I’m not sure what happened last year. I missed the festival calendar for December 2013. Maybe I wasn’t taking this seriously enough yet. Or, more likely, I was probably just a little more interested in drinking (just wait until you see what Australia has to offer this month) than recording. Either way, it’s time for me to make it up to you, fair people. New year’s here. Buckle up, because we’ve got some fireworks to launch. Where will you be?
New Year’s Eve itself will obviously dominate a lot of these festivals, and I don’t want to overcrowd the list. If you’re going to be abroad this New Year’s Eve, then here’s a nearly comprehensive list of events and focal points on a country by country basis for the occasion. I’ve included a few random, larger New Year’s events below. New York’s ball drop will not be found there, because it’s an abomination of the human condition and unless you want to take a shit on the floor after standing in a crowd for four hours, you’re not going to want to attend anyway.
And as usual, subscribe to the Elsewhere Plans Festival Calendar December 2014 via an easy-to-read Google Calendar version, as well as a downloadable iCal version. Don’t forget to tweet any that I missed to @theElsewhereman, and I’ll add them in.
The Elsewhere Man’s Top 5
3-6th – Maker Faire Africa (Johannesburg, South Africa) – People ask me all the time, “Colin, you’re a guy with big ideas, how do we fix Africa?” The answer, my friends, isn’t sending a bunch of TOMS shoes over to wreak havoc on the local economy, and it’s certainly not fucking Bono. You gotta help Africa help itself. That’s the point of the Maker Faire, a giant intra-continental festival and showcase where African inventors and entrepreneurs display their technology and innovations in a bid to improve their homes. This year’s event is held in South Africa, so it’s even easier to reach than normal.
13th – Maasai Olympics (Kajiado, Kenya) – There’s something sad about the way humans interact with the world, taking and taking and taking until there’s nothing left. The only people that seem to live in harmony are the indigenous, the ones who haven’t sold their souls for iPads yet. The Maasai have some of the richest cultural history in Africa, and they’re one of the tribes fighting back to ensure that lions don’t disappear from the lands they inhabit. That’s why they, along with Big Life Foundation, are putting on the Maasai Olympics to promote the right way to experience the continent. Hunt medals, not pelts.
Late Dec – Dewgal (Diafarabé, Mali) – If Maker Faire is a big demonstration of the future of Africa, then Dewgal is a cultural representation of its past. Also called the “Crossing of the Cattle,” this event is basically a celebration of the time the Niger River’s banks are low enough that the herdsmen of the area can safely cross the river, thus reuniting them with their families for the season. It’s a big feast with dancing and music, and while you’re not gonna see a splendor on the scale of any other festivals, it’s definitely more emotional. Note that because it’s based on the river’s size, the dates are never really set. If you want to see it, just be in the area and wait.
31st-Jan 1st – Lagos Countdown (Eko Atlantic, Nigeria) – Now I hate to agree with Bono, but maybe music really is the way to fix Africa. Pull it into the modern era through sheer force of will by the younger generation. And their tourism dollars. Lagos Countdown in Nigeria is a laser-guided attempt at doing just that: it’s a New Year’s Eve music festival organized specifically to bring in foreigners to the area. Considering how quickly they were able to contain Ebola in their borders (and it is contained, so no worries about traveling there), it’s safe to say that Nigeria is one country in West Africa that knows what they’re doing. Lagos Countdown is sure to be a success.
10th – Perang Topat (Lombok, Indonesia) – The best festivals involve getting down and dirty with food. If they just happen to symbolize religious tolerance and culture, then, hey, more power to them. Perang Topat is Indonesia’s version of La Tomatina, a massive rice cake war that engulfs the entire town. The rice cakes are said to carry blessings in them, and it marks cooperation between the massive Hindu and Muslim populations of the island. Really, it’s just good fun. Afterwards, there’s an animal sacrifice – normally this would be cows or pigs, but since cows are sacred to Hindus and Muslims can’t eat pork, buffalo are used instead. Nothing like marginalizing a specific species in the name of bringing two more together! Just like the schoolyard!
17-27 – Galungan (Ubud, Bali) – Good lord, finally something cultural, right? I mean, kind of cultural. Galungan is a holiday that celebrates the triumph of Dharma over Adharma, when the ancestral spirits descend to Earth for ten days. It’s an important time in the Balinese culture, filled with food, music, dancing, and prayer. It’s a time for prayer. Of course, this is also Bali, so if you want it to be crazy, you can be crazy. Now, I don’t disrespecting culture, so use your best sense. This isn’t the time to go puking on somebody’s grandmother. I’m just saying that between the pig slaughters and festive atmosphere, there’s time to find some locals to chat with and learn a little bit over a few beers. A quieter time to be sure, but a good one all the same.
27-29th – Sunburn (Goa, India) – India doesn’t have a whole lot of music festivals. Half the festivals they do have have to do with camels. Sunburn is the exception, Asia’s largest electronic music festival bringing in big name artists who probably don’t step foot out of a limousine the whole time. Throughout the month, there are Sunburn-branded shows all through the country (and the festival itself is spreading to Sri Lanka and Dubai as of late), but it all culminates in Goa – so if you’re going to see it, that’s the place to be. You don’t want to go to Mumbai or Delhi anyway.
31st – New Year’s Eve (Hong Kong) – When it comes down to it, you’re not really gonna care where you are for New Years. Either way, there are going to be fireworks and a night-long celebration. But if you really don’t know or care where you’re at for New Years, then you may as well just get to Hong Kong. The Chinese-ish city puts on one of the biggest spectacles in the world befitting the world city status it enjoys – fireworks from every possible tower, river lasers, and more. Of course, the city is going through some crazy, occasionally violent protests right now over the fight for democracy, but that’s fine. More fireworks for the rest of us.
31st – New Year’s Eve (Dubai, UAE) – If you want to avoid the whole protest thing that Hong Kong has going on, then Dubai is your next best bet, up in the United Arab Emirates. Actually, it might be your first best bet. I mean, this is the city that built the Burj Khalifa, the World Islands, and whatever other batshit crazy project they could think up next. The city is the architectural equivalent of a dude driving a hummer. Living, breathing overcompensation. I met a dude there who had an actual lion for a pet. Which means that their New Years celebrations are bound to be bonkers – they’re the most expensive in the world. When they launch all those fireworks out of the Burj, it’ll be the most explosions you’ve seen a bunch of middle-easters send out of a skyscraper since the last offensive joke you heard.
31st – Ōmisoka (Tokyo, Japan) – Not everybody is big into the spectacle. If you’re looking for a little more peace and quiet as you slide into the new year, head to Japan, where, as always, family and respect are much more important than getting shitfaced and puking on an important national monument. The New Years events are the two most important days of the year in Japanese tradition, so there will be a lot of good food and the visiting of Shinto shrines for blessings. Not the conventional New Years, but then, nothing in Japan is conventional by our standards.
7th – Quema del Diablo (Antigua, Guatemala) – When I had a bad break-up once, I deleted absolutely everything I had from her. Of course, I immediately regretted that and spent the next night sobbing in a fetal ball on the bathroom floor with four hamburger wrappers on the ground around me, but at least it was cathartic at the time. That’s the spirit of Quema del Diablo, the Burning of the Devil in Guatemala. Take all the bad of the last year, effuse an effigy devil with the negative energy, and immolate the shit outta it in a symbolic cleansing for the new year. Let’s hope it works out better for them.
13-21st – Fiesta de Santo Tomás (Chichicastenango, Guatemala) – I love dinner theatre. Of course, in America the best dinner theatre involves a bunch of Game of Thrones wannabes jousting in a dirt pit while you eat overcooked steaks and drink warm beer. It’s always so much better when there are fewer safety regulations. In this small tongue-twister town in Guatemala, dinner theatre means watching people climb up gigantic poles and swing around on ropes while barely holding on. All in the name of Saint Thomas, who was the patron saint of “hold my beer” videos on YouTube. Gotta love culture.
31st – Reveillon (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) – This, fair backpackers of questionable morality, is the New Years party you were looking for. Like all things in Rio de Janeiro not related to the favelas and murder, New Years is all about the beach. During Reveillon (a French tradition for the holiday), hundreds of thousands of people make it down to Copacabana Beach to watch hundreds of thousands of fireworks being blown out over the water. Just keep an eye on your pockets – this place is a Rio pickpocket’s Christmas bonus.
31st – Iemanjã (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) – Two New Year’s Eve events on the same beach in the same city, you say? One of them is a huge party and the other is actually somewhat reverent and cultural? What could possibly go wrong? Iemanjä, also called Yemaja, also called whatever they decide to spell it as at any given time, is a big event worshipping the eponymous African goddess by going down to the beach all in white and floating flowers and items into the sea to ask for luck in the next year. People from all religions attend. The mixing of the Reveillon revelers and the Iemanjä probably becomes a blurred line at points, but you can still pick and choose.
31st – New Year’s Eve (Easter Island, Chile) – If you can’t make it over to the more conventional parts of South America, you’re just gonna have to make a mad dash to the far reaches of the world. Easter Island, that far flung land of gigantic chess pieces, has long been a symbol of the weird. A Stonehenge for the south. Like the Summer Equinox at Stonehenge, New Years is a big deal on Easter Island, because for some reason it represents the whozits and whatnots of new age spirituality or whatever. Either way, it’s a big party. Who doesn’t want to get big head on New Year’s Eve?
Nov 28-Dec 24th – Chriskindlmarkt (Nuremberg, Germany) – Normally, I leave a little leeway on the end of the months so events can end, but don’t include events that start before the month’s first. I’ll make an exception here, because I didn’t realize this had started already and I feel bad. Plus, not including the world’s largest Christmas Market in December’s Elsewhere Plans would be like not including my birthday in February’s. It’s just not complete without it. And sure, you’re probably not going to be doing a whole lot of shopping while abroad, because you’re poor and carry everything in one backpack and you’re bored can you go yet, but it’s worth just perusing the stalls to the ire of the shopkeepers. Lots of cool stuff to not buy.
5th – Klausjagen (Küssnacht, Switzerland) – Remember Krampus? This is the exact opposite of that. St. Nicholas’ day is when the entire town gets together to dress up and walk down the street with giant flaming bishop’s hats while farmers with bullwhips chase them angrily. Apparently it’s quite the spectacle. Afterwards, there are Christmas markets and other festivities leading up to the actual holiday, but I have a feeling it’s the whole BDSM Santa bit that’ll stick with you. Why can’t the alpine countries just put a bunch of cookies next to a fireplace to appease an imaginary karma judge like normal people?
6th – Time Warp (Utrecht, Netherlands) – Time Warp is another one of those traveling festivals (similar to Sensation). It’s been in New York, Germany, and Argentina thus far this year, and now its coming home to the Netherlands. At a certain point, I can’t say much more about an electronic festival in the Netherlands that I haven’t said before. They’re big. They’re loud. They’re everything you expect out of a country with legalized drug use and prostitution, but in a classy way. If you’re in Europe, buzzin’ for some pingas, and near the Netherlands in early December, you’re probably already going to this.
10-17th – Whirling Dervishes (Konya, Turkey) – The Mevlevi Order is an ancient Turkish group, founded nearly a millennium ago as the followers of Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi-Rumi (his friends call him Jim). Cool beans on all that. The reason you want to see them is for their nickname, the Whirling Dervishes. In reverence to God, the Mevlevi Order spin around with large skirt-type clothing, creating a top-like effect. Their main ceremony (this one, in fact!) was named as one of the best cultural shows on the planet by UNESCO, so even if you think dancing’s kind of lame (don’t hold a grudge because you’ve got two left feet), it’s worth a look.
12-14th – L’escalade (Geneva, Switzerland) – Ever eaten chocolate and vegetables? It’s disgusting. To like it, you’d either need to be functionally insane, or have a longstanding cultural connection to the confection. That’s what the city of Geneva does. A few hundred years ago, they repelled an attack by, among other things, pouring hot vegetable soup on soldiers climbing the walls. So now to celebrate, they fill chocolate cauldrons with the stuff and let it fly. It’s a weird tradition to be sure, but there are tons of other chocolate-related events over the course of the three days if you don’t think you can stomach it otherwise.
13-20th – Rise (Les 2 Alpes, France) – Okay, this is just cool. Rise is a music and ski festival taking place in the mountains of France. So not only do they have some badass acts playing, but they’ve got world class mountain slopes while you’re at it. It’s the perfect combination when you think about it. The worst part of EDM festivals are always the shitty bros, and they literally cannot function without a ripped tank that couldn’t cover their nipples if they were stapled to them. Put ’em somewhere they’ll freeze in that kind of outfit and they’ll 404 Error instantly. Or at least blend in enough. If you can’t see their uniform, you probably won’t even realize they’re there.
20th – Valhalla (Amsterdam, Netherlands) – Valhalla is, of course, where Viking warriors went when they died in battle, a gigantic mead hall filled with never-ending food, alcohol, women, and drunken fist fights. Which is, essentially, what the modern music festival is at this point anyway. Except instead of mead and meat, there’s pills and whatever disgusting food you can find on the floor because oh my god everything is amazing. Just try not to start any fist fights. Vikings died out for a reason.
21st – Burning the Clocks (Brighton, England) – Burning the Clocks is a nice little event going on in the beachside town of Brighton. Normally Brighton is the beach party/gay parade capital of England, but during the winter, it’s not really conducive to that kind of atmosphere. But they’ll be damned if they don’t try. During BTC, the town builds gigantic flammable clocks out of paper and wood. Then they parade them through the city, down to the beach front. Guess what they do there? I’ll give you two guesses. It involves a gigantic fireball, a lot of dancing, a lot of music, and alcohol if you please. Just like Santa would have wanted.
30-Jan 2nd – Hogmanay (Edinburgh, Scotland) – I’m sure that, if you’re the kind of person I write these towards, you’re spending your New Year’s Eve looking for a kiss. Oh sure, you want fireworks and friends and alcohol, but really, there’s no better way to start the year than with those butterflies in your stomach. Hogmanay in Scotland is the event for you. Thought to originate as a term meaning “gift for a friend,” Hogmanay has fireworks aplenty (lasers, too!), but really its the feeling of warmth between people that makes it special. When strangers are arm-over-arm 12,000 strong, singing Auld Lang Syne, it’s a moment. You’ll get your kiss.
3-7th – Dominican Holidaze (Punta Cana, Dominican Republic) – Normally when you see “Holidaze” spelt like that, you automatically assume it’s gonna be oriented towards teenage stoners. But Dominican Holidaze, wouldn’t you know it, is actually a resort-hosted music festival, featuring old people aplomb win their Tommy Bahamas. It’s sold out now, as most things are, but what would you be a backpacker for if you weren’t okay with bending the rules a little?
4-7th – Art Basel Miami (Miami, Florida) – In an exact reversal of the above scenario: when you think Miami, you think giant clubs with pill-popping kandi kids and white sand beaches covered in ass cheeks. At the very least a serial killer. But Art Basel Miami is actually a massive art show, featuring both up-and-comers and industry giants. It’s an offshoot of a very successful show in, you guessed it, Basel, and for some reason, Miami just worked as a venue. The shows are pretty heavily curated, so even if you don’t understand what you’re seeing, know it’s the best of the best.
4-13th – National Finals Rodeo (Las Vegas, Nevada) – Used to be the biggest sport to bet on in Vegas was boxing. Then a couple people died, people realized the Mafia weren’t such nice people after all, and bada bing bada boom, the golden age of getting your legs broken out back after a heater is over. Now, Vegas still gets some big sporting events, but none quite as dramatic as the heyday of boxing. The National Finals Rodeo is almost an exception, and while it’s not the same as watching a couple of goons work over some sad sack, it’s still a little cathartic to watch some asshole get thrown off a bull who doesn’t deserve to be there in the first place.
12th – Día de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (Mexico City, Mexico) – In Mexico, Catholic families are very prominent, and Catholic traditions still become national occasions. Our Lady of Guadalupe is an image of the Virgin Mary at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, and the image has become a very important part of the country’s perception of her. On her día, thousands of Mexicans make the pilgrimage to the Basilica to pay their respects. And if that’s not exciting enough for you, they fill the rest of the time with activities, music, food, and dancing all over the city. See? Catholics do know how to have a good time.
13-14th – Boogie in the Bungalow (Hamburg, Pennsylvania) – For those of you who suffered through the Polar Vortex with your desire to dance intact, you’re in luck! Boogie in the Bungalow knows that it’s impossible to throw a good music festival outdoors in the middle of the freezing cold (don’t tell them about Rise), so they sidestep the issue entirely by moving it into a massive warehouse. I went to a warehouse party once. It got so hot inside that the sweat started condensing on the ceiling and raining back down. It was disgusting.
14th – SantaCon (San Francisco, California) – Now here’s the best Christmas event in town. Christmas market? Been done. Reverent parade? Who has the time? But getting dressed up as the jolly red guy himself, throwing back a few dozen beers, and running around town with a few thousand other like-minded people? Now that’s fun. SantaCon is basically a gigantic citywide pub crawl,and if there’s one thing San Francisco is good at, it’s getting dressed up and running across town (I’d link to Bay-To-Breakers, if I had written about it yet). By evening of the 14th, there’s so much red flowing through the streets of San Fran it looks like the Elevator scene from the Shining. But less disgusting. But only slightly so.
26th – Junkanoo Parade (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.
29-31st – Snow Globe (Lake Tahoe, California) – I have friends who have gone to Snow Globe, a snowy mountain music festival, and loved it. But I don’t get it. Most New Year’s Eve festivals carry on right into 2015, but Snow Globe grinds to a halt on the 31st. It doesn’t even have the end of the weekend as an excuse – this festival is on, like, Wednesday. So you’re gonna start 2015 with a killer hangover and you don’t even have more music to numb you to that fact. Just a long, hard year to think about how its all downhill from here.
5-7th – Stereosonic (Adelaide/Melbourne/Brisbane, Australia) – When I got to Australia, I was so stoked on the whole “summer in December” thing. Music festival season! Little did I know that Stereosonic, the first one up to bat, is not at all indicative of Oz’s usual style. Rather than barefoot, long-haired crooners, Stereosonic is filled to the brim with muscle bros in shredded tanks and massive amounts of cleavage popping pills and hanging on each other during the emotional drops. Party. Sure it’s fun, but if that’s not your usual crowd, you might want to pass. There are better EDM tests coming.
12-13th – Festival of the Sun (Port Maquarie, New South Wales) – Festival of the Sun, despite being relatively unknown, has been around for ages. This year is actually the tenth anniversary of the festival, and they’re going all out for it. The festival is put on by Triple J, otherwise known as the only radio station worth a damn nowadays (I’m sure you’ve heard of their Like a Version recordings), so you know the music will be good. And with the anniversary coming around, the production will be top notch as well.
12-14th – Meredith Music Festival (Meredith, Australia) – There’s a weird little cult around this festival, centered on Aunty Meredith as some god-like figure. But when she’s putting on a three day non-stop festival (literally, no breaks), that’s all good. Aunty Meredith has a good head on her shoulders. There’s a very important No Dickheads policy here, and the small quarters (there’s only one stage) makes for a very intimate festival that you should definitely try to go to. It’s sold out, which means that getting in might require breaking the No Dickheads policy. Don’t say I encouraged you.
26th – Sydney-Hobart Yacht Race (Sydney, Australia) – When I was in college, I took a sailing class. Sure, there was a lot of stuff to remember, like jibs and such, but by the time we had our practical exam (sailing from LA to Catalina and back), we ended up just drinking on the deck the whole time while our teacher hotboxed the sleeping quarters. Sailing is easy. So if you’re gonna go to the Yacht Race, you’re probably gonna end up just drinking and watching them pull out of the harbor. If you make it on the crew, you’re gonna do the same thing. You could go watch the finish from Hobart, but come on. Sydney over Hobart? Who does that?
28-31st/29-31st/30-Jan 2nd – The Falls Festival (Lorne/Marion Bay/Byron Bay, Australia) – Falls Festival is one of the old guard of Australian festivals, and has been entrenched for long enough that it brings in huge international acts. But despite its size and reputation, it’s still a chill place to be, thanks in part to its location. Lorne is a tiny town on the Great Ocean Road while Byron Bay is… well, it’s Byron Bay. Personally, if I were to choose a New Year’s festival, I’d go for Beyond The Valley this year. But if you don’t feel like trying new things, these are creature comforts for a reason.
29-Jan 1st – Rhythm & Vines/Rhythm & Alps (Gisborne/Wanaka, New Zealand) – Rhythm & Vines is the largest music festival in New Zealand, the only one unique to the country (to my knowledge thus far) to really draw in some massive names from all different genres. The fact that it takes place over New Year’s is just fortuitous circumstance. Even more fortuitous is that Gisborne, being only 400 miles or so from the International Date Line, is the first real city to experience the New Year, meaning that you can party happily knowing that nobody has enjoyed 2015 as much as you have thus far. Except for that one dude over there. Jesus Christ, what’s he on?
30-31st – Northern Bass (Kaiwaka, New Zealand) – Another festival that doesn’t go all the way through to the New Year. But hey, if you’re in New Zealand, at least you have variety. Obviously, Northern Bass is a little more electronic/dub oriented, and it consists mostly of smaller local acts – but that doesn’t mean it’s all on offer. If you can’t afford to make it into R&V, Northern Bass should be your next best bet.
30-Jan 1st – Beyond the Valley (Phillip Island, Australia) – Beyond The Valley is a new festival offering this year, but it came out of the gate at a fucking sprint. The lineup is dope as hell, and the location itself is amazing: Phillip Island, home of the famous penguin parade. I know the little guys look all dressed up in their little tuxedos, but don’t try to fall in line with them. The party their headed to is way too cold and fishy for your New Year’s dreams.
30-Jan 1st – Lost Paradise (Glenworth Valley, New South Wales) – Lost Paradise bills itself as an “open sourced, boutique music, arts, and food festival.” I can get behind that. It actually is paradise – gigantic glamping options for the sleeping quarters, a full on open restaurant in the middle of the woods, mood lighting everywhere. The whole thing just reeks garden of eden. Combine that with the awesome lineup (it actually shares a lot of artists with Beyond The Valley), and you’ve got a tough decision to make. Which one will you go to?
31st – New Year’s Eve (Sydney, New South Wales) – Dubai and Hong Kong can put on big displays all the want. They’re still Dubai and Hong Kong, where half the population wouldn’t go to a party even if they wanted to lest they piss off the guy upstairs. Sydney, meanwhile, is a bogan at the races. Dress her up in her fanciest dress and sun hat all you want; she’s still gonna be carried out by security at the end of the day. The city goes ballistic for the New Year, launching too many fireworks from the Harbor Bridge and Opera House to count. And that’s what the day is all about. Getting hammered and watching big explosions over national treasures. What more could you want? Happy new year, world.