Where: Budapest’s Óbudai Sziget
When: August 7-13
Who: Foo Fighters, Florence and the Machine, Post Malone, Ed Sheeran, Twenty One Pilots, The National, Martin Garrix, and hundreds more
How much: cca $360 for a weekly pass, $330 for a 5-day pass, camping included
Budapest’s Sziget has never been an event of modest ambition and for the organizers’ efforts over the past quarter of a century, today the festival is revered as one of the largest, most diverse, and influential cultural occurrences globally. Welcoming more than half a million visitors over the course of a full week every August, with virtually hundreds of (musical) acts performing on dozens of stages around the clock, it provides a singularly immersive experience which people from all walks of life (can) appreciate greatly.
Sziget Festival / Rockstar Photographers
Explaining the glorious grandiosity of Sziget to the non-initiated is difficult, and I highly recommend following the links above and reading our in-depth previews from the past several years. However, for those who want a brief overview, it is one of the largest music and performance art festivals in the world, located on a large island (Óbudai) at the cusp of Budapest’s city center. With 27 years of tradition, seven days of the program, and a Central-European location that can’t be beaten, it is also infrastructurally and logistically impeccable and features the widest array of activities ever seen at a music festival. From jazz and opera performance, vaudevillian and contemporary circuses and acrobatics, game tournaments, a drag queen theater, yoga and painting classes, TED talks about socio-political issues, and even a pottery course, Sziget comes eerily close to the tired “something for everyone” trope. There is an added emphasis on multiculturalism, ethnological awareness, and inclusivity in these precarious times. On top of everything, most of this content runs throughout the day and deep into each night.
Street Dancing Program / Rockstar Photographers
To add to the fun, there are virtually hundreds of food stands with tastes from around the globe at your disposal 24/7, along with pop-up supermarkets used for this purpose alone. That’s right, genuine shops with doors, windows, and cash registers are set up each year so that the campers could arm themselves with bread, milk, sunscreen, sunglasses, or whatever else may be a “summer Island essential”. The tents, of which there are tens of thousands, can also be set up anywhere on the Island (within reason), near the stages, or the Sziget Beach on the Danube.
This elaborate infrastructure is there for a legitimate purpose – due to the abundance of content and activities, more than half of the campers do not leave the island at all (or do so only for brief periods daily) for the duration of the festival. With a beach nearby, lots of sports available, truly decent international cuisine served at a reasonable price and every notable genre of music playing live all day, not even the marvelous Budapest seems appealing enough for one to take an overground train downtown (even though it’s only five stops).
And then there is the lineup, as strong as it is eclectic. It’s long been festival policy to book headliners for different tastes, so this year we will be watching Ed Sheeran, the 1975, Martin Garrix, the National, Foo Fighters, Florence and the Machine, and Post Malone, in prime time.
The first star to perform this year, Ed Sheeran, has not announced a new album; however, if the new single “I Don’t Care” is any indication, he may be testing some new material in preparation for his fourth LP. Unlike in his case, with The National, there is no speculation – they will arrive with a fresh-off-the-press eight album, I Am Easy to Find, released on 17 May. Another triumph for the Ohio quintet, the new release documents more heartache and borderline unhealthy nihilism. Florence Welch’s band may not have released anything new in the past two years, save for the glorious “Jenny of Oldstones”, featured in the recent Game of Thrones episode “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms”, but it’s been a while since the red-haired fairy-haunted Central Europe, and the day she performs is already all but sold out. The same can be said for probably the main stars of the festival, Foo Fighters, who will embark on a very brief world tour this summer, with only six European dates set for outside of the United Kingdom.
Photo: László Mudra http://www.mudralaszlo.hu – Rockstar Photographers
To complement the enticing versatility, the crowds will also be treated to sets by Michael Kiwanuka, Years & Years, Macklemore, Tom Odell, Twenty One Pilots, Broken Social Scene, James Blake, Of Mice and Men, and hundreds more.
What about the financial implications for your budget? Believe it or not, going to Sziget, even for a full week, is almost certainly going to cost you less than attending virtually any other European festival (assuming you are flying in from the States). Budapest is the biggest low-cost flight hub in all of Europe, and connecting flights from airports in London, Paris or Frankfurt are likely to cost merely $20-50 one way. Moreover, the city is among the most affordable capitals in Europe and spending more than $50 per day would demand effort. Considering that the island features plenty of showers and “real” toilets with running water, soap and tissues/towels, at Sziget, camping is a considerably more appealing