Half-way through a three-week work/play trip through the Balkans I found myself in the small fishing village of Petrcane, a ten-minute bus ride from the large port town of Zadar, half way up Croatia’s Adriatic coat. The most important word in that last sentence was ‘small’. The Garden Festival is the dramatic opposite of the mega-fest…a small site, a small line-up, and not many punters- maybe 1500 max. And therein lies the beauty of the whole thing.
The site itself is based, essentially, in the back garden of the Pinja Hotel. But what a back yard. The Pinija’s back garden is a pine-dotted peninsular jutting out into the sea lined with Croatia’s trademark pebbly beaches, which for a long weekend the Garden team did….well, not much with. The major imposition is a main stage for the headliners, pitched under the trees in the outdoor bit of the Barbarella nighclub (more on that later) roughly a minute’s walk from the sea. There’s a second bar on the waterfront with a little terrace for some more al-fresco dancing. There’s a mini massage and relaxation area too. But that’s it.
The small scale of the Garden Festival is everything. You can leave your mates and you’ll find them again in about five minutes. If you’ve left your camera at the campsite you can nip back and get it within the space of a couple of songs. If you meet someone you’ve enjoyed partying with, you WILL see them again the next night. Everyone was pottering about with silly, self-satisfied grins on their faces…each buzzing with that ‘Eureka’ feeling. What a discovery.
The music was mostly disco and house, always veering to the happy, bouncing end of the spectrum- the DJs weren’t trying to challenge you, they wanted you to have fun. During musical peaks the whole thing felt like a modern day Club Tropicana. Sure there were a few disco biscuits flying around, but the crowd was blissfully free of the kind of dickheads who turn up at festivals and spend the whole weekend snorting ketamine through their eyeballs.
The live acts were smashing too. On Friday night Crazy P were predictably excitable, with singer Danielle Moore bouncing around the stage with vigorous flashdance exuberance. On Saturday I saw the Soil and Pimp Sessions, a five-and-a-half piece jazz band from Tokyo. Good God. I honestly can’t remember a more impressive live act. The saxophonist, the trumpeter, the drummer, keyboard and bass player…each was nothing less than a virtuoso. Probably the goddam coolest hipster virtuosos you’ll ever see too. Wild sax riffs were played with cap slung to the side and one leg mounted menacingly on the speakers. The trumpeter wore skinny jeans and a punk-rock vest and check shirt combo, playing notes one-handed and with body buckled backwards in a semi-circle, brass akimbo.
If you want to go to the front, you can, easily. If you want to go for a pee, or a quick swim for that matter, you’ll be back at the front within minutes. During the set Mr Scruff was bouncing around in front of me- there’s no backstage or VIP area at Garden…all the acts were mingling around enjoying the fun too. Other party options include the Argonaut boat parties (imagine a booze cruise, just a lot, lot cooler) and the 60s-style Barbarella nightclub dug into the earth under the peninsular. A handful of options, but it felt like my cup was runething (sic.) over.
After each night’s revelry it was back to the campsite, a five-minute wander back up the coast. Yes, each morning you wake up in a freshly-baked tent (there are plenty of apartment options too by the way, we’re just cheapskates). But then… oooh and then…one simply heads to the beach -you could probably roly-poly it it’s so close- and jump in the sea. Yes, yes and more yes.
All in all a roaring success. But with great success come great responsibility. Please, purleeeaze Mr and Mrs Garden festival… try to resist the temptation to expand. The thing is the size. Well, an extra 500 people might be ok actually, but not too many more. You get the point. Brilliant. Check out the Flickr photo set here.