It seems like just about every single one of my posts starts with “I’m back!” I guess that’s technically true for any post on any website (except those basement dudes who never left in the first place) but what I’m trying to say is, I’ll try to make my posts more frequent from now on. I just spent the past month of my life living in a tent on the beach in Sorrento on the Mornington Peninsula in Australia which didn’t have WiFi. What kind of third world country is this? That hut in the middle of nowhere Vietnam had WiFi! I want to see Australia’s manager!
Anyway, new year, new start. Hopefully you’re groaning your way into 2014 with a splitting hangover and a resolution to travel more. January’s events feature a resurgence of music festivals, though they’ve definitely taken refuge on the Southern half of this crazy little ball we call a planet. If you find yourself in the area, count yourself lucky. Those Northerners are currently huddling together for warmth and trying to make up reasons why freezing temperatures are something to celebrate.
Let’s dive in, yeah?
1st – Junkanoo (Nassau, Bahamas) – When most people think about the Bahamas, they get one of two things in their mind. One is the old white family sitting on the beach, sipping colorful drinks with umbrellas in them, sheltered in their comfy little resort that could have been copy/paste’d onto any tropical beach in the world (hell, the Atlantis was copy/paste’d to other beaches in the world). The other is what goes on outside those fortresses, where the locals live in poverty for the tourists to gawk at. Junkanoo is an opportunity to merge those two ideas, a gigantic parade all through the country (but mostly in Nassau) with dancing, masks, and celebration. Well actually, it should be. Most of the tourists will probably still be hungover in bed when it goes off.
2nd – Kaapse Klopse (Cape Town, South Africa) – Kaapse Klopse is a minstrel’s carnival, where hundreds of people dress up in bright colors to dance and perform. It used to be called the Coon Carnival, but for some reason, South Africa doesn’t want to associate itself with a word that most tourists would identify as incredibly racist. Now, I have no idea why they wouldn’t. South Africa doesn’t have anything to prove, does it? Rest in peace, Nelson. Anyway, these minstrels march through town, singing their songs and dancing around for the world’s entertainment, so line up and laugh at their antics. Just try not to feel bad about it later.
2-7th – Carnaval de Negros y Blancos (San Juan de Pasto, Colombia) – I don’t really want to put two “when you think of this country…” bits so close together for Colombia, but then God shouldn’t have put those two bits on Sofia Vergara’s chest. The Carnival of Blacks and Whites is one of the biggest celebrations in all of Colombia, taking place over several days and including multiple celebrations, from the Whites and Blacks game to every color in between being splashed over floats, confetti, clothing, and people themselves. The Carnival technically starts in December, with games and celebrations being held through the New Year until finally exploding on the 2nd, where each day is dedicated to a particular theme leading up to the great parade and finish.
3-12th – BPM Festival (Playa del Carmen, Mexico) – It’s either a funny coincidence or clever tourism marketing. Even with all the increased reports of violence in Mexico (a fucking battle royale with kidnapped bus passengers? Really?), more and more of these huge events are popping up in Mexico. BPM started as an industry showcase back in 2008, but over the past few years, it’s grown into a huge festival to rival any of America’s trademark shitshows, complete with world class lineup and idiotic patrons buying drugs from shady people. Not that buying drugs is necessarily idiotic. But you gotta wonder what kind of presence an all-powerful drug-peddling cartel is gonna be putting in a place like this. Have fun, kids!
5-February 28th – Harbin Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival (Harbin, China) – As somebody who can’t stand being cold, I’ve always wondered what sort of madness brings people to celebrate the arrival of the cold. Then I saw pictures of the Harbin Ice Festival, and thought, “maybe I can buy a big coat.” Harbin is one of the coldest places this side of Boomerang Nebula, and during the coldest months of the year, they deal with it by turning the entire area into an ice city. Because if you have to be ass-chapping cold, the least you can do is look good at the same time. Locals carve out over four million cubic feet of ice, by hand or laser, and then illuminate it until you’re not quite sure whether you’re in the arctic or a sketchy London warehouse party. With the amount of tourism it brings in, the locals have gotta be on the fence with the whole global warming thing.
8-10th – Festival au Désert (Berlin, Germany) – Bet you didn’t know Africa has a kickass music festival, huh? Well, don’t worry, because it doesn’t. Not anymore. The Festival of the Desert normally takes place in Mali, where it proudly lays claim to the title of, “most remote music festival in the world.” It’s even got a bar with the sign. But lately, with violence increasing in the country in what can only be called a War on Fun (it can probably be called other things), the festival has gone into Exile. This year’s festival is being hosted in Berlin, and will feature not only the glorious music, dancing, and African heat of the Malian edition (okay, maybe not the last one), but also education material on the conflict in Mali. It’s the perfect way to feel like you’re advocating human rights by spending money on that sweet German ale.
9-12th – Holy Ship! (Miami, Florida) – These floating festivals are getting all too common. They seem to be the only way to trick otherwise socially-conscious travelers into shutting up and enjoying the all-you-can-eat buffet, ignoring the economic depravity they wreak on unsuspecting stopover villages and the annoyingly regimented scheduling. But hey, lasers! Holy Ship! was one of the first cruises, inspiring loads of copy cats like the ill-fated SS Coachella. Remember the SS Coachella? Goldenvoice hopes not. If dropping a few grand at a moments’ notice is your kind of thing, then maybe Holy Ship! actually is a great idea. Just pay attention to the initial “what to do if you’re rolling balls and fall overboard” announcement.
10-19th – Ati-Atihan (Kalibo, Philippines) – The Philippines have had a rough year. They had to put up with me for two months. Then to make it worse, Typhoon Yolanda, to put it lightly, tore that shit up, and while aid to the area is pretty heartwarming, there’s only so much a free concert by Bono can do. But the Filipino people are some of the most upbeat around, so it’s safe to say that they’ll bounce back. Ati-Atihan is a massive street festival, celebrating the arrival of Malaysian immigrants to the area with dancing, singing, and eating. And if you get tired of this (what’s wrong with you?), Boracay is right nearby to replenish your need for touristy segregation. It’s impossible to say what it will be like this year, but it’ll be a wild ride finding out.
15-16th – Bikaner Camel Festival (Rajasthan, India) – Last time I wrote about a camel-based festival in India, I wrote, “India is an endurance test for the nostrils as it is.” I mean, curry and camels can’t be good for the sinuses in large amounts. And that was before I found out just how much India loves its camel-centered holidays. The Bikaner Camel Festival a few months removed from it’s Pushkar cousin, but the song remains the same for the most part. And with the camel beauty pageants, which are exactly what they sound like, you have to wonder how much they really love their camels. But hey, it’s better than the camel wrestling of Turkey, going on at the same time. I won’t devote a full spot to that because I find it cruel, but let’s just say I’ll take my camels looking pretty over watching them kick the shit out of each other because they’re starving.
15-18th – Eurosonic Nooderslag (Groningen, Netherlands) – And the award for the most Eurotrash-sounding name goes to… this little ditty of a festival, taking place over a weekend outside of Amsterdam. The event is actually two music festivals and an industry conference, jam-packed into one weekend where up and coming artists have a chance to strut their stuff in what may just be the Electronic capitol of the world. Keep in mind that it’s actually a bit of a professional gig, with big industry folk walking around like the dudes who check a horse’s teeth at auction. So, hey, that’s not to say you shouldn’t do drugs and get ridiculous there. Just wear a suit while you’re doing it, yeah?
15-19th – Tomorrow Never Knows (Chicago, Illinois) – As an Angeleno, I really gotta hand it to the Chicago music scene. They have their shit together. Most of America (especially the places where frozen water actually falls out of the sky) is shivering and saying, “we’ll put on some music festivals when it’s warmer.” Chicago says, “fuck it, we’ll move indoors and keep it going.” Tomorrow Never Knows is basically six different venues cooperating to turn themselves into stages at a winter music festival that doesn’t know it’s winter. It may be smaller than, say, Lollapalooza, but it’s bringing in some great talent who are almost guaranteed to actually show up (lookin’ at you, Death Grips).
16-26th – Sundance Film Festival (Park City, Utah) – To the average person, Sundance is the pretentious film festival where Vince found out he got the part as Aquaman and everybody went snowboarding. And yeah, it’s that. But what film festival isn’t a little – check that, a lot – pretentious? But Sundance has another side to it, bolstered by the fact that Park City is one of the best towns for skiing in America. Hell, that’s the reason Sundance exists in the first place (ask Robert Redford). If you’re in the area, you can go grab a beer, hit the slops, see a movie, spot some celebrities, and still avoid acting like riding coattails makes you better than other people.
17-2nd – Big Day Out (Australia Tour) – The dates on this is a little obfuscating, so check the website before going further. Big Day Out is Australia’s most famous festival, bringing in some massive names (if you can ever figure out which one Snoop is going by nowadays). True to the eponym, the festival is only one day, but it’s stopping through every big city in the country, plus one in New Zealand. With the other massive touring festivals in Oz expanding – it’d be interesting to see how many people actually survived to the second day of Stereosonic – it’s safe to say this may soon be the Big Days Out. So come this year and brag to your friends that you knew what it was like in the good ol’ days, like one of those Coachella Hipsters. Side note, shoot me a message if you’ll be at the Melbourne show. I’ll get you a beer (just one though).
19-24th – Timkat (Gondar, Ethiopia) – African festivals outside of Cape Town tend to lean towards the spiritual, and they aren’t necessarily the kind of thing a rowdy backpacker would go out of his way for. I list them, though, so I don’t feel like such an asshole talking about drugs all the time (wait, whoops), and because there’s a chance you too could stand to gain some good karma before you hit the backpacking trail again. Timkat is an Ethiopian festival celebrating either the Baptism of Christ or Christ’s acceptance by the Magi, depending on who you ask. It’s a religious festival, but there’s plenty to celebrate from people of all faiths. Such as your detox before heading back out into the world of hostel bars.
20th – La Tamborrada (San Sebastián, Spain) – Everybody’s had that loud musician annoying the shit out of them at night. If you haven’t, chances are you were the loud musician, and everybody hates you. Mine was a mariachi band on Sundays, and I have to say, I’m proud of how much they improved. But if you want to hear some drums in the middle of the night that don’t sound like they need another 10,000 hours of practice, head to San Sebastián in the country of Spain. On the night of Saint Sebastian’s feast, the entire city lights up with drumming corps, marching the streets and celebrating the rupture of at least a thousand people’s ear drums. Stay up and join the fun, or go to bed early and be the guy shoving a pillow over his head at 2 AM. Either one’s fine, but one of them is more fun.
21-February 20th – Chinese New Year (Hong Kong, China) – Of course, you could celebrate the Chinese New Year anywhere. You could go get some takeout in New York. You could wander to Los Angeles’ Koreatown and wonder where everybody is. Hell, you could check out London, which has one of the biggest New Year celebrations after December 31st around. But why not do it big, and do it right? For every stereotype of the Gatsby-esque party that orbits an American new year, the same (mostly) can be said for a Chinese new year in Hong Kong. It may be an east Asian country, but China has been taking a lot of cues from the western world recently. Thank God they’ve picked up a few of the best ones along the way.
22-26th – Kiruna Snow Festival (Kiruna, Sweden) – If you ever actually make it to the kind of latitude Kiruna sits on, then chances are you enjoy freezing temperatures (or you’re a masochist), and I don’t need to convince to check out the Kiruna Snow Festival at all. But if you’re just the kind of person who likes knowing that snow makes a decent building material, then, well, here you go. The Kiruna Snow Festival is a bit like the Harbin one, but with less illumination. All the focus is on the architecture, which, given the fact that it will disappear from the face of the Earth in a few months time, is actually fairly beautiful. The Ice Hotel is probably the most famous landmark there, so if you end up inside of it, please let me know if you wake up in a body-shaped indent of melted ice. I’ve always been curious.
24-27th – Rainbow Serpent (Lexton, Australia) – Festivals nowadays are becoming very polarized. They’re either 100% about the music, in which case production quality goes stratospheric to the detriment of the atmosphere and crowd quality, or it goes the opposite way, leading to the disjointed (but still amazing) clusterfuck of Burning Man and it’s ilk. It’s hard to find a middle ground, a music festival that doesn’t sacrifice on either end. Rainbow Serpent is one of those middle ground festivals, where producers skimped on big name DJs in order to preserve the atmosphere being created beyond the main stage. See some great DJs, or walk around and enjoy the warm night surrounded by lights and art. I’ll be seeing you there.
24-27th – Dinagyan (Iloilo City, Philippines) – This one’s actually immediately following Ati-Atihan earlier in the month, so if you’re in the area, you may as well go for the Twofer. It’s similar to the other festival in it’s origin, but with a particularly religious lilt. But in the Philippines, religion means dressing up, eating good, and having some good musical fun. So if you’re one of those douchebag atheists who get offended when somebody wishes them a Merry Christmas, just shut up and enjoy yourself. You may actually find yourself enjoying yourself for once.
27-31st – 7000 Tons of Metal (Miami, Florida) – Sometimes I feel biased. I never really recommend festivals geared towards music I don’t like, and metal is included in there. I’m just not a big fan of music so easily linked to juggalos (apologies to any non-juggalo metalheads out there… I know you’re still pretty far away from that whatthefuckery). But if that is your thing, check out this cruise, where you and thousands of other metalheads can mosh away in style. Because nothing says “put me in a closed system far away from land where my anger can slowly bubble and boil to an exploding point,” like metal music. Hey, at least if something goes wrong, there’s a chance a juggalo goes down too.
27-1st – National Cowboy Poetry Reading (Elko, Nevada) – There’s something beautiful about prairie poetry. Maybe it’s the awe of that quiet frontier beauty being expressed in words far more eloquent than you or I could express (okay, just you. okay just kidding). Maybe it’s just kind of funny to see a John Wayne type with a tear in his eye over the description of that jackrabbit in the snow. Either way, the poetry reading in Elko is full of fantastic poetry and good times to be had with people who know and love the land. Set it to music and you have yourselves a Killers song.
28th – Up Helly Aa (Lerwick, Scotland) – Admittedly, it takes a while to get up to this remote area. But if the vikings could do it, why can’t you? Outside the civilizations of Glasgow and Edinburgh, the viking tradition carries on. Up Helly Aa is a winter celebration involving enough fire to power a fucking jet plane and enough alcohol to put you in a kilt by 8:30 PM. You’d think that would be a dangerous combination, right? It is. But that’s what makes it awesome. Make sure you arrive in time for the torch parade at around 7:30. And make sure you survive to the after parties… Transvestite Tuesday exists for a reason in Lerwick.
And that’s it for this month, guys. I don’t have much to add in the “be ready for next month” section, as I missed my newsletter emails due to not having WiFi. Rest assured, next month will be back in full strength. Have a great new year!