friday) and quickly pitched a two-man tent a short walk away from the back entrance to the festival. For once the air actually smelt pretty damn clean (as opposed to the smell of nearby toilets), and as I looked around I was struck by the lack of absolute douche bags playing loud music and dancing with glow-sticks. Instead there was a pleasant mixture of “young” thirty-somethings, families with children, and still plenty of attractive Scandinavians, applied like a seasoning of sweet sweet sugar. In other words, there were plenty of people who matched my own visual and social conditions… which is a good thing, of course.
Eager to Return
The very first time I visited Egeskov Castle (Egeskov Slot in Danish) was back in August 2007: my first ever visit to Denmark. At that time I had come to bid farewell to my partner, who had chosen to move back to the country to study a Masters Degree at Aarhus University. Because of this (and because I barely understood a word of Danish) I was in a bit of a fowl mood. But I never forgot the stunning grounds, nor the charming atmosphere that surrounded the castle during that late summer evening.
Which is why I was so eager to return ten years later to document this festival. Only in its second year, the organisers of Heartland pulled out all the stops to make it truly original. And as no-one is paying me to write these words, I can say with all honesty that it’s one to keep an eye on over the next few years. My advice is to attend it before it gets too big, though I’m holding on to the hope that this won’t be the case. No offence to the organisers.
So what made it so special? Well, to begin with let’s start with the yoga. As an avid dabbler in this form of exercise and mindfulness, I couldn’t help but be drawn to the large lawn area next to the castle’s moat where it was taking place. And with the 16th century keep looming in the background, it set the ambience perfectly for a peaceful 60 minutes of stretching and relaxation. Furthermore, there were never any childish interruptions from those not taking part: something that surely would have happened at a festival just a couple of years ago. Well, in the UK at least. Instead people simply drank a glass of cabernet sauvignon and looked on with intrigue and maybe a hint of jealousy. Luckily there were ample opportunities to take part throughout the weekend.
There were two main stages for musical performances: the Lowland Stage (technically the main stage situated at the bottom of a sloping grass bank, and therefore a perfect viewing platform for even the tiniest of people), and the Highland Stage. The sound quality at the latter was by far some of the best I’ve ever experienced, and I was very impressed how I could hear every lyric and instrument. A perfect balance: five stars from me. The largely Danish crowd were treated to some popular local performances here, including The Minds of 99, Veto and Alex Vargas. And even though it can be tough to force yourself to listen to music you’re not familiar with, all three of these put on an epic show. Alex Vargas in particular, who I’d never even heard of before. But thanks to the production, lighting and current flowing through the crowd, I was instantly switched on. And this was just the first night!
Over the course of the weekend, festival-goers were treated to a crazy selection of different acts. From The Royal Danish Ballet and The Cinematic Orchestra, to Danish heavy-hitters Sort Sol, London Grammar and Bryan Ferry (who sadly didn’t have time to answer my awesome questions I’d put to his team weeks in advance!)
But there was one name in particular that seemed to be on the lips of pretty much everyone I met: Eddie Vedder. The Pearl Jam frontman was a huge name for the organisers to bag, and it clearly paid off, as a sea of faces gathered to watch him on the main stage.
Interestingly, like all the artists that weekend, Vedder arrived on time (something that never used to happen at a festival). For the many grunge fans in attendance it had been a sombre couple of weeks. With the passing of Chris Cornell, one of the most powerful voices of a generation had been silenced forever, and it has been felt by many all around the world. Vedder himself perhaps felt that pain more than most and has been relatively quiet on the subject ever since. Those of us in the crowd waited with baited breath to hear whether he was ready to break his silence on the matter, but if he did so it wasn’t directly. By contrast his setlist was an emotional mixture of sorrow, pain, bewilderment and frustration. He publicly shamed President Trump as an introduction to ‘Soon Forget’ and changed the lyrics to ‘Sometimes’ in response to Cornell’s death. Oftentimes he ‘fucked up’ on many songs and had to stop to think what came next. There were several reviewers who felt vexed by this seemingly unprofessional attitude, but for me it just reminded me how human he was. Fallible.
Our evening ended around 1.30am, as the sounds of Bomba Estéreo (think Columbian electronic hip-hop meets samba and orchestral funk) continued to fill our ears as we drifted off.
It was a different sound that roused us the following morning. A few bars of ‘In the East, the sun rises’ (Danish: I østen stiger solen op) on a trumpet felt like an odd way to start the day, but a small group of revellers gave a friendly round of applause. Whoever was doing the blowing felt this was an excuse to continue, causing the occupants of the tent next to us to fly out screaming, ‘Stop with that god-damn horn! It’s half-past eight, for crying out loud!’ The joke wasn’t lost on me – it was hardly the crack of dawn.
Moving away from the music, the day had other things in store for everyone. Namely the cooking workshops, bug tasting and wellness area. And yes, you did read those last two correctly. It was a rare opportunity to partake in a strange culinary experience; one I’d previously turned down whilst travelling through Cambodia a few years back. The larvae were presented on large stones with a small square of melon and a drizzling of a vinaigrette. The idea behind the stone, was to spark flashbacks or memories of youth – a time when one went around licking stones and eating worms, apparently. It was certainly an interesting blend of Nordic and Latino cuisine either way, and it tasted absolutely fine.
Hot-tubs by the lake
As for the Wellness area, my partner summed it up nicely: “It’s definitely not a festival for the Working Class, is it?” Costing 180 DKK to get in, we were initially shocked at the price, but as I considered this later on it made a lot of sense. If it had been free – or considerably cheaper – everyone would have been using the hot tubs and staring out at the lake. I’m not sure it would have felt so relaxing had that been the case.
I finished my weekend experience by listening to a light-hearted Talk entitled, ‘On Masculinity Today’. It was an interesting debate, that highlighted the modern rules of being a man. It compared ad campaigns from the late-90s (Lad Culture) to those running currently. It really was a compelling conversation, that in many ways made me feel good about myself. The audience seemed to enjoy it too, as there were plenty of laughs throughout. In many ways, the topic seemed to reflect nicely the obvious change in festival behaviours and practicalities over the last 20-30 years. I was left thinking how wonderful it was to be at an intellectual event, surrounded by like-minded people.
For more information on Heartland Festival, visit www.heartlandfestival.dk