Ok, this is one hell of a festival! In religious terms, it's the Holy Grail; and it's fully deserving of a yearly pilgrimage to kneel at the altar of Bulgarian hedonism.
When you start to book your trip to Meadows, the first thing you'll notice is it’s not the easiest festival to get to. You have a choice of flying to Sofia followed by a six-seven hour coach ride to the festival accommodation, or catching a much less frequent flight to Plovdiv which is two hours away.
I decided to hire a car with a view to doing some exploring after the festival, and set off on a road trip through the cities and towns of Bulgaria and the absolutely stunning Rhodopes mountains on the approach to the festival. If you have the time, I'd highly recommend driving there with friends, it's an experience I'll never forget.
On arrival, I made my way to the Meadows HQ in the centre of the village of Polkovnik Serafimovo. The village centre is little more than an office, small store and the Pink House; a pub with a selection of food and drinks. There were plenty of free shuttle taxis waiting to take people up to the festival site and lots of 'Meadowers' milling about.
The head office was hot and chaotic. My ticket came up as invalid several times and the scanner would not work for most of the attempts, but after convincing the staff that I hadn't travelled for 13 hours to try and blag free entry I was allowed into the fold.
After finally checking in and receiving a wristband, we headed to the accommodation. You have a choice of camping or staying in a local house and we chose the latter. The campsites are slightly closer to the site, but there's not much in it. The house accommodations are quite basic, and usually just a bed in a room and a shared bathroom / toilet. There were three of us sharing one room, plus another two rooms each with a couple. Our room had no curtains over the windows and squeaky metal framed beds, but apparently our shower room was above average compared to some less fortunate Meadowers! Not all the houses have showers too – something to look out for when making your booking.
After freshening up, our little group sat outside the house for a drink before heading off to the site for the evening. We were joined by our hosts and though they spoke no English we had a great time introducing them to gin and trying to communicate with our hands. This was a theme repeated throughout our stay; every local we met was lovely but we struggled with the language barrier on almost every interaction.
We headed to the closest eatery to grab some beers as the festival has a no alcohol policy when you go through the gate. Prices are very cheap at 15 Lev for a bottle of Prosecco (about £5.50), 4 Lev for a beer (about £1.50) and food is also priced well with salads, omelettes and pizzas going for 6 Lev (about £2.20).
With enough food to power us through the night, we wandered down to catch one of the free shuttle taxis to the top. All in all it’s about an hour from the accommodation to entry gate, so you need to take everything with you as you won’t want to lose a few hours popping back home to pick up something you forgot to bring. This also highlighted the many outfits you need to keep with you when you go up, as during the day the sun is relentless and at night it gets very cold.
Once at the top, we had the last section to overcome, a steep climb up a dirt track to the entry point. It’s such a small crowd at Meadows that there was never a queue to get in; something we were all very grateful to see after the last hike up the hill.
Once inside the festival, the first thing I noticed was how open it felt, despite some of it being in a forest, there were never any huge crowds to get through. The main stage was immediately after the entry gate, with a few hay bales for seating and a bar a little further along, with some toilets opposite. Again, no queues anywhere, either to get a drink or to dispose of one, everything was available immediately. Being set amongst some of the most stunning natural backdrops and on top of a mountain, the organisers have thought about their environmental responsibilities and you need to buy a tin cup for £1.50 if you want a drink to take away; this worked very well, there was hardly any litter on the mountain site at all.
Although there were only about 800 people in attendance, you find yourself constantly making friends; meeting the guys who built the Trojan horse, Dakota, and the stages and huts gives a sense that the festival is as much about the people as it is about the music. It still feels very underground and on a few occasions I was asked how I had heard about it.
Music-wise, one highlight was Bruno Schmidt’s set, an eclectic mix of techy house progressing into darker techno territory, at the Sunrise Stage. If you’ve researched Meadows at all, you would have seen photos of the morning sun rising over misty clouds and mountain tops in the distance. This is where we were for most of the festival and this is the time you do not want to miss.
After Bruno, we went exploring. This is an absolute must if you visit. There were so many treats just past this bush, or just around that hedge. Like a viewing platform overlooking the valley with breathtaking views, or the Holistic Geo Dome where massage, yoga, sound healing and shamanic ceremonies were on offer.
We also stumbled across a secret tree house where wooden planks and ladders provided somewhere to sit and take a pause while still being close enough to hear the music.
On the Sunday we were eager to see our friends De fuego share their energetic and upbeat guitar duelling, this time at the main stage. We are always in awe of the intensity with which they play, as if they are battling each other for supremacy, and the setting of a mountain top and friendlier than average crowd seemed to gee them on even further.
Taking the top spot for our favourite DJ set overall was Jane Fitz. It’s a tough task categorising her music, but we heard some familiar deep house numbers, some more techno flavours and a dash of acid. Jane's set was back at the Sunrise Stage, and for the second time that weekend, we were treated to a breaking morning that made people sit down, stop talking and just be.
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Meadows in the Mountains 2015 review
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