I’ll admit that my recent trip to Poland did not start off so well. Aside from the fact that my flight left in the wee hours of the morning (I can live with that), I arrived to Gdansk Airport to find it being evacuated due to a bomb scare (ie an unattended bag left somewhere). And then five minutes after checking into my hotel room, I received a telephone call that I was being moved to another hotel because Prince and his entourage needed my room. Was I a bit disappointed to lose my nice beachfront view? Of course. But hey, I’m always happy to do a favour for Prince.
Photo: Tomek Kaminski
The four days I spent at Heineken Open’er Festival made up for all of that, though. The site doesn’t open ‘til 4pm, so it’s basically an alcohol/sleep-lover’s dream – party all night and rest all morning. It rained, it shined. I saw Prince dance in a sparkly suit. I watched Jarvis Cocker dance in the rain. I saw Julian Casablancas get attacked by fans when he jumped into the crowd (and I’m pretty sure he lost his sunglasses while he was in there). And I got to eat way too many deliciously greasy perogies (because that’s just about the only vegetarian Polish food the festival seemed to offer).
So here are the 10 things we learnt at Open’er Festival 2011:
1. Camping in Poland is well organized
It puts the UK’s ‘show up and pitch your tent on top of someone else’s because there’s no room’ philosophy to shame. When you arrive at the campsite, you wait in a queue to receive a spot for your tent. It’s sort of set up like a grid, so you’re less likely to drunkenly trip over a guy-rope in the dark. And they play music over the loudspeaker for campers – playing the tunes of the acts at the fest – just in case campers didn’t get enough of it the first time around.
2. The site has a unique set-up – in a good way
While most festival sites pack everything into the center of a huge field, Open’er Festival is actually all about the space. The stages and tents surround the outskirts of the field, with nothing but empty space (and a Ferris wheel) in the middle. All the food stalls, merch stands and campsites are then on the outskirts of that. There’s no need to worry that if you get to a performance too late you’ll be forced to stand next to the rank smell of cooking hot dogs at the back of a huge crowd of people.
3. You can dance in a bunker
Ever wanted to hang out in an army bunker? Open’er is your chance. The entire festival is set up on a former military air base. So you can go to a silent disco in a bunker, seek refuge from the rain in a bunker, or watch a fashion show in a bunker. Pretty sure you’ve never done any of those before.
4. You can check out some up-and-coming Polish fashion
Going back to that fashion show in a bunker idea, another really cool part of the festival is that they’ve got a Fashion’er space, as well. With a catwalk built into the bunker, there’s an entire tent dedicated to a hand-picked selection of local fashion designers who can showcase their pieces. I was quite drawn to Aleksandra Wawak – this company could totally style Gaga.
5. James Blake stole the show at the Tent Stage
The final day of the fest was beautiful and sunny, so the last thing I wanted to do was stand under a big sun-blocking tent. But for James Blake, it was worth it. The crowd was bursting out of the tent, the lighting was fantastic and the thumping bass made the entire place shake. Only downside was having to leave early to make it to the Main Stage for The Strokes on time.
6. You can’t drink in the main arena
If you want a nice cold Heineken, you can’t sip on it while you’re watching M.I.A. It’s only allowed on the campsite, or in a few sectioned-off areas by the food vendors. It probably makes the cleanup afterwards a hell of a lot easier, though.
7. Ferris wheels are serious business
The only ride on offer at Open’er is a Ferris wheel. There’s a gorgeous view of the seaside and the festival site from the top of it. But a round on the wheel requires signing a consent form, promising you’re not drunk and you’re not going to misbehave on it (or so I was told). Considering I don’t understand a word of Polish, I could have very well signed away a kidney for a two-minute ride, though.
Photo: Tomek Kaminski
8. It’s a boob-free environment
It’s probably because security don’t let girls in the crowd sit on people’s shoulders. Or maybe the Polish or just more reserved and well-behaved? Whatever the reason, it was rather nice to watch a band on the big screen and not see a series of chest-flashing. I’m sure some people would disagree, though.
9. Poland has some awful yet brilliantly named bands
At least the ones on this year’s line-up did. Woody Alien? Bipolar Bears? Eltron John? Junkie Punks? Vavamuffin? I won’t even begin to comment on their moves in this video, though…
10. But when it comes to picking headline acts, the festival organisers know what they’re doing
Coldplay, Pulp, Prince, The Strokes, M.I.A. – the lineup certainly didn’t disappoint. This year (which also marked the event’s tenth anniversary) was also the first time many of the bands had played in Poland, so Open’er is a great way for major international acts to make it over there.
Photo: A Rawicz