We spent this past weekend at Best Kept Secret Festival in Beekse Bergen, just outside Tilburg. Three days of music, camping, sun, rain, food, friends, fun. This was the first year of this festival. We were all guinea pigs, but willing participants in this experiment. What’s it like to go to the inaugural year of a festival? In this case, fantastic. The organizers have had years of seeing how other festivals are organized and have taken the best of the best and tried to bring it all together on the beach of a manmade lake.
The festival web site is showing photos and clips from the event, and you can also see a lot on the 3voor12 web site. And a nice short movie that captures the event feeling very well here.
We got to the campground early. It opened at 10am and we were there at 11am. As you can see, we thought we’d found paradise and were ready for a quiet camping experience like no other festival ever.
Four hours later, and the scenery had changed quite a bit. It became just like any other festival camping with people crammed in, tent stake to tent stake. Ah well.
At least they had thought of everything at the camping, with a camp store, plenty of showers and toilets, phone charging station, and hot cooked breakfasts available. We were usually up very early compared to everyone else (being old people you know) and didn’t have to wait in long lines for anything. Early bird gets the worm.
Friday night, however, was pretty sleepless. I’ve never in all my festival going years heard so much partying and screaming all night long. I think this was because there was no place on the festival grounds itself for people to party all night if they wanted to, so they did it in the campground instead. Bummer. It really sucked to go to the second day of the festival without much sleep.
Saturday night was marginally quieter, but I also took a sleeping pill and had my earplugs in, and that was the Best Slept Secret for me.
Food is important at a festival. At least it is for me. I appreciate having decent food choices when you are a captive audience. LowLands is famous for great food. Into The Great Wide Open also had really good food. I think this is the trend for festivals in the Netherlands since this festival also made sure to have the best festival food possible. Gourmet burgers, big BBQ’s with whole chickens and pigs on a spit, vegetarian and organic food and excellent coffee bars. K. and I decided to go into business with coffee and cakes since there were such long lines at the coffee bars. In our dreams anyway. Absolutely nothing bad to say about the food here. Only compliments to the organization.
You wouldn’t think that it’s so important to mention here, but it is, because something happened at this festival that is unique and fantastic – it was CLEAN! No trash anywhere. People put their trash in the bins. Grounds people were everywhere picking up what didn’t make it into the bins. It was such a nice change from the trash pit that other festival grounds become after only one day. This made the whole thing much more enjoyable. We aren’t toddlers who can’t pick up after ourselves. We’re adults and we should just pick our crap up. Somehow at this festival it happened. I have a theory about this, and it’s really a theory that goes for any environment where people live. We don’t actually like living poorly. If a standard is set in the first 5 minutes of coming into some surroundings, those standards will be maintained by people. Thus, if you enter an area and it’s a garbage pit, you will throw down your trash like everyone else. And the reverse is also true. If you see a place is clean, you are likely to also keep it clean. The organizers certainly made the right decisions to give us a super festival grounds.
OK, now that I’ve said the good part, here are some tips for next year to make it even better. First, MORE TOILETS! They put out more places for men to pee after the first day when there weren’t enough and men were peeing in the woods everywhere. Solved. What about the women? The queues for the toilets were just crazy long, all the time. More toilets please!
Second, tent TWO needs to be sorted out. It was too small for some of the bands playing there. We were inside when Alt-J was playing and were so packed in that it became scary full. People started to become aggressive. We left, but getting out was not fun or easy. We saw fights nearly start. The problem is that there is no space around the outside of the tent to just hang out and still hear the music. For example, at LowLands, outside Alpha you can sit on the grass on 3 sides of the tent, which hundreds of people do. That wasn’t possible at tent TWO. OK, the rain didn’t help, but still, there needs to be more space around the stage and tent for more people. Or just make the tent itself twice as large (and keep the ticket sales the same). Also, I found the acoustics at TWO pretty bad. I read that some people didn’t think it was loud enough. It was plenty loud, but just badly set up. Far too much echo and bouncing sound everywhere.
Festivals have to make money every way possible and shopping is another way. At BKS there was very limited shopping and I was just THRILLED to see that they had set up a row of Etsy shops! What a fantastic idea. Totally non-commercial and fun and interesting stuff for sale. I bought a little wallet made of tape measures. I bought it on Friday and went back through there Sunday and that shop was gone. I hope they sold out. Also, on Saturday between the camping and festival grounds there were tables set up by independent record labels and record shops selling vinyl and CDs by artists you are not likely to hear on the radio. Great idea.
There are always fashion trends at these events. Several years ago I made a little movie about the trend of the year at LowLands. This year? No movie, just photos, of girls in cut off jeans and black tights. OMG. Whoever said this was fashionable was just plain wrong. And all the girls who blindly do as they are told are just plain silly.
Fashion that’s trending up but not yet mainstream? Men with long hair wearing it up in a knot. It’s coming. Look out.
Unfortunately, the weather has a part to play in festivals. We had typical Dutch weather this weekend – a little bit of everything – sun, wind, rain, clouds. You’ve seen some photos with sun, now here are a couple of good rain photos.
You can’t do much about the weather, so let’s just move on….
Finally, the music. This is why we came, right? Right. The festival advertises itself as focusing on the music (no art installations, no movies or discussion groups, no street acts) and that it did. There were 3 stages in total. It’s a small festival and it was easy to get from one stage to the next in time to see what you wanted to see. The only time it felt crowded and full was Saturday night, but was still manageable.
Here are my picks of the weekend.
Best Boys to Keep Your Eye On – Mozes and the FirstBorn – These local guys had lots of energy and charisma and catchy tunes, all sung in English. We will be able to say “we saw them way back in 2013” some day after they make it big. The lead singer looks scarily like a young David Crosby. He also had skills.
Most Improved – tied with Bloc Party and Alt-J. Both of these bands I’ve seen before, live and live streamed, and both gave much better performances than ever before. Alt-J with a full rich sound and singing on key! Wow! Bloc Party with more energy and fantastic drummer. Too bad that Alt-J was at tent TWO instead of the main stage ONE. The should have been at ONE. It was hard to really enjoy the music when you’re busy coping with such crowds of people.
Most Surprising – Damian Rice. It amazes me that one man on a big stage with a guitar and piano can hold the attention of thousands at a festival. He did. While I thought he was going to be boring and weepy, we were actually spellbound by his voice and stories. Now I’d love to see him in a smaller venue too. I’m a new fan.
Best all round – how can you pick just one? I can’t, so my 4-way tie goes to Maccabees, Balthazar, Fuck Buttons and Suuns.
Balthazar we’ve been following since first seeing them at LowLands (I think it was 5 years ago) and we’ve seen them 5 times now. Every time they are better and better. They have a huge following in this part of the world. They are from Belgium and there were a lot of Belgians at this festival. They always play “Blood Like Wine” as their last song. It’s a thing. The last lines of the song go …”raise your glass to the nighttime….” and all the people in the audience knew it was coming so we had our glasses ready. Here’s a photo I took of everyone raising their glasses and singing along. They took a photo too from the stage and posted it on their facebook page.
So, in summary, we’ll be back next year, if we can get tickets. Crisis, what crisis? Festivals and events sell out here in minutes. We tried to get tickets to ITGWO for this year and didn’t get any. Sold out in 10 minutes. I imagine this festival will go the same way. I hope the organizers can find a way to sell tickets fairly and nicely so fans get tickets and not scalpers and bulk buyers. We will do our best to do it all again. We’re all getting older though and I think next year a group of us will try to rent vacation houses on the site rather than camp out. We need more sleep to keep up with all the bands we want to see!
(All my photos on flickr)