Planes, Trains and Good Times at Roskilde Festival, Denmark
4:15 a.m. I was about 40 miles outside Stansted Airport when the hangover finally grabbed a hold of me, and the chances of flight RA257 waiting for a drunken reporter freaking out at an ATM somewhere in central London were slim, but there I was, staring at a blank screen. The odds of an ATM eating your cash card a few hours before your flight are about the same as Celine Deon opening for Black Sabbath, then again, I never was one for odds. My assignment was the Roskilde Festival in Denmark, and by the looks of things, my article was going to be on how to survive in London without any cash.
A few minutes earlier, I had checked my bag onto the airport shuttle and run 50 meters up the road to an ATM to get some cash. The machine had a power short during my transaction, withholding my card in the process. With panic starting to set in, I turned to run back to get my bag off the bus before it left, only to see it weaving off through the early morning London traffic. Stranded, cashless, and now bag less, I had about as many options as a male praying mantis after sex. The problem was my flight was due to leave at 7:30 a.m., a lot earlier than the bank opened, and now Visa was my only means of cash for the trip. London was pulsing by the time I walked out into the morning rush hour after convincing the bank manager that his machine had withheld my card, and I had missed my flight. I’m not one to let a little hiccup like a missed flight ruin a festival, so I decided to try join my bags at the airport and hitch a flight to Denmark.
Darrel’s Travel Theory states, “If you don’t make plans, they can’t go wrong,” so one way or another I was getting to that festival. RyanAir had only one flight out to Copenhagen, Denmark a day, and that was already at its destination without me. The next best option was Malmo, a small town in the south of Sweden across from Denmark. No convincing needed, my new destination was Sweden. So eventually after getting a new ticket, I was finally heading in the right direction, sort of. Sweden and Denmark are connected in the south by a 7-mile bridge, and the bus journey from Malmo to Copenhagen went by without a hitch.
Arriving in Copenhagen, I purchased a rail ticket to Roskilde, a village that gets overtaken by about 100,000 festival goers on an annual basis and the venue for one of Europe’s biggest festivals. The great thing about Scandinavian summers is that at 10 p.m., the sun is still out. I had been to the festival the previous year, thankfully, so directions and which bus, train and taxi to get wasn’t a hassle. The one thing I was hoping wasn’t going to be a problem was the fact I didn’t have a ticket. A few weeks earlier I had been in correspondence with the festival organisers and Dorin (blunt’s top dog), to sort out a pass. The pass, unfortunately, got sent to the mag in SA while I was waiting for it in London. A bit of name dropping and sweet talking and I was in.
Next problem was finding an empty spot to set up fort for the next week. OK, so it’s not as simple as you think. You don’t just find a vacancy and up goes your tent. Once you’ve been camping a few times, you’ll know what I mean. You see, last year’s festival was blessed with 7 days of torrential rain. The result was those camped in low-lying and soft areas ending up under about a meter for water. The grounds of Roskilde are separated into east and west side, the latter usually being filled up by the end of the first day of opening, so the east side was were I was heading. With over 100,000 tents in the grounds, you are guaranteed to get a dozen silver dome tents the same as yours in a 10 metre radius, so I found a good spot next to the edge, to make finding it after a good days drinking that little bit easier, and a safe distance from the toilets.
One thing about Roskilde that is amazing is the state of the toilets. They have staff manning them 24-hours a day, and they are always stocked and clean. That can ruin your whole festival experience, running into a porta-pottie that’s overflowing with a week’s worth of 100,000 people’s Mr Hankys. Hidee Ho!!!!
Tent up and valuables stowed in the free lockers provided, it was time to get to know my neighbours. The crowd at Roskilde consisted mainly of Scandinavians, with Germans and Dutch making up the rest of the majority. The remainder is a mixture of travellers that have somehow heard about Roskilde from Scandinavians while on the road somewhere. You could count the number of Americans, Ozzies, Kiwis, and Canadians on your hands. South Africans, on one finger. My neighbours turned out to be a crew from Iceland. With Iceland’s population near 250,000, it seemed half of them had made the pilgrimage to the festival. Many people say that festivals are about the music. I disagree. I’ve always believed they’re about the people you encounter and friends you make. You can hold a festival without bands, but you can’t hold a festival without the crowd. One good thing about going alone is that you forced to meet other people from different cultures and walks of life.
The festival opened on a Sunday, which allowed for 4 days of getting settled in and getting to know your neighbours, with nap time coming at 6 a.m. on a regular basis. The grounds were marked in sections, with each having its own fire pit that would come alive nightly around 9 p.m.. Everyone gathered around drinking, and sharing tales of adventures gone wrong, good times had, and bands to go and see. Walking around the grounds with a case of beer stopping at different fire pits to have a break proved to be the easiest way to meet people. By now I had mastered greeting people in about 14 different languages. You’ll be amazed at how many new drinking games you can learn at a festival.
Apparently South Africa doesn’t have many white people, as I got asked about 1000 times how come I wasn’t black. Needless to say, as soon as I mentioned I was from SA, I’d have people from all over coming to speak to me as it was new to them. Which meant of a lot of “Cheers!!” and “Down it!!” throughout the festival. As I said earlier, last year’s festival was graced with 7 days of torrential rain. In stark contrast, this year the sun shone brighter than Ron Jeremy in his glory days. Due to the position of Roskilde, as far north as it is, the sun sets at around 11 p.m., yet the horizon retains a faint red glow awaiting the sun to reappear a few hours later at around 2:30 a.m. So your dark hours are few and far between. By the time the bells tolled eight in the morning, it felt like high noon, and people were left scrambling to try find a canopy for shade.
Most mornings, Einar, one of the Icelandic guys, would be up at dawn, yep 2:30 a.m. playing Patong, an ancient game similar to lawn bowls, so drinking Patong become one of our games for the festival, with the loser having to down beers. The thing is, a game of Patong only lasts about 5 minutes, so drinking is mandatory. The festival provided a host of activities for the duration of the week, with the west side being the main venue for these. They had this one game where they had a pile of empty bottle crates. The object was for a person who got harnessed in, to try and build a tower of these crates. The difficult part being that you had to be standing atop your tower the whole time. So someone passed you up a crate, you in turn had to, while trying to maintain your balance, place it onto the one you are standing on, then climb onto it – repeating the process until you fell. I saw a few guys get 16 crates high, now if you can imagine 4 crates being about 6 feet wide. Not as easy as it sounds.
They had a full army-style commando obstacle course on offer for you to do time trials against your mates, but after a dozen beers in the blazing heat, one wouldn’t be blamed for playing a spectators roll. The street basketball court was always popular, with tournaments continuously running throughout the week. The one classic one was during an all female game, some guy thought it would be a good time to try join in. Naked, of course. It could only go on for so long before everyone was rolling on the court with laughter. But that’s what you come to expect at a festival.
Come Thursday, the gates to the music area opened and the acts continued for the next 4 days, with the beats getting belted out to 3 a.m. on some stages. The festival caters for all tastes of music with acts ranging from a revived Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath, to Green Day, Flogging Molly, Snoop Dogg, Foo Fighters, Audioslave, Turbonegro â€” and the list goes on. One of the acts that impressed me the most was Green Day, who near the end of the set called on the crowd for a bass guitarist, a drummer, and a lead guitarist. Everyone was screaming to try get a chance to be on stage with them, but only 3 were needed. All credit to the 3 guys that got up, they actually had some good skills on their respective instruments. They got a few quick tips from the band, and got to play in front of a crowd of a couple thousand people while Armstrong sang. At the end he called back one of the guys and gave him souvenir he’ll never forget, his guitar.
I found Roskilde is also good for discovering new bands that you wouldn’t usually hear. As you walk around the grounds checking the smaller arenas. You get to witness a few such bands like Flogging Molly, Death From Above 1979, Rahzel, the human beat box, Royksopp, and old favourites like Duran Duran, and Brian Wilson from The Beach Boys fame. It was good to see some of the bands reaching out to such a diverse audience, from young punks to grandparents who get free admission on certain days. I never actually thought it would be hard to see all the bands I wanted to, but as you’re walking around, you’ll be subconsciously drawn towards a beat from a tent, and you end up missing who you set out to see.
With beer and a plethora of food stalls on hand serving everything from pasta to burgers to vegatarian dishes, you never have to worry about heading back to your tent till the early hours. Although I discovered food seems to take a back seat at festivals. I don’t know how many times I forgot meals, with “chicken in a bottle” (beer) becoming a staple diet.
The town of Roskilde is only a short bus ride away from the grounds, so if you on a budget, you can stock up with beers and food from there, and bring them back into the grounds, or if you lazy, just get a crate in the grounds. The motto of Roskilde is “Against Drugs” and it was great to not have people coming up to you every 5 minutes trying to sell you pills, as is the norm at some festivals.
Sunday upon us, and the festival coming to a close of another successful year. By this time, I had drunk enough beer to make any Irishman proud. I was looking forward to having a quiet day off the booze and taking in the last few acts, but upon awaking I found the crew camped next to me had decided to leave during the night to avoid the rush. Their problem, which ended up being my problem, was they didn’t feel like carrying loads of stuff with them, so they left me with 2 cases of beer to get through on the last day. Not one to keep my problems bottled up to myself, I took a walk over to the fire pit and recruited a few people that I had met during the week to help drink my problems away. Many festival goers are finished after a week of beers, bands and bonfires, that they can’t be bothered with taking their tents down, and carrying them all the way home, so it has become a regular occurrence for some tents to be set alight on the last night. It is not promoted by the organisers, so would be advised against. You can go there with an old, leaking one man tent, and leave with a spanking new four man dome tent, that someone has just left behind.
Monday morning, the grounds say farewell to the last of the die hard fans, or those that were just too pissed to leave before. I fell into this group. With 2 days before my flight left, I was heading to Copenhagen, and back to the real world, and a shower. After missed planes, lost bags, being stranded cashless, flying into random cities just to make it to the festival, I asked myself would I do it again. The answer, I’d do it all over again tomorrow. Roskilde has got to be one of the best organised festivals around now, and as word of it spreads, so too will the nationalities making the pilgrimage. Come the last week of June, you know where you can find me, and half of Scandinavia. ROSKILDE.