This year’s Heineken Open’er Festival was situated on Babie Doły Military Airport in Gdynia, on the Northern coast of Poland, between the 2nd to the 5th of July. The airfield is just outside the city centre of Gdynia with a shuttle bus service provided throughout the day.
The campsite opened early on the 1st and began filling up rapidly around midday. Overall, the campsite was well served for facilities, with a 24 hour shop, numerous food stalls which began opening up later in the day and a plentiful supply of portable toilets on site. However, unlike other festivals I have attended throughout Europe, particularly Sziget festival in Budapest, there was a lack of a group spirit among the campers for the week. People arrived in their own groups and, the ones that I encountered anyway, had little interest in mingling with one another. This likely was not helped with the fact a large amount of the crowd spent their time standing to one side nonchalantly while taking selfies. This cold atmosphere was also not helped by the security, who at points out numbered attendees, and who were quite heavy handed in their approach. They were also not very helpful if your Polish was not up to scratch.
This feeling of isolationism was dropped however when the World Cup was on. With large numbers of campers gathering around a television to follow it, most had to rely on word of mouth to relay what was going on. A possible cause of this was the lack of events during the day. With the music arena shut during the day, there was little for campers to do other than go into Gdynia itself.
Despite there being no official acts to play on the 1st, Red Bull had set up a stage on the campsite which showcased some Eastern European hip hop. This proved to be slightly hit and miss but offered a more interesting musical perspective than what we are used to when based in the UK.
Getting into the festival proper, the stand out performers during the week were The Black Keys and Jack White, on the 2nd and 4th respectively. Both acts managed to mix their sets with a couple of new songs of their new albums, Turn Blue and Lazaretto respectively, with a number of their classics. The Black Keys, who probably edged it as best performance, had the crowd on the verge of combustion as they launched into their encore of Lonely Boy, Little Black Submarines and I Got Mine.
This level of energy was matched closely on the final song by Jack White, who was suffering from singing issues throughout his performance, Seven Nation Army. It was a thrilling performance by the crowd, and apt giving the month that was in it with Seven Nation Army cementing its place as a soccer anthem. His thanks to the Black Keys also raised a laugh due to some of their recent emailing issues.
The general idea for the line-up for the festival seemed to be matching big name acts; Jack White, Black Keys or Pearl Jam, with less well known indie bands in the other venues around the festival arena. While this could work at some festivals, it was not quite pulled off here as the indie bands on the bill were pretty mediocre for the most part.
Acts like Pustki, Eric Shoves Them In His Pocket and Wild Beasts all offer a similar sound. While there is no doubting their abilities as musicians, their take on indie does not offer anything new, merely copying what has gone before.
In terms of trying to build on the music which has come before you, Royal Blood and Wild Books had come to Poland with their reputations indicating their strong similarities to the headliners, The Black Keys. Both played in the Alter Stage, with only Royal Blood packing out the joint. Royal Blood’s reputation has been growing in the last number of months, with the début album out next month. They are a two piece, with a bassist (Played to sound like a guitar) and a drummer. While it is a unique lineup and they really do know how to work a crowd, the tiny venue was hopping. The few songs they ran through did not leave much of a lasting impression. However, it is early in their career and judgement on them should be reserved till their album release. Wild Books kept more towards the Black Keys style of things, busting through some rocking songs. However, after awhile it began to blend into one, with no particular song sticking out by the end.
Overall I am not a fan of this tactic that some festival organisers take to booking acts as I think it offers a restricted choice at festivals. I feel this point is backed up by the great crowds for gigs where the music on show offered something different; Darkside and Jagwar Ma for example. These are two electronic artists from the US and Australia respectively. While that type of music normally is not my thing, it seemed to make more sense to me in a field in Poland going into the early hours of the morning. This feeling was also replicated in the Beat Stage with Maya Jane Coles and Jamie XX.
A stage solely dedicated to different genres of music from around the world would have been a great addition to the music on offer. Making performances more memorable and the experience as a whole would have benefited from a more diverse group of artists and people.
Odds and ends
The pricing at the festival was extremely good. Pints of Heineken, the main sponsor, could be bought for roughly £1.60, with a pizza setting you back roughly £4. There was a wide range of food on offer, everything from burgers to boxes of noodles, and all of it very well made and pretty tasty. Open’er’s close proximity to the city also offers the opportunity to hop back into town and pick up your own food, or if you are feeling very adventurous, food for a BBQ.
Another cool feature of the Open’er festival was the different activities you could do instead of listening to the music. (Again this was only available once the music arena was opened.) There was a museum exhibition throughout the festival, a cinema showing three films a night including Frank, and a fashion show at various stages. The museum showed off numerous installations, including videos covering marches in Poland demanding reproductive rights and education.
On the slightly stranger part of the scale, there were a large number of bales of hay near the main stage. Roughly 20 feet high and with a path in the middle, it had a queue of people 30 odd long waiting to go in and walk around this rectangular path. No matter how much I tried, I could not gauge what this was or why anyone was doing it. Answers on a postcard please.
Overall, the Open’er Festival is a fairly good way to spend a week working on a tan and listening to some good music. However, bringing a group of mates along would be an imperative, as well as a list of good Polish stock phrases.
There is also the guts of a really great music festival, which with the addition of a few extra factors and a more eclectic choice of music could be an incredible experience.