Famous as they are for using every marketing trick in the book to get people onboard, it is perhaps a little surprising that so many airlines – and particularly the low cost ones – have not seen the value in luring British passengers to foreign music festivals.
That seems set to change. The eastern European budget airline Wizz Air (roughly an equivalent of Ryanair) is encouraging the UK’s music lovers to “rock out” with it this summer, as it identifies festivals in Serbia, Romania, Czech Republic, Latvia and Poland as offering better value for money,
Taking Glastonbury (perhaps unreasonably) as the benchmark, where the ticket price, inclusive of booking fee this year was £243, Wizz Air is promoting the following events, where “A-List headliners rival the best of British festivals” and where you can “bask in the summer sun” instead of “getting stuck in the famous British mud” with the entry cost (using the foreign exchange website xe.com) and lowest air fare in each case as follows:
Exit Festival, Serbia, 6-9 July
Headliners: The Killers, Liam Gallagher, Years & Years, Duke Dumont
Tickets from €142/£120
Sample airfare £53 one way. (Overall package at these prices, without accommodation, £226).
“Features over 10 stages spanning a range of musical genres.”
Electric Castle, Romania, 12-16 July
Headliners: Deadmau5, Franz Ferdinand, Paul Van Dyke
Tickets from €98/£82.80
Sample airfare £25.99 one way. (Overall package at these prices, without accommodation, £134.80).
“Electric Castle hosts music from a mix of alternative and dance acts to street performance and stand-up comedy.”
Colours of Ostrava, Czech Republic, 19-22 July
Headliners: Jamiroquai, Imagine Dragons, Norah Jones
Tickets from €114/£96.30
Sample airfare £39.49 one way. (Overall package at these prices, without accommodation, £175.30).
“With a multi-genre music line-up and 20 open air and covered stages, the festival hosts concerts, discussions, theatre performances, films and workshops.”
OFF Festival, Poland, 4-6 August
Headliners: PJ Harvey, Swans, Feist
Tickets from €73/£61.65
Sample airfare £19.99 one way. (Overall package at these prices, without accommodation, £101.63).
“The city of Katowice is home to the indie-hub that is OFF for four days of music from alternative artists and a range of independent arts and culture events, including exhibitions, workshops and movie screenings.”
Positivus, Latvia, 14-16 July
Headliners: Maximo Park, The Lumineers, The Pixies
Tickets from €83/£70.25
Sample airfare £25.99 one way. (Overall package at these prices, without accommodation, £122.25).
“The 3-day festival features 5 stages, a vintage arts and crafts market and a family-friendly ‘Kids Island’.”
Phoda, Slovakia, 6-8 July
Headliners: Solange, M.I.A, Alt-J
Tickets from €89/£75.30
Sample airfare £19.99 one way. (Overall package at these prices, without accommodation, £115.30).
“The event takes over the space with a relaxed vibe and an eclectic musical line-up, with rock, pop, folk, metal and electronic music across the weekend.“
Tauron Nowa Muzyka, Poland, 6-9 July
Headliners: Roisin Murphy, The Cinematic Orchestra, Sohn
Tickets from €70/£59.25
Sample airfare £19.99 one way. (Overall package at these prices, without accommodation, £99.25).
“The three-time winner of the European Festival Award for Best Small Festival in Europe showcases the most interesting newcomers and the biggest names in electronic music, jazz, rock and hip-hop”.
Meadows in the Mountains, Bulgaria, 9-11 June
Tickets from €143/£121
Sample airfare £17.49 one way. (Overall package at these prices, without accommodation, £156.00).
“It boasts a soundtrack of dance and electronica and a stunning view, with the option to stay on for the Orpheus Pool Party to end the weekend on a high”.
Open’er, Poland, 28 June–1 July
Headliners: Radiohead, Foo Fighters, The Weeknd
Tickets from €151/127.85
Sample airfare £19.99 one way. (Overall package at these prices, without accommodation, £167.85).
“Open’er takes up residence at Gdynia-Kosakowo Airport. The festival features a range of artists from the world’s rock and hip hop. It also provides a host of arts activities including a library, a silent disco and a Kid’s Zone.”
Untold, Romania, 3-6 August
Headliners: Afrojack, Armin Van Buuren, Axwell & Ingrosso
Tickets from €85/£71.95
Sample airfare £25.99 one way. (Overall package at these prices, without accommodation, £123.95).
“The largest annual electronic music festival held in Romania, Untold is also the self-proclaimed ‘World Capital of Night and Magic’. It is hosted across three locations in the unofficial capital of the Transylvania region, Cluj-Napoca.”
The selection is spread across seven countries, with Poland hosting the most (3), which is indicative of the breadth of the low-cost airlines’ networks now. In each case, the total flight plus entry package is considerably lower than the Glastonbury entrance fee (which doesn’t include the cost of getting there) and in the case of Tauron Nowa Muzyka by almost £144, although the range of performers comes nowhere near the size and scope of Glastonbury. Presumably, camping is included in the entrance fee.
It must be stressed that the airfares are the lowest advertised (they could, in reality, be much higher), may not include taxes and you might have to travel a long way to the British airport. Some of the flights operate from several airports across the UK while in other cases there may be only one airport used here (London Luton figures in all cases).
At the end of the day you make your choice, pay your money and take your chance. If there are one or more bands on that are to your taste it may be worth the effort and you will be exposed to local bands you will almost certainly never have heard of (and who might be pretty good) along with alien local cultures. And while the ‘British mud/summer sun’ comparison might be pushing it a bit, the temperatures in central Europe in the summer are usually a fair bit higher than they are in Blighty. If it stays dry you’ll come back looking like you spent a week on a Costa.
How does it actually work out in practice? GIGsoup was recently invited to take part in several panel discussions at a start-up wholly indie band/soloist festival and conference in Sweden called Gefle Gas, about 75 miles north of Stockholm; the event was held in a tastefully converted redundant gasworks. Booking late in the day because of potentially clashing work commitments, the airfare from Manchester to Stockholm and return (via Oslo, direct flights were full) came to £215 and a comfortable hotel (camping days are over) to £105 for two nights.
Those prices are more realistic for a late booking although the airfare could have been halved if booked, say, two months in advance. It is the unexpected costs that have to be borne in mind. A train fare of over £50 return, even on the slower indirect trains that require a change en-route; taxis that cost £15 for two miles (there was no bus service) and astronomic food and beverage costs.
While the event was wonderful (Swedish indie bands have an incredibly high standard and the festival featured everything from meditation music to punk to three hours of non-stop electronica from 10 artists in rotation) that is the price that has to be paid there. But all of the events listed above take place in countries with much, much lower costs.
Wizz Air has latched on to a potential money spinner here, and we can expect to see more airlines promoting rock festivals in their own countries. It should not be forgotten that there is already a champion of this activity.
The Iceland Airwaves event is nine years old this year. Held initially as a one-off, one-day happening in a hangar at Reykjavik’s domestic airport it has evolved into an annual five-day event, sponsored by its founder, Icelandair, which showcases new music by both Icelandic bands (think Sugarcubes, Björk, Sigur Rós, GusGus, Ásgeir, Ólafur Arnalds,Of Monsters and Men and so many others you’d never believe the total population was only just over 300,000) and foreign ones. It has spread to embrace just about every bar (there are many), and any other buildings that could be used as a venue, in downtown Reykjavik.
Now even that has a rival. The Secret Solstice Festival, sponsored by Icelandair’s competitor WOWair, which also organises packages there, is quickly establishing itself as an alternative, summer, event (“blessed” by almost constant daylight) to November’s Iceland Airwaves. It also offers side-events like a Midnight Sun Boat Party and an excursion ‘Into the Glacier’ which might be led by Soffía Björg, who has featured in GIGsoup, plays Secret Solstice this year, and who moonlights from her musical career as a tour guide. Iceland is nothing if not eccentric.
As might be expected though, these extravaganzas quickly eat into your savings. If you’re looking for a cheap deal that has the stamp of a budget airline on it, stick with Tauron Nowa Muzyka.