Last weekend’s Kama Love Festival almost slipped by under the radar, popping up on this and other blogs only in the last few days before it happened. My Canadian buddies were possibly the only ones getting excited about seeing Cowboys Junkies! Well, I’m always up for a day in the sun listening to music, so I decided to join them and check it out.
First thing I can say was the organization was some of the best I’ve seen in China! The venue at the Olympic Stadiums was easy to get to, right outside Anzhenmen Subway exit on line 10. It took us only 30mins door to door and only Y2 to get there from Gulou, much better than the locations we dealt with earlier in the year for Midi, Pinggu and Strawberry! Arriving at the venue, there were no lines, minimum security checks and probably the hardest bit of the process was getting past all the scalpers around the gate. There was a lot of security guards inside the venue, but they mostly left the crowd to their own fun, sitting under trees or taking photos themselves. The only issue I noticed was at the end of day one when they tried to manage the amount of people in the Love Stage area and a few fans were getting angry about not being allowed in. The venue itself was a bit of a dust bowl, despite the extra turf the organizers had laid around the stages and there wasn’t a lot of shade. But the size and layout of the stages worked really well. I hope we’ll get some more festivals here this year.
Right inside the gate we found our oasis for the weekend, the Cheers wine booth! Spanish, Chilean, and German wines priced from Y8 – Y15 a very full glass and Y50 a bottle (when the police weren’t watching!) We even popped back at the end of day two and picked up 6 bottles to take home with us! After finding that we didn’t bother to look for a beer stand, although I saw a sign advertising Y20 draft near the food tent. Some people were complaining water was impossible to find, but our friends at the wine booth kept us stocked up on that as well, so I have no issues there. I’m not the biggest fan of festival bathrooms, but these ones were impressive, western style, clean, not smelly and even had paper!
Day one we wandered around the stalls and two main stages catching a little of the Chinese acts, then found a shady spot under a tree at the Love Stage for the main acts. Probably the only really annoying thing I can say about the festival was that all the acts were running around 30mins ear!y! It made it difficult to work out who we were seeing during the day and I’m sure people would have missed acts they wanted to see as well. These New Puritans from the UK, were the first band we saw on the Love Stage and they complained the whole way through their short set about the sound issues, but still sounded ok to my ears. Cowboy Junkies up next, opening with the classic ‘Sweet Jane’ a cover that they really have made their own. They played mostly songs from their ‘Renmin Park‘ album which was recorded with local artist/musician ZuXiao ZuZhou. Unfortunately he wasn’t allowed to join them on stage this time, probably due to being involved in issues at a festival earlier this year. They played to a good crowd including the Canadian ambassador, who seemed to be enjoying the festival atmosphere. Next up was Taiwanese rock star Wu Bai, who I’d never heard of, but my friend tells me has a song that is the equivalent of learning ‘Stairway to Heaven’ for young guitarists in China. The crowd doubled as soon as he came on stage and security immediately circled the area not allowing more people in. I left the park near the end of his set, at 8.30, heaps of time to get back to Gulou to catch another show!
Day two started with rain, so we decided to have a longer brunch and wait for the skies to clear. The rain was just what the venue needed though, enough to stop the dust that plagued day one and then the rain held off for the rest of the day. We got these in time for Nouvelle Vague on the Love Stage. I’d heard about these guys from a friends, so I knew they were a covers band, but after watching them massacre songs like Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart” I wasn’t impressed. One thing I hate about seeing international bands here is that a lot of them only get away with what they’re doing because they’re foreigners and Nouvelle Vague was like that for me. I’m not against covers bands – but if you’re going to cover something either do it well, or give it an original take, don’t just sing badly and expect people to love it, that’s what KTV is for! Up next at 6.30pm (yes, still running early!) was Eels. I love the older Eels albums, but the not the newer stuff so much. They put on a great show though, and showed off some very impressive matching beards! Surprisingly they were probably the highlight of the festival for me. As it was beginning to get dark we headed over to the Hope Stage to see the indie pop band Super VC. While they are really not my kind of music, I did have fun dancing along with their ‘Laowai Super Fan’ Alex from beijinggigguide. Unfortunately they didn’t do any of their crazy onstage antics she had told me about, so I’ll have to catch them again at Mao to see that.
Overall I was really impressed with Kama, despite the high ticket prices. I was lucky enough to get a free ticket for day two and had presale for day one, but for this level of organization and easy access to the venue, I would have been willing to pay Y180 a day. The door price of Y260 was a little over the top, but I compare that to what I’d pay for a festival in Australia – probably more like Y700-800 a day, and OK, so we’re not talking about the same level of bands/organisation, but I still think we get pretty good here!