It’s going to be hard not to get all sentimental and mushy on this one, so if a bit of tender nostalgia isn’t your bag, stop reading now...
Meadows In The Mountains is one of those increasingly rare festivals where you’re made to feel invited into a community rather than surrounded by exclusive cliques of partygoers. From forest ravers to shamanic healers to dancing Bulgarian babas and yogis of varying shapes and sizes, we were welcomed with open arms into their alternate realities. A half an hour walk down the mountain is the beautiful village of Polkovnik Serafimovo and the house of Mrs. Zgurova – our host for the week. Situated 850 or so metres down from the festival site, it’s a collection of ramshackle houses and barns bathed in sunshine looking up around at the surrounding mountains. Given that we don’t speak a single word of Bulgarian (the same applies with the locals, only with English), we developed a different sort of relationship; we would like to say it was based on body language but in reality consisted of us nodding approval to everything that was said to us. Nevertheless it worked and it’s not long before we’re best mates. In light of recent news, it makes you wonder why we are unable to be so chummy with our other continental neighbours.
Having made the journey to the top of the mountain (and when we say the top, we really mean it), the views are truly stunning.
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Normally when someone says to you ‘… just like a postcard’ you think they’re spouting nonsense just to wind you up. However, on this occasion it’s undeniable. ‘Breathtaking’, ‘spectacular’…all that travel agent jargon we usually dismiss as bollocks is in fact quite accurate. With two main stages the site feels intimate and accessible but the line up still offers just about anything and everything to even the most discerning festival head. Going from around midday to 2am, the main stage has the more eclectic line up. Folky songstress Jess McAllister sang dreamy lullabies to a sun-soaked crowd lying in the grass. A little way down the hill and violinist extraordinaire Marques Toliver had both boys and girls going weak at the knees, totally entranced. We too discovered that lying down on top of a mountain on a sunny afternoon watching a good-looking guy playing the violin is indeed a recipe for love at first sight. Constantly pushing boundaries, Cosmo Sheldrake used any and every kind of bizarre sampling, effectively ad-libbing his way through his set. He even used recordings of rocks falling down the mountain from the last time he was at Meadows. Most people leave that kind of experimentation in the studio, so big up Mr. Sheldrake for sharing the weird and wonderful love.
Being able to dance all day and night is an increasingly rare treat at festivals these days, but with the sunrise stage, that’s exactly what you get. Usually kicking off at about 11pm, the music goes well into the next day and there’s one particularly special reason: Watching the sun rising up above the cloud line and over the mountains in the distance is an experience like no other. As dawn lights up the misty Rhodopes Mountains, something magic, ethereal and binding enters the atmosphere. And as dawn becomes day the party carries on and on. We know this because back down in the village we could still hear tunes flowing down from the mountaintop. Forgive us for gushing, but it’s no exaggeration to say something from those morning sunrises stays with you. It makes you start counting down the days until next year’s festival.
In addition to those ‘main’ stages, we need to give a shout out to the tiny garage stage hidden in the woods and the little champagne bar attached to it. Garage and champagne? Yes, it’s as wonderfully weird and wonky as it sounds. Just up the hill from the champagne bar is perched a wooden pirate ship. A pirate ship in the mountains may seem odd, but when we jump on board to ‘sail’ on top of the clouds it all begins to make sense, however warped that sense may be.
When you’re experiencing some sort of sensory overload at 8am it’s easy to overlook the artists behind the decks. While you may not have heard of all the deejays, it would be churlish not to give them due credit. Closing the main stage, the multi-talented Anna Wall dropped some massive tunes including Lil Louis’s ‘French Kiss’, setting the scene for the madness to come over at the sunrise stage. Later in the night a thunderous set from the Thugfucker crew was the ideal complement to another stunning sunrise. We’ve got to mention Ed Word who, as well as playing a cracking set, was regularly spotted around the festival and has to be one of the friendliest deejays we’ve encountered. Lastly we’ve got to give massive credit to the guys who put the sound system together. The top of a mountain isn’t an easy spot to get the sound right, but it was bang-on. When you’ve got the likes of Albrecht Wassersleben tearing up the sunrise stage you need clarity as well as bone-crunching bass.
With a crowd of just over a thousand it’s not hard to make friends, and the friends you make are even more eclectic than the music. All day and night we were making pals and getting invitations to do anything, anywhere but always together. We’re still on an emotional comedown from Meadows and the fact that we can’t stop talking about it is in itself testament to the festival and all that was great about it.
As it happens we still have some Bulgarian Lev we haven’t bothered to change yet. Maybe subconsciously we’ve needed some kind of memento in our wallet. Given what’s happened in the last couple of days the Lev may not be worth very much any-more. We reckon it’s a sign that we should emigrate and spend our days with Mrs. Zgurova back in Polkovnik Serafimovo. At least we will be able to breathe clean mountain air, not polluted by the poisonous rhetoric of bigoted politicians.
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Words: Milo Wasserman