Roskilde Festival Babystepping Through the Years to a Giant

Danish royal jewel Roskilde Festival has gone through a long 30-years journey becoming a major european rock-festival. In the beginning of the saga there was two hippies and plenty of love for rock’n roll. Add some nordic efficiency and a bit of danish liberalism and you can get one of the best live music experience.

ROSKILDEIt is hard to imagine what two hippies went through to start what has become Roskilde Festival. What we know is that in the second year they learnt the business lessons and the organization got serious. Roskilde Charity took over to run the show, already 30 years ago, with the help of a cow show organizer. From the daily 10.000 attendants in 1971, Roskilde comfortably reaches 110.000 these days. From the 2-day affair in 1971 to a 10-day mix of exhibitions, workshops, and cinema sessions.

In any case, music has defined the festival above all. An eclectic set of artists of all styles (rock, pop, rap, world music,…) have surprised the audience every time. Since 1988 the festival has had 4 days of intense music starting on Thursday, and from the previous Saturday, the camping grounds are open for public to warm up, which also feature concerts of smaller acts, this year Finns were represented by Pää Kii. And K-X-P.

While the numbers have grown, the goals of the festival are still the same: making sure that festival-goers have a good time and contributing to the local and global good. Regarding the first goal, the increasing number of people going and the reputation of the festival prove its success.

Musically, it is an honor for any band to play in Roskilde, and all the greatest have played there. The biggest exception is David Bowie who had to cancel due to his heart problems in 2004. Since then, every year future goers ask themselves if Bowie will fill the hole. His new album this year raised everyone’s expectations to no avail. However, few weeks before the start of the festival the organizers announced laconically:

@Metallica play their only European show this summer at Roskilde Festival #rf13

Metallica went out of their way to have their only summer concert in Europe at Roskilde, partly to celebrate 10 years since their last appearance in Roskilde, partly to please their drummer, fellow Dane Lars Ulrich, partly to have a good time. This late announcement, and surprise, maintains the faith that Roskilde will always put a good line-up to differentiate from other festivals no matter what.

As an experience, the last 30 years have evolved in a set of traditions that may take some people, organizers and attendants, of out of their comfort zone.

The included free camping guarantees a spot for your tent, but it says nothing about where you will set it. No matter how early the opening of the gates is or how strong the fences are, the first day always see people breaking the fence, and the law, and running to their preferred spot. Normal guidelines apply: you should seek a place where the sun is blocked in the morning (lack of trees does not help), far from the toilets, and hopefully in a bit of a hill (to avoid getting the tent flooded as in the Roskilde 2007 floods).

It is also remarkable the friendlier tradition of festival camps, a group of similar minded people who want to party and to be together in the camping area, usually under a theme and even matching clothing. There is even an official camp competition and this year’s winner, Ping Pong camp, organized an open tournament against other camps that resulted in few people getting injured.

Another long
running event in the build up to the big days in the festival is the race organized by the festival radio. Male and female winners will get a ticket for next years’ festival. The catch: they have to run and win the race naked. This shows how the Danish liberal approach can make for a better festival. But not only different approaches contribute to the better festival, national laws and regulations also serve for the purpose.

After spending my fair share of years in Finland, I am still amazed when I see “mobile” Roskilde volunteers selling beer in front of the stage. Try to picture it, cool beer literally comes to you in the middle of big summer concerts. And better, availability of alcohol does not mean lewd behavior from the audience, apart from some British guests.

As I already mentioned, it is not only caring for the audience, but they have greater goals. Since the beginning, Roskilde Foundation strived to please and support the city that supported the festival. This is achieved in two main ways, locals, and even international students, can volunteer for 32 hours during a couple of days to get a Festival ticket, and we are not talking small numbers of volunteers, more than 32.000 of them make sure the rest can enjoy a great festival.

Secondly, local clubs and businesses take care of most of the catering efforts. You can find things like the local volleyball club cooking the best spaghetti Bolognese you can imagine, and for a fair price. Local clubs keep most of the profit to support their activities during the rest of the year. The rest of the profit serves to support the other fundamental aspect of Roskilde Festival: charity. The festival is a non-profit enterprise, like Ilosaarirock, and thus all of the festival’s profit is donated to several causes like Amnesty International and Save the Children. The good thing is that while trying to maximize the donated amount, they do not try to squeeze the audience dry by overcharging them for food, beer, and camping.

All these details make the audience feel special, and not part of a big marketing campaign, and the happy mood waves across everyone year after year, and locals and international guests are proud to show how many times they have been back to the festival.