Festivals, Audiences, and Such

Fishing on Orfű, the one music festival I plan to attend this summer (along with its August coda, Kispál on Orfű), has people scrambling, even begging, for a place to stay, even a place to pitch a tent. I don’t know why this is. All the cabins and tent spots were sold out early on—I bought a ticket to the festival as soon as they went on sale, and already the huts and camping spaces were gone. The only place left was a camping area near the lake (which gets very hot during the day and can get soaked by rain at night, and where you don’t have a reserved spot but have to take your chances—and even this is sold out now). The hotels and bed-and-breakfast places are all filled; there’s even an online Facebook page for festival attendees looking for places, and as soon as anything comes up, it’s gone in seconds. With so many people looking for a place to stay, why aren’t there more options? I love Fishing, but people who come so far to hear the music should have a place to lie down. Those who buy a ticket to the full festival should be offered a camping spot, a cabin, or something else, even if they have to pay a little extra for it.

Last year, I pitched my tent where I wanted. At the Mini-Fishing, it wasn’t a problem; I think you were allowed to do just that. At the main Fishing, I didn’t know it wasn’t allowed, and there were people knocking (!) on my tent late that night to tell me that others had reserved that spot. (Fortunately those others hadn’t arrived yet, or else they took another open spot; since I was there only for the night, I packed up and left before dawn.) This time, I have a ticket to the open camping area near the lake. We’ll see how it goes.

And yet I can’t wait for Fishing. On the 29th, I will get to hear Cz.K. Sebő, Lázár Tesók, Felső Tízezer, and Sasa Lele; on the 30th, Felső Tízezer (on the water stage), Anna Szalai and Gergő Dorozsmai, and who knows who else; on July 1st, Noémi Barkóczi, Kaláka, Esti Kornél, and Platon Karataev, and on Saturday, Jazzékiel, Galaxisok, and maybe the tail end of Elefánt. That’s in addition to others I will stumble upon or find my way to. And then there will be the walks around the lake, late at night and early in the morning; the serendipitous experiences, and maybe bike rides too, if I bring the bike.

But I am starting to have mixed feelings about it (not Fishing in particular, but the whole concept). I think some musicians do too. For them, the festival season can be grueling: one festival, one show after another, big crowds (unless they are one of the lesser-known bands, in which case there might be just a few people listening), people surrounding you, tight schedules, no place to unwind, think, or work on the music itself. And never mind the politics of scheduling: who gets booked and who doesn’t, who gets to play which dates and which stages, and who gets invited and then dropped. I have read some stories, not about Fishing, but about other festivals. I imagine that up to a point, performing at the festivals is great fun and professionally important, and then it gets exhausting.

For an audience member, there’s the whole challenge of staying there, which is usually necessary, at least for one night, and can also be fun (for one night). On the other hand, there’s an inequality to it all; you travel hours to get there, you pay to be there, you rough it out in a tent, but you’re “just” an audience member, “just” a fan, interchangeable, disposable. No one really cares if you are there or not. Which is great, in a way; the anonymity is part of the thrill. Just being able to go listen to the music, without having to explain yourself. And if you want, you can leave, and no one will even notice. But the nobodyness is an illusion; the audience is as important as the performers and as worthy of regard. The inequality is partly false. I say “partly” because it is also circumstantially true; the performers are on stage for a reason. They have audiences for a reason.

The inequality is also exacerbated by money. The reason musicians have such a dense schedule in festival season is that they need to make as much money as possible, to give them a little bit of a financial buffer for the rest of the year. The reason festivals pack in more audience members than they can house is, again, money. So then the question becomes: is this worth the money?

With regard to Fishing on Orfű: yes and no. To hear the musicians, yes. To be in the hills, in the woods, by a lake, among other eager listeners, yes. But to travel more than five hours each way (four and a half hours from Szolnok to Pécs, and then the bus or bike ride), only to have to fend for a place to sleep, which might end up unsleepable in a big downpour (it tends to rain there, because of the microclimate), and to be there for four days—I wonder not only if it’s worth it, but if I want to be in that position any more. If I were going with friends, it would be another matter. With friends, you can laugh, figure out solutions, enjoy each other’s company. But the only people I know who go to Fishing have their own plans. I am past the age where many of my friends do this kind of thing; I don’t mind being different, and enjoy doing things alone, but something about this is starting to feel too much, not just physically, but otherwise: I’m getting a little bit ruffled up dignity-wise. So I think I will go just for one night, and then again in August. Or else find a way to stay in Pécs and commute back and forth from the festival, which also means missing a few shows. It will be good, it will be enough, and at home I can listen to the other musicians’ albums.

Update: An inexpensive, conveniently located Pécs hotel ended up being the best solution; it takes about 50 minutes to go by bus from Pécs to Orfű, and the return buses run until around 11:30 at night. I am probably going to camp at Orfű on the last night, so as not to have to rush out before the end of the Galaxisok show (and to be able to attend Jazzékiel as well). So, a bit of commuting, but otherwise three days of comfort and all the music I had been hoping to hear, and then one night under the skies.

Festival Season

Until this year, I had little idea what the Hungarian music festival season was like. Last summer, the festivals were cancelled, and the summers before that, I was in the U.S. most of the time, both teaching and visiting. This year, I am attending three music festivals here in Hungary (two just overnight, with sleeping bag and tent, and another for three days). Three festivals (in addition to standalone concerts) is quite a bit for me, even though it’s a fraction of the whole.

If you are a musician in festival season, then you might spend the whole summer performing at one festival after another, with a few other concerts in between. Lots of fun, I imagine, but also demanding: being around so many people all the time and being expected to stick around for at least part of the event. Then again, it must be a great way of joining together, reuniting, playing for new audiences and on new stages (indoors, outdoors, on the water), getting to know other musicians, and enjoying some beautiful places. Each of these festivals has a character of its own. Last night, at the Mini Fishing on Orfű, I loved how relaxed and enthusiastic the audience was, how they danced and sang to the music. I felt right at home. But let me backtrack.

The festival Fishing on Orfű (named after a Kiscsillag EP) began in 2008. It was founded primarily by András Lovasi (the lead singer of Kiscsillag) and Tamás Kálocz. It started as a three-day festival, then was extended to four days; in 2017, in honor of Lovasi’s fiftieth birthday, it was five days long, and in 2020 it was cancelled because of Covid. This year, in addition to holding the main festival in August, the organizers decided to have a mini-festival in June. Hence Mini Fishing on Orfű. Orfű is about 18 kilometers northwest of Pécs (but what an 18 kilometers! I don’t think I have ever biked such hills before). It’s next to a small lake, the Pécsi-tó.

I went just for one night (this was one of the three festivals I mentioned earlier), since I have a lot to do here in Szolnok. To get there, I brought the bike on the train, went to Budapest, then transferred to a train that went to Pécs, and bicycled from Pécs to Orfű—a rather steep climb most of the way, then downhill for the last stretch. I had a tent, sleeping bag, and backpack with me. The whole thing seemed so unlikely, and I didn’t know if I had made a mistake. But when I rolled into Orfű, the sun was setting over the little lake, people were sitting by the water, and I quickly got my bearings and found out where the festival was.

I arrived at last, set up my tent (a bit of a challenge in the dark, but I figured it out), and then headed up the hill for the 30Y concert. It had already begun, but I got to hear most of it. I had heard only a few of their songs before (online), but the music and the audience’s love took over. At certain points the band would stop playing before a song ended, and the crowd would keep on singing, not just for a few seconds, but on and on, about a thousand people, an overwhelming feeling.

Then I went on a search for the stage where Platon Karataev would be playing. I finally found it and sat down for a little bit. Their concert was to begin at 1:20 a.m.; earlier in the evening, their bassist, Laci Sallai, had a solo concert at the TRIP Terasz. They arrived at some point after midnight and began setting up. Then Zsuzsanna, Atti (her husband), and Mesi came along and joined me in the front. We were right up close to the stage. I can’t describe the concert, except to say that it swept me up, song after song, “Aphelion,” “Ocean,” “Disguise,” “Orange Nights,” “Elevator,” and many others. I was so happy and excited to be right there, hearing these songs live. It was actually the first Platon Karataev concert I had ever attended, except for the acoustic duo last August.

Then I went to sleep in the tent. I had planned to get up at the crack of dawn, bike to Pécs, and take the 7:27 train. That was completely unrealistic; I woke up around 7:00, packed up, biked (the return trip was mostly downhill but still had some steep uphill parts), and barely missed the 9:27 train. So I waited for the 11:27 one. I got home late in the afternoon; the cats were fine and happy to see me.

How great to have this to think back on.

  • “To know that you can do better next time, unrecognizably better, and that there is no next time, and that it is a blessing there is not, there is a thought to be going on with.”

    —Samuel Beckett, Malone Dies

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

     

    Diana Senechal is the author of Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture and the 2011 winner of the Hiett Prize in the Humanities, awarded by the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. Her second book, Mind over Memes: Passive Listening, Toxic Talk, and Other Modern Language Follies, was published by Rowman & Littlefield in October 2018. In April 2022, Deep Vellum published her translation of Gyula Jenei's 2018 poetry collection Mindig Más.

    Since November 2017, she has been teaching English, American civilization, and British civilization at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium in Szolnok, Hungary. From 2011 to 2016, she helped shape and teach the philosophy program at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science & Engineering in New York City. In 2014, she and her students founded the philosophy journal CONTRARIWISE, which now has international participation and readership. In 2020, at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium, she and her students released the first issue of the online literary journal Folyosó.

  • INTERVIEWS AND TALKS

    On April 26, 2016, Diana Senechal delivered her talk "Take Away the Takeaway (Including This One)" at TEDx Upper West Side.
     

    Here is a video from the Dallas Institute's 2015 Education Forum.  Also see the video "Hiett Prize Winners Discuss the Future of the Humanities." 

    On April 19–21, 2014, Diana Senechal took part in a discussion of solitude on BBC World Service's programme The Forum.  

    On February 22, 2013, Diana Senechal was interviewed by Leah Wescott, editor-in-chief of The Cronk of Higher Education. Here is the podcast.

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    All blog contents are copyright © Diana Senechal. Anything on this blog may be quoted with proper attribution. Comments are welcome.

    On this blog, Take Away the Takeaway, I discuss literature, music, education, and other things. Some of the pieces are satirical and assigned (for clarity) to the satire category.

    When I revise a piece substantially after posting it, I note this at the end. Minor corrections (e.g., of punctuation and spelling) may go unannounced.

    Speaking of imperfection, my other blog, Megfogalmazások, abounds with imperfect Hungarian.

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