New Danish festival makes solid first impression

Original article written for The Local Denmark, available here.

Friday, 12pm, Odense Station
The regional train bound for Svendborg was crammed with festival-goers and merrymakers keen on making Heartland’s first show of the day. This was no ordinary festival crowd though. By contrast to Roskilde’s young pilgrims and their heavily-laden beer wagons, this was a group of slightly older culture patrons. Casually clad, sporting smart rucksacks and minor camping gear, Heartland’s festival contingent made their way through the scenic fields of Funen, docking at the outpost of Kværndrup, from which frequent shuttle buses helped them complete the rest of the journey.
Photo: Allan Kortbæk

Arrival

The grounds around Egeskov Castle are something out of a mediaeval fairytale. I follow the masses through long, wooded passages, a sea of green around me. Entry to the festival is smooth and on my right, a few metres from the gate, friendly volunteers are on hand to help me store my baggage. The castle greets you with verve as one saunters through the Renaissance garden, its shimmering moat a tribute to a bygone age.

Photo: Allan Kortbæk
A festival of a different sort
Keen on getting to know my surroundings, I explore the grounds armed with my festival app map, a subtle, effective replacement to the thick stacks of pamphlets, brochures and paperwork that usually accompany the festival experience.  It is clear from the start that the festival organisers have taken the time to really think things through.
The grounds are clean and kept, albeit inviting and conducive to interaction. Stimulating this, Bang and Olufsen has wired an old tree by the castle moat with a series of hanging headphones broadcasting their popular #soundmatters podcast. And where better to bring the element of sound into focus? Heartland’s acoustics were some of the best I have experienced at any festival.
Further down from the tree, on the grassy shore by the moat, yoga sessions create a relaxed atmosphere that breathes tranquillity into the fresh countryside air.

Photo: Allan Kortbæk
Music 
My weekend schedule limited my Heartland experience to a mere day. Folk aficionados the Pierce Brothers kick things into action at one of the two music stages, Highland. Their laid-back, country-infused musicality injects a homely, Mumford and Sons-esque sensibility straight from Melbourne into the Heartland universe.  Kudos to the twin brothers for their experimentation with a didgeridoo during their performance.

Photo: Allan Kortbæk
An hour later, at the Lowland Scene, Denmark’s equivalent of Lana Del Rey, Kwamie Liv, seduces an inquisitive, sitting audience, with a coaxing voice that eases the afternoon into gear. Other highlights of the day include, England’s singer-songwriter guru, Michael Kiwanuka, American folk sensation Sun Kill Moon and record producer Mark Ronson, who provided an evening party of epic proportions.
Photo: Allan Kortbæk
Art 
The artistic element was incorporated into virtually every aspect of Heartland Festival. From elaborately decorated trees to Brian Eno’s latest work, ‘The Ship’ installation, art is very much a driver at the throbbing heart of this festival. Lying on a bean bag in a dimly-lit castle room amidst knight armour suits, mediaeval paintings and musky tapestry with the dreamy, evanescent soundscape of Eno’s work reverberating off the thick walls, there were moments of elation, peace and contemplation that were well and truly unique.
Photo: Allan Kortbæk
Talks
Heartland is an experience with far more depth and breadth than the usual modern festival experience.  The beacon of performance art, Marina Abramovic and Danish artist Tal R, provided the best of the Heartland Talks, with an epic one-hour performance that saw them switch roles with moderator Tine Colstrup, who looked dumbstruck for the better part of the show. Any experience that gets the audience to stand up and scream at the top of their lungs for several minutes is surely something special. Other talks of the day included an exploration of evil by Norwegian journalist and writer Åsne Seierstad (known for her chilling book on Anders Breivik, ‘One of us’) and documentary filmmaker Janus Metz (director of the war documentary, Armadillo).
Food
Complementing the music, art and talk experiences, food was another central element of the Heartland Experience. On the downside, all external food and beverage was prohibited and the prices at the various food stalls were definitely on the pricey side. However, the culturally-astute target group that the festival targeted seemed prepared to pay more for the variety and quality of the culinary experience at Heartland, which included a wide range of organic products.

Photo: Allan Kortbæk
Overall verdict 
There is no doubt that Heartland Festival was a success at its very first attempt. A small-scale festival with focus on other elements in addition to a diverse, international music lineup, Heartland was both well managed and well thought-through.
With that said, the target group was definitely not your average festival crowd. The smash and grab, cathartic aspects of typical Danish summer festivals were replaced by contemplative experiences that created depth and room for inner reflections. To this end, the clean and kept nature of this festival made it accessible for all age groups, a stark contrast to the post-Roskilde camp site apocalypse that decorates Zealand’s countryside long after the merrymaking and mosh pits have been banished to mere memory.
Equally, Heartland provided concerts not too indifferent to the likes of Stella Polaris, somewhat void of dancing at times but replete with opportunities to relax. Some would say this is boring – my verdict is that it is in keeping with the qualities of the tranquil location. Can we expect more from Heartland Festival next year? Absolutely.

 

Allan Mutuku-Kortbæk (allanm46@gmail.com)

 

 

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