Festival Report: SulaFest 2019, Nashik
With 11 years of festivities under their belt, Sula Fest decided to up the ante with a power-packed lineup for their 12th edition
Over 10,000 attendees showed up over the weekend of February 2nd and 3rd to witness what was SulaFest’s most diverse lineup yet– with 23 artists offering hip-hop, funk, folk, rock, Bollywood, pop, electronica, fusion, soul and much more between them, there was fantastic music on the table for every kind of listener.
The festival, which takes place at Sula Vineyards in Nashik every February, has a reputation of elegance and diversity, attracting patrons of various backgrounds, nationalities and ages. SulaFest hosts everyone from college students taking a long weekend trip to catch their favorite musicians, to older crowds looking for a break from their hectic work schedules, and foreigners eager to see what India’s festival scene looks like.
We knew this year would be a little more hectic than usual–with desi hip-hop heading to new levels thanks to Bollywood film Gully Boy, Mumbai rapper Divine’s presence was sure to cause chaos–but were glad to see that the surplus crowd did little to dampen SulaFest and its organizers’ enthusiasm and determination to keep everyone safe and happy. Combine that with the food and music festival’s usual guarantee of good food and even better wine, and it’s possible we might have a winning example of consistency with escalation.
Day One was a little slow to begin, with the first 30 minutes spent just waiting to get in. The line was even longer for men, some waiting up to 45 minutes at a time. Post a thorough security check, we were ushered through a bright LED-lit tunnel towards another line for for alcohol permits and hand stamps to denote our ages to the numerous bars around the entire venue.
Then began our adventure– we made our way through a wine tasting session led by Vice President of Wine-making at Sula Vineyards, Karan Vasani (which was cut short by a quick dash backstage to meet Day One headliners Jungle) after which we settled down at the massive Amphitheatre stage to catch U.K.-based gypsy and ska act, Hallouminati’s set. The band were definitely the dark horse of the lineup with a highly engaging and creative performance that blended elements of Middle Eastern instrumentals with reggae and rock. Israeli hip-hop/funk collective Lucille Crew followed, combining great energy with intense hip-hop.
Hip-hop artist Malfunktion took on the role of a filler between sets and was joined by Buzzfeed’s Shayan Roy for their collaborative track “Charlie”– which fell flat compared to Malfunktion’s solo offerings of lush, dark fusion electronica.
It was difficult to leave the Amphitheatre and it’s positive vibes, but we did briefly check out Atmasphere to make sure we catch a portion of techno wizard Nikhil Chinapa’s fantastic set and later on German electronica artist Juliet Fox’s power-packed offerings. Atmasphere’s stage setup was nowhere near the scale of the Amphitheatre; the lack of lighting especially made it harder to see the artists and did little to prompt us into staying.
We found ourselves back at the Amphitheatre to wait for U.K. electro-funk outfit Jungle’s headlining set. Although they took the stage half an hour late, all was forgiven when they went on to deliver what was definitely the best performance at SulaFest 2019. The band performed some of their biggest hits like “Heavy, California” and “Beat 54 (All Good Now)” and the stage set-up was most impressive, flooded with red, pink and gold light. The mood remained dreamy, groovy and comfortable as Jungle breezed through song after song with seamless transitions. It kind of felt like attending a friend’s show–especially when the entire audience joined in to sing “Happy Birthday” to (a slightly flustered) frontman Tom McFarland. The band ended the evening with generous doses of confetti, their 2014 hit “Time” and a promise to come back to India. We left the venue with smiles on our faces and feeling more energized than exhausted.
The big time rush
Although Day One ended on such a breezy note, we prepared ourselves for the stark contrast Day Two would undoubtedly be. With heavy-hitters like Mumbai rap sensation Divine and Bollywood music director Shankar Mahedevan set to take the stage (that too on a Sunday) we mentally prepared ourselves for more chaos.
We arrived earlier, right at noon, and used the VIP entry which cut the entire process of waiting in line–plus security check and obtaining new alcohol permits– down to just three minutes. We highly recommend splurging on VIP tickets if you can, purely for how much easier it makes the entry process.
Post another quick wine-tasting session hosted by SulaFest and social app Bumble, we settled down with a drink at Amphitheatre to catch electronic duo Paraphoniks and the very charismatic vocalist Azaman Hoyvoy’s opening set. They were definitely a highlight of the day, creating a buzz among attendees around us, some walking up to ask us who they were, especially post their performance of their joint 2018 single “Vacillate.”
We gave Irish reggae-rockers Forelock and Arawak who were up next a skip, deciding to check out the Atmasphere stage where American electronica artist Oona Dahl wowed us with an intricate set. There wasn’t as much of a crowd which we lamented at first, but what we didn’t know then was that it would turn out to be a saving grace later on in the day.
As we had all predicted, things started getting a little more chaotic around early evening when Austrian rockers Mother’s Cake began their energetic set. Most of us, including the band, knew the crowd gathering was there for someone else. Despite the band’s tremendous effort, the crowd were getting restless and weren’t really feeling the rock and roll vibes. They did perk up however, when frontman Yves Krismer delivered a blistering guitar solo, and showed concern when he toppled over halfway through it, then cheering him on enthusiastically when he got up again to continue.
With what looked like 5000 people crammed in at the Amphitheater to see Divine, it got a little unpleasant. There was a lot of shoving as people fought for space to stand and watch the rapper with their friends and family. SulaFest’s security had things in control and safety only became a slight issue thanks to the people who had for some reason chosen to bring along their very tiny children–who were constantly in danger of getting trampled amid drunken champagne showers and almost-tussles, reinforcing our belief that a music festival is definitely no place for kids below 10.
Then finally, came the set most of the audience at Day Two were waiting for; desi hip-hop star Divine. Although he arrived an hour late and performed for just half of that time, the energy he created was undeniably worth it. The rapper delivered several of his anthemic classics like “Farak” and “Bantai” and added twists to some of them–like an EDM-infused version of “Scene Kya Hai” and a more rock and roll version of “Jungli Sher.” He also pleased the crowd by cruising through a few tracks from Gully Boy’s soundtrack, including the iconic “Mere Gully Mein” and the hair-raising Dub Sharma produced “Apna Time Aayega.” It was over in the blink of an eye and as the buzz died down, we realized it was getting hard to breathe and impossible to move.
We skipped Mahadevan for the sake of our sanity and headed to Atmasphere to catch the tail-end of U.K. prog artist Sasha’s headlining set, pushing our way through droves of people who refused to budge until they realized we just wanted to get out of the area. Arriving at Atmasphere was a blessing this time, as was the more relaxed vibe Sasha was spinning at the console. We finally managed to get something to eat and drink and ended the night with Indian producer Ankytrixx’s short but strong closing set.
The tussle with the crowds aside, we had a great time at SulaFest 2019.
Navigating the festival was easy; with just two stages and plenty of signs and staff around to give directions and offer any assistance, we could relax and take our time walking between stages instead of running helter-skelter to make it in time for a particular set. SulaFest made monetary transactions cashless and simple via PayTM cards which were accepted at all F&B outlets and could be topped up at any time at various booths across the grounds. The presence of cleaning staff at every corner made sure trash didn’t collect all through the evening.
The Sula Flea Market was adorable and offered several homegrown businesses a chance to boom. We also had fun checking out all the Instagram-friendly spots, like the several giant Sula bottles scattered all across the venue, an anti-gravity booth, the LED tunnel at the entrance and even a hand-painted psychedelic vintage car.
There were large public restrooms just for the festival, but patrons were also free to use the restrooms at the restaurants across Sula Vineyards’ property–a secret hack on Day One, but common knowledge by Day Two which sadly meant a lot more crowds. It was only at this point where hygiene became an issue–by the time we visited the loo at around nine pm, it was all a complete mess which could have been avoided by a having a few more staff stationed there.
Even with the influx of people and a slight crowd control issue as folks got a little more sloshed towards the end of the night, SulaFest managed to remain one of the most comfortable and well-organized festivals we attended this year. There were no major safety or medical incidents, no violence and everyone seemed to leave with a general feeling of happiness and satisfaction–including us. Of course leaving the venue to head back to our hotel was a challenge–the crowd of cars had us trapped in traffic for nearly an hour–but it’s a small price to pay and something we wouldn’t hesitate do all over again, just for SulaFest.