Raufarhólshellir, one of the longest lava tunnels in Iceland, turns into a hot bed of music this June. The Nordic island’s musicians will play for an intimate audience of 50 people at this venue that lies 30 minutes from Reykjavik. The sounds from their instruments will echo off the walls that over 5,000 years ago, flowed with lava from a volcanic explosion. Entering the tunnel, one can run their fingers over the hard crust, tracing the journey of the lava as it once snaked through this site.
The Lava Tunnel gig is a side event at the Secret Solstice 2019 music festival in Iceland. Despite a line-up of artists such as Black Eyed Peas, Patti Smith and Pussy Riot to name a few, it is the Nature-inspired gigs on the sidelines of the main festival that draw in tourists. Where else could you party with 100 others, and a DJ, inside a glacier, and at the same time, learn a thing or two about global warming?
Music festivals have never been just about the tunes; it is the atmosphere they provide that drives people in hordes to them. Even before 1969’s iconic Woodstock in New York, which saw over four lakh people gather at one dairy farm, music festivals have been attracting tourists from all over the globe. However, it is only in recent years that it has been recognised for what it is: music tourism — visiting other cities with the express purpose of attending a concert. The concept also works well for lesser-known towns and cities that play host to these events and may otherwise be overlooked by travellers.
While the driving force in mainstream festivals such as Coachella and Tomorrowland consists of the artistes — the headliners, mushrooming music festivals are betting their money on the venues they have to offer — inside caves and tunnels, to even underwater.
In search of the exotic
If you find yourself underwater, next to a mermaid playing a blowfish like a trumpet, you most likely are at the Lower Keys Underwater Music Festival in Looe Key Reef, Florida.
In its 36th year, this underwater festival is held on the first weekend of July, about 12 kilometres south of Big Pine Key, North America’s only living coral reef, in order to raise awareness about reef protection.
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- While most places have hostels and Airbnbs in close proximity to the festival site, festivals can also turn accommodation into a crucial part of the entire experience, providing on-site camping. Popular festivals such as Electric Forest in Michigan, US and Rhythm & Alps in New Zealand, have options ranging from glamping (luxury tents with carpeted floors, and shower blocks) to podpads (wooden houses), teepees and KarTents (cardboard box-tents just for sleeping).
- Lente Kabinet, Amsterdam, the Netherlands, May 25-26
- Sandbox, El Gouna, Egypt, June 13-15
- Fuji Rock Festival, Niigata, Japan, July 26-28
- Dekmantel, Sao Paulo, Brazil, July 31-August 4
- Defected Croatia, Tisno, Croatia, August 8-13
Waterproof speakers hang from boats, through which blare deliberately ocean-themed music such as The Beatles’ ‘Yellow Submarine’ and songs from The Little Mermaid. Meanwhile divers in costumes varying from mermaids to Spongebob, pretend to play instruments designed to look like fish, sea shells and all things underwater. Nobody complains that the music isn’t live; they’re far too busy having fun.
A few weeks later, across the Atlantic ocean, if you find yourself in the Czech Republic, you can attend Colours of Ostrava at Ostrava. The venue, Dolní Vítkovice, a heritage industrial site, is known to be the ‘steel heart’ of the city. The industrial production in this area, which spanned almost two centuries, was brought to an end with the last tapping in 1998. Now, concerts are held here at an auditorium that was formerly a gasometer, and festival-goers can dine at cafés that used to be blast furnaces.
Though the festival started in 2002, the organisers moved to this industrial site in 2012, during which the former site of metallurgical works, mines and ironworks, was transformed into an arts congress and science centre. “Not only is the area bigger than our previous site, but it is simply charming; and looks like a set straight out of Mad Max or Waterworld!” says Jiří Sedlák, spokesperson for Colours of Ostrava Festival, adding, “Though the general visiting population is between 25-35 years old, we have thousands of children, and senior citizens as well.”
For those looking to explore the country outside of the festival, Jiří suggests reserving more than four days of stay. “The whole of the Northern Moravia region is worth seeing; in Ostrava, you can go down old mines and explore the industrial heritage. Or if you prefer being around Nature, you can visit the Beskydy mountains.”
More than music
It’s not just unusual venues; festivals such as Elevate, that takes place annually in March, at Graz, Austria, shift their focus on to the content, expanding from electronic music to all forms of art, even stepping into science and political discourse. Each year has a theme, and this year — in the atmosphere of fake news — it was Truth.
“Festivals ideally create a free space where people of different backgrounds and interests can meet. This space often is the birthplace of a creative response for new projects, partnerships and even friendships,” says Daniel Erlacher, of the Elevate Festival.
For Elevate too, the venue is of significance: foregoing huge grounds in favour of concert halls, churches, and “Dom im Berg, a giant cave inside of a hill, which was a bomb shelter for up to 50,000 people in the Second World War,” says Daniel. “Most popular of our venues are Orpheum (opening music show) and Dom im Berg, connected through tunnels, and yes, an elevator in the centre of the hill.”