Budapest's Sziget Festival to Celebrate Its 25th Anniversary in Style

Photo courtesy of Sziget Festival

What always truly set Sziget apart from other comparable events, is its soul and the genuine intent to keep artistic and social discourse alive.

Roskilde has an immersive artistic experience, Rock Werchter has the priciest and most popular rock lineup, Glastonbury has the most people, and NOS Alive has the most reasonable prices for what they offer. Budapest’s Sziget, on the other hand, has all that, and a whole lot more, for all who decide to move to its floating forest of bliss for a full week mid-August.

Seven days of non-stop music, art and entertainment activities; 500,000 visitors (Szitizens) from more than 100 countries; €22 million budget; more than 16,000 people working at the festival throughout the week; over 1,500 artistic and socially responsible programs across more than 50 venues -- the incredible numbers speak for themselves. From August 9th through August 16th, the magnificent Óbudai-sziget (“Old Buda Island” in Hungarian) will be paid a visit by P!nk, Wiz Khalifa, Kasabian, the Chainsmokers, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, PJ Harvey, Biffy Clyro, Major Lazer, Interpol, DJ Shadow, Dimitri Vegas, and many more.

An impressive list of headliners aside, everything rings a bit hollow unless you are familiar with the gargantuan artistic (and logistical) endeavor that is Sziget. What was started by Károly Gerendai as a local student operation in 1993, grew into one of the largest arts and entertainment festival worldwide -- for those interested to know more about the festival’s unique history, here’s a handy preview from last year. Nowadays the week-long, all-inclusive event is so big, not only does its management own and organize several local satellite festivals (such as the greatly successful VOLT), but it is scheduled to roll out globally following the sale of a 70% stake in Sziget Cultural Management to Providence Equity Partners. According to IQ Mag, the global asset management firm plans to launch between eight and ten new festivals over the next few years, with Sziget’s management due to continue running operations of all festivals in the future portfolio.

Certainly, all this is (at least now) business, and great business, at that. However, what always truly set Sziget apart from any comparable event, is its soul and the genuine intent to keep artistic and social discourse alive, all while delivering the single most comprehensive and dedicated customer experience you will ever witness. Giant Street Theater with trapezists and acrobats, more than 50 TED talks, jazz and opera stages, Cirque du Sziget, countless installation and performance venues, yoga workshops, theater and dance tent, open air cinema, I-Ching labyrinth, chess and poker tents, darts and board game clubs, an NGO hub, and the mesmerizing Museum Quarter. You will see and do all this during that one magical week. The sheer volume, not to mention the quality, of content, makes it impossible to overlook the cultural significance of the event. Let’s not even get started on everything I failed to list -- there’s plenty more, especially the "Art of Freedom", a collection of more than 60 aspiring artists' installations, scattered all over the island. However, if there is one thing more impressive about Sziget than its superabundance of life and joy, it’s the flawless logistics.

The 108-hectare island, located five overground metro stops from the city center, invites all guests to willfully distance themselves from their everyday worries, and spend an entire week completely immersed in the festival and all it has to offer. Sziget management understands that more than 60% of all visitors are students and youngsters from all over the world, who could barely afford a ticket to Hungary. To this end, all visitors are welcome to make camp wherever physically possible on the Island, bring their own food and beverages (within reason), and enjoy a pint of cold beer whenever they please for under $3!

An all inclusive, seven-day ticket with camping, costs about $350. Once you’re there, across the island, you will found countless showers, wi-fi and charging spots, dozens of affordable world cuisine kiosks, ecologically savvy programs encouraging you to exchange of cans and bottles for gifts and free wi-fi, and even a fully fledged, pop-up supermarket. Budapest, itself a lovely fusion of two cities, Buda and Pest, are among the most affordable European capitals, a gorgeous, vibrant metropolis full of astonishing food and architecture (what else is there, really). It is also one of the world’s largest hubs for Wizzair and other low-cost airlines, easily accessible due to its central-European location.

Even if you’re not thrilled about camping among 50,000 other people for a full week, you can easily rent a centrally-located studio for one to four people for under $50 per night. If you’ve ever been to Sziget, you won’t need this article to convince you to go back to the "Island of Freedom". If, on the other hand, you haven’t, don’t hesitate for a second - come celebrate a quarter of a century of music, art, and love.

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton

9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton

8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge

7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge

6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

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