Image c/o Adam Firman
It's a small festival's prerogative to look to the future, but doing so is both a gift and a curse. On the one hand: big ain't always beautiful. With numbers kept down, the original ethos of the festival can never be compromised. There's no outsiders tripping over regulars' toes, no black sheep shitting on the farmer's lawn. But surely every festival organiser on the planet dreams of their baby growing before their eyes; of breaking away from humble starts and negative balance sheets; of a time when it washes its face in the shimmering bowl of financial stability (and the Time Out round-up) And not just stability, how about putting some money aside to invest next year? Or, CAREFUL NOW, even allowing the festival organisers to pay themselves a few quid in return for all the blood, sweat and serotonin they've ploughed into a field in the arse-end of nowhere.
As it stands, Meadows In The Mountains is a perfectly formed festival. For the crowds that dragged themselves up and down the Rhapsode Mountains last weekend, it need never change and they will always be happy. Attendance this year-its 4th- was 700 and that was a 200 increase on the year before. Like all the best festivals, it started off as a private party Benji and Damien organised for 20 mates on their parents' land in Bulgaria. Year on year it's pulled in more acolytes, relying on little more than word of mouth and a big fucking sound system.
The conversations with fellow festival-goers inevitably start with: "how did you hear about it?" I was in the minority as a newbie, with most people I met going two, three, years. Meadows is a part of their calendar. In the same way that Glastonbury has the same crowd going back on year-on-year, Meadows has a devoted gaggle boarding planes and buses on a Friday morning in June, weary-eyed but brains alive to the possibilities the meadows present. They feel a sense of entitlement with it, they are as much a part of the furniture as the Sunset Stage or Maria's restaurant. In short, they are it.
The festival itself takes place over three days and two stages; the afore-mentioned Sunset Stage, and the Sunrise Stage. Through the undulating fields you will find bars tucked away, as well as an array of stalls, hammocks, chill out areas and zip wires. Considering how defiantly on it everyone is, the latter seemed like a recipe for death disaster. but as far as I'm aware everyone who went up did come down.
The general principle is that in the daytime bands play on the Sunset (this year there were names like Vondelpark and These Ghosts, reflecting the East London/Berlin-y crowd), and as things get darker Sunrise becomes the place to be. From there on it's a three course feast of on-the-pulse house, techno and electro. On a totally personal level, I would have liked to see some variation on this, or perhaps another night area playing disco, soul and woo-woo shit. But then maybe I just have't got the balls for techno.
Regardless, mentions in the Guardian, Resident Advisor and others have brought the regulars' attention to the fact that Meadows is perhaps furrowing a little hole in the wider festival consciousness. People that might go to Outlook, or Dimensions, are seeing names they like and considering it as an alternative. Some Meadows regulars viewed this with excitement, and pride. Others considered it with the trepidation of the mum who's not quite ready for her kid to grow up.
But it's not just about the tunes. I didn't look at the line-up once before I came. I love music and have spent my adult life writing about it, but I'm also interested in people; in festivals that write their own rules by virtue of the people at them . It's not too far off to say Meadows is on a Burning Man vibe, though it's a lot less hippy and the whole radical self-expression thing is taken as read, rather than made a self-fulfilling doctrine.
What really sets it apart-and it's a cliche but it is true- is just what a friendly festival it is. I've spent a decade going to festivals big, small and barely-there. The sense of openness at Meadows is something I've not encountered elsewhere. I went with two girls but really didn't see them much. Not because I didn't want to, but because it was so easy to fall in with new groups, fresh faces. And they're not just three hour, flyby bromances- you then bump into these people continually throughout, waxily reminiscing about what you can or can't remember from the day/night/afternoon before. Of course, if the festival got much bigger (and whether it could at its current site is very much tbc), there is a chance this might be compromised.
But there's more to it that that: I genuinely don't think you would come to this festival unless you were a people person. If you want to get lagered up and monkey strut around, you know your place is Benicassim and Lord knows you can stay the fuck there. Of course the tabs and sweeties help with everybody getting on at Meadows. but you can't make a festival good just by virtue of what's going in your mouth. The world is full of brilliant folk, and if Meadows carries on its current trajectory,I get the feeling we'll be seeing more of them up the mountain over the next few years. Amen.
Bottom two images c/o Tracey Asslanian