The first edition of The Mad Festival was greatly anticipated mainly because it held the promise of bringing Music, Arts and Dance together – each one being a form of expression where the difference lies only in the medium through which ideas, thoughts and feelings are conveyed. A closer look at the festival details revealed that they had an amazing line-up with some of the most accomplished musicians and dancers. The location seemed to be the cherry on top of the cake – Ooty was the perfect destination to head to, to enjoy three days of unadulterated bliss. There was no way we would miss this one.
The journey began with high expectations, mixed with a lot of apprehension because it is a known fact that organizing events of this magnitude with performances by 48 artistes over a span of 3 days is no ordinary task and since this was the first edition of The Mad Festival, we hoped that everything would run smoothly without any glitches. Strategically placed signboards on the streets leading to Fern Hills ensured that no one had trouble finding the venue. A massive doorway at the entrance announced the name of the festival in bold letters. The setting for the festival was provided by sky-high trees, lovely hills outlining the venue and step farms, lush green with tea plantations. The sheer beauty of the place, and the lovely weather made the venue seem like any art lover’s paradise!
The security at the entrance stripped people off all their eatables, unsealed cigarette packs, lighters and water bottles after a thorough inspection of bags and sent the articles collected straight to the dustbin, with no provisions for collecting them after the festival. However, this was forgiven and forgotten as soon as one got past the gates and beheld the massive stage setup. The two stages at the venue called ‘Blubaloo’ and ‘Callaloo’ (which apparently don’t mean anything, in case you were wondering if they had any tribal significance) were set up at different locations and were well-separated from each other by the Mad Bazaar, such that walking over from one stage to another wasn’t much of a chore and the music from the two stages hardly interfered with each other. Two massive boards at each stage announced the line-up for the festival, which was a delectable mixture of different genres featuring artistes spanning various countries and origins.
The turnout at the festival was surprisingly low, especially on the first day. Two food stalls and the limited number of tents at the sparsely populated venue made it seem like a large crowd wasn’t expected. However, more people turned up on the second day and the third, making the place a lot livelier. Each day’s proceedings began with an invocation on both stages by the local tribes – Todas, Kotas, Irula, Kattunayakans, Paniyars and Kurumba. On day one, the first few bands played to a sparse audience. However, towards the latter part of the day, a satisfactory number had gathered around both stages to relish the variety of tunes being belted out, scuttling from one stage to another from time to time, not wanting to miss out on too much of anything. The performances on the two stages were well-spaced, giving the audience the opportunity of catching a bit of everything!
The pathway from the ‘Blubaloo’ stage to the ‘Callaloo’ stage was lined by the Mad Bazaar with lovely little stalls that sold everything from soft toys, flamboyant cowboy hats, shimmering bows, feathered stoles, fancy hairbands and tiaras, books with original 3D comic art, hats with oversized bows, unconventional musical instruments to a variety of other trinkets. Cupcakes of different varieties were hugely popular and consumed in large numbers. Curiously, there was very little variety across the food stalls at both stages, which got boring towards the end of three days and also quite heavy on the pocket! The ‘Blubaloo’ stage was also lined by the Paintball Zone that had a foosball table, darts and other fun games to indulge in!
Not surprisingly, The Bar always seemed to have a sizeable crowd with people gathered around, beers in hand, making their own music by beating on cartons that doubled up as percussion instruments and belting out their own tribal calls at the top of their voices. Mild flirting, animated conversations, socializing and bonding over alcohol and shared cigarettes contributed to most of the buzz while the rest of the buzz came in from the stalls comprising the Mad Bazaar.
Sadly, the stalls were the only things that contributed to the “Art” in the festival. The space available around both stages could have been put to better use to display art more extensively. Three days into the festival, we realized that it was more about Music than Arts and Dance, with the latter two thrown in seemingly just to fit the bill to qualify as a festival that promotes all art forms. Hopefully, the second edition of The Mad Festival will have more to offer on that front!
In addition to listening and watching the bands and artistes perform on stage, the attendees could also interact with them at the various workshops conducted at the festival such as the ‘Depth of Expression’ workshop by Susmit Sen and the ‘Chaos Theory’ workshop by State of Bengal. There were also several theatre, photography and Yoga workshops that people could enroll for.
The camping place with over 160 tents was quite a walk from the stage (for those who weren’t smart enough to figure out a shortcut!) and was probably the best place to hang out after the day’s proceedings. Bonfires were lit, guitars were wielded and popular tunes were played that everyone sang to. The chilly breeze and drunken conversations over the crackling of a fire with the soft strumming of a guitar or two in the background brought each eventful day to a close. However, when it was time to retire to the cramped tents, the hard floor and the not-so-warm sleeping bags, one would think enviously of all the people in the palace with a soft bed for comfort. A couple of foreigners were spotted complaining that the ticket said “basic power supply” but there was none provided at the camping site. People had to run to the Dell stall next to the ‘Blubaloo’ stage or the palace to charge their phones, which was quite an inconvenience. The portable toilets were many in number although a few of them were quite unclean. This left people with the only option – of running to the palace located 1 km away from the camping site (unless they knew the shortcut!)
Days two and three definitely seemed to gain a lot of momentum with a lot more people joining in and enjoying the music, sprawled on the lawns, hanging on to the barricades or just dancing to the tunes at a distance. Some even found a vantage point overlooking the hills and step farms, relishing the music while enjoying the sights and sounds. One thing a lot of artistes complimented the organizers on was the sound. There were almost no problems with respect to sound save for some feedback and volume issues here and there. The sound was pristine, with the sound engineers doing an impeccable job, except for the low volume levels for the Concordia Choir and some feedback during Slain’s performance.
The bands and artistes at The Mad Festival covered the whole gamut of genres and sounds. It is rare to come by a festival where you get to see a heavy metal band like Kryptos play alongside a folk rock fusion act like Swarathma or a World music band like Moon Arra. There was clearly an effort made to showcase ethnic music from all over the country. Artistes like The Kabir Project (Sufi, Folk) singing the mysticism of the poet Kabir, Manganiars playing Rajasthani folk music and Vayali folklore group from Kerala portrayed the musical roots of India, while international bands like The Krar Collective from Ethiopia and Kutumba from Nepal had the audience spellbound with their local ethnic music. Fusion acts like Yodhakaa (Sanskrit-based contemporary Indian music), Agam (Carnatic Rock), The Raghu Dixit Project, Indian Ocean and Papon & The East India Company bridged the musical gap between the traditional and the modern sounds, whereas, contemporary rock bands like Motherjane, Slain, Live Banned, Thermal and a Quarter and Avial had the young crowd rocking out. The Shillong bands Soulmate (Blues) and Afflatus (Rock) were particularly impressive with their onstage intensity and sheer incredible musicianship. The Electronic Music fans had something to groove to with bands like State of Bengal, Schizophonic and God’s Robots providing pulsating beats. With such a diversity of music on display at The Mad Festival, there was hardly a soul around who wasn’t caught up with the music of their liking.
Overall, The Mad Festival proved to be a wonderfully executed event that brought together several artistes and fans from different parts of the world and gave them a chance to interact closely and become acquainted with each other. There were incessant compliments for the organizers by artistes and fans alike for having arranged something like this in the first place, in such a beautiful location, and pulling it off in such a short time frame and the vote in this regard, was unanimous. One of the endearing, and overlooked, details of The Mad Festival was that no band was billed as the headlining act with other bands opening for it. All bands, local and international, were given equal opportunity and a level platform to showcase their art. With the festival featuring 48 bands, stretching over three days, on-site accommodation in tents and camps, the air sizzling with carnival atmosphere, The Mad Festival surely has the potential to be India’s equivalent of international festivals like the Glastonbury Festival.