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Festival Report: Slovakia’s Pohoda Festival and Its Holy Grail

Built on the foundations of the true love for music, flower power, art, culture and bringing people together; Pohoda is a one of its kind festival with its mind, soul and heart at the right place.

Gaurav Narula Nov 19, 2018

Chemical Brothers performing at Pohoda Festival in Slovakia. Photo: Martin-Šopinec

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This summer, I along with with four other friends originally from Slovakia, with a weekend’s supply of intoxications including a few of bottles of Borovička (traditional Slovakian alcohol made of Juniper berries), started our eight-hour car journey from Berlin to Trenčín, the birthplace of Pohoda Festival, which took place from July 5th to 7th.

For many Slovakians, the journey to this festival regardless of wherever they are coming from is nothing short of an annual pilgrimage. In 1997, just four years after gaining full autonomy from Czechoslovak, Pohoda laid its first holy sound system. Ever since, it has become an institution, a cult, started by Michal Kascak and Mario Michna — two musicians, visionaries, and activists, who are still the main driving force behind the tribe, attracting hordes of devotees of all age groups, in all sizes, selling out to the maximum capacity of 30,000, for the past few years.

Wearied of attending the same festivals year after year, I wanted to explore a festival I had never been before, something different, and I can confidently report I found exactly that and much more. While Pohoda, as a festival in the past few years has been gaining steady momentum on the top European festivals lists, it has been a national pride for the last 21 years.

The crowd coming into the old military airbase that serves as Pohoda Festival’s site. Photo: Michal Augustini

About two hour’s journey from the capital city of Bratislava, or ten minutes drive from the center of Trenčín town, Pohoda takes place on the old military airbase. As soon as you reach the open panoramic festival site, you can’t help notice the vivid paradoxical truths — a country steadfastly dealing with the ghosts of the Soviet past, the infamous socialist era architecture that is distinctly visible in the broad expanse, adjoined with lush farmlands and fields, modernized housing and the majestic Trenčín Castle, an architectural elegance standing tall dating back to the Roman era. In between all this, holds this embodiment of modern Utopian reality, a conglomeration of music lovers, freethinkers, bohemians, friends, families, acquaintances, performing artists, who come together year after year, to celebrate, embrace hedonism and explore their inner hippie for an extended weekend.

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What I have discovered at Pohoda over the course of three days is it is much more than it’s hefty headliners and big flashy stages. Pohoda as a festival is not afraid to take a moral or political stand when it comes to facing the current burning issues of their country and confront the ruling government. This year, the first day of the festival was heartwarmingly dedicated to Ján Kuciak and Martina KuÅ¡nírová, Slovakian investigative journalist and his fiancée who were found murdered in their home early this year. But then, such are the virtues that a festival gains when one puts their heart and soul into creating something more significant than the sum of all its stages or finances.

A performance art installation at Pohoda Festival in Slovakia. Photo: Martina Mlcuchova

All Music Big and Small

Having witnessed some of the most trailblazing underground acts along with the biggest headliners, over the festival weekend, it is safe to conclude Pohoda is way ahead of the curve compared to many other multi-genre music festivals across the world. The programming comprises the biggest of international musical acts as well as artists who might be less prevalent on the music charts but at their most pertinent and exciting stage of career. The festival surely seems to have their finger on the pulse with not only what is hot in the global music scene but also what is moving and shaking in the underground. Over the three days of the festival, I experienced a lineup that veered into the realms of rock, pop, jazz, classical, electronica, experimental, metal, world music, tropical bass, ska, hip-hop, slam poetry, spoken word and possibly every genre imaginable, all under one breath.

With eight stages of all sizes spread across the festival site, this year’s lineup included The Chemical Brothers, Jamie Cullum, St. Vincent, LP, Jessie Ware, Ziggy Marley, Rodriguez, Fink, GusGus, Aurora, Little Dragon, Kronos Quartet, Blossoms, Everything Everything, BadBadNotGood, Calexico, El Gusto, La Femme, Knower, Helena Hauff, Scouting for Girls, Riot Days by Pussy Riot Theatre, Bazzookas, Ross From Friends, Dälek, Bukahara, Donny Benét, Ifriqiyya Electrique, Trosky, and many more.

St Vincent live at Pohoda Festival, Slovakia. Photo: Martina Mlcuchova

Turning to the Sun 

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Starting at 5 AM on a Saturday and Sunday since 2005, the ”˜Welcoming of the Sun’ ceremony is one of the most unique and exhilarating festival traditions I have ever experienced. This ceremony is not based on and does not involve your usual morning prayer service, but it is the most dynamic, eclectic and euphoric morning dance party you will ever witness.

The ceremony is usually lead by an accomplished band or group of acclaimed musicians coming together to create the most unique vibe. Depending on which side of the raver spectrum you view from — for some it’s the last concert they attend after a long night of dancing, and for some others, it’s the first concert of the day. But, amongst all this revelry, the fundamental goal remains common and that is to welcome, accept and be thankful for the new day that is coming.

Jamie Cullum live at Pohoda Festival, Slovakia. Photo: Michal Augustini

To state the cliché, some things cannot be described by words, but they just need to be experienced, and the ”˜Welcoming of the Sun’ ceremony is definitely one of those experiences.

To sum up Pohoda without sounding melodramatic is tough. It is a festival full of the most pleasant little revelations, friendliest and open-minded people, eclectic and well structured at the same time. It’s got a lineup that is more diverse than the Lollapaloozas and Coachellas of the world put together. There is music for the music lovers, workshops for the restless, poetry and listening sessions for the curious, performing arts and theatre for the intellectually stimulated, visual arts for the trippers, along with a range of beers, bio wines, food options for the epicurists. No matter what you are looking for, you are bound to discover something special for yourself.

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