‘Sometimes it takes going back to nature to rediscover what the meaning of life is all about’ – Meadows In The Mountains
On the Rhodope Mountains in the village of Polkovnik Serafimovo in Bulgaria, a four-hour drive from Sofia airport, Meadows In The Mountains Festival breathes its air of magic in June each year.
This year marked the eight year of the festival, originally founded by British brothers Damian and Benji Sasse as a result of their family home residing in a nearby village. The site, just a half an hour walk from the village, is now home to the festival.
The festival has grown significantly in size since its maiden voyage with each year bringing a new set of inhabitants to the space. A feeling of belonging surrounds the land, each section and person at the festival fits in its own place without disturbance.
The local Bulgarian people of the village become a significant part of the festival. My host for the duration of my stay is an elderly woman named Vera. Although she did not speak a word of English her welcoming arms and persistence to communicate to me in Bulgarian offered a warm sense of comfort. She facilitates her guests with all of their needs, even if it took a full 10 minutes to communicate the need of a towel for the shower.
The locals run a shuttle bus service from the village to the festival on a constant around-the-clock basis, whilst also working at the shops, bars and providing general assistance in a serene and friendly manner. I quickly noticed the frequent selling of handcrafted cowbells, which appears to be an intrinsic tradition of the village.
A fervent sense of environmental awareness is interwoven throughout the collective psyche at the festival. Smokers are encouraged to purchase pocket ashtrays so as to not dispose of their waste on the land, a rule that seemed to be abided. Bins to separate waste are also laid out at various spots around the site. No plastic is permitted on the site, goers are asked to buy a tin cup, within which they receive their beverages from the bar. The encouragement to look after the environment and surrounding demesne at the festival is a cause for reflection, giving a deeper understanding of the importance of looking after the land that we walk on and appreciating nature in all its glory.
Musical highlights at the festival do not come as a scarcity as there is no one musical genre used to describe the sound of the festival. A wide range of tastes will be duly satiated; from dub and disco to garage, techno, soul, drum and bass and a whole lot more to explore. I found myself fully engrossed in each set that I chose out of the many, staying from start to finish, fully present in the moment.
First up on the Friday were Irish duo Murrin and Gill, a pleasant surprise to bump into these boys just an hour before their set. They brought the woods to life with disco, funk and soul, groove after grove. Even dropping in the classic Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’, a very fitting song to get the crowd moving considering the setting.
Following from this and closing off the main stage for the first night of the festival was the infectious and highly entertaining Little Gay Brother who state themselves as ‘the gay party for everyone’, a description that one cannot argue with upon experiencing it. This party originated at The Secret Garden Party festival in the UK six years ago and is now taking the UK by storm. It appeared that everyone literally wanted to jump on stage and join in with the fun of dancing, theatrical performances and outright entertainment. This show left me breathless and desperately wanting more.
Brazilian-Norwegian jazz singer Charlotte Dos Santos set a soulful tone for the night’s proceedings on the main stage on the Saturday. Her presence bears resemblance to that of an elegant Jorja Smith or IADDB. With stand-out tracks like ‘Moving On’ and ‘Red Clay’, she is a vibrant artist worth keeping an eye on.
My experience at the sunrise stage was backed up by London duo Dan Tyler and Condrad McDonnell aka Idjut Boys who played an eclectic set, which featured dub-based disco, a style of music that appeared consistently throughout the festival and seemed a favourite to many. As the sun climbs the horizon, realisation dawns. Here you are literally among the clouds. The serenity of your surroundings becomes apparent as night breaks back into day. A truly humbling experience.
If I had to pick a musical highlight of the festival it would be South-African singer-songwriter Alice Phoebe Lou. She brought a very dominant stage presence and a charismatic form of self-expression. Accompanied by a band, delivering a much more jazzy set than expected, this was her second appearance at the festival following her performance last year. She has now made herself part of this community and was seen wandering around, enjoying the festival herself throughout the weekend.
As a wind down from the buzz of the festival, or simply to just take a rest and enjoy the surroundings, purpose-built installations are dotted throughout the site. My personal favourite was the honeycomb hive, as I sat there I was approached by a Bulgarian woman, we began conversing about the rich heritage and culture of the Bulgarian people and their precious land, and how in a similar way to Ireland there is a sense of magic to behold from the hinterland. Before she leaves she softly remarks to my companions and I, “To look at the forty shades of green alone here is enough to keep you happy”, a statement of truth that continues to make my heart flutter.
Just over three thousand people attended this instalment of Meadows In The Mountains. The festival seems to have grown from a group of friends, expanding each year and continuing to form it’s own community. The Sasse brothers Benji and Damian who founded this festival remain somewhat of a mystery. Upon arrival I was told they were in attendance but that “some may meet them and some may not”, unfortunately, I was one of those who did not, but I was there to experience what they have created, and it is nothing less than magic.
My words can only go so far to provide a description of what I experienced at the festival, but the happenings at Meadows In The Mountains are limitless and the landscape and views alone are truly a once in a lifetime experience to behold. This trip is one I will never forget. I have come down from the mountain but the air that I felt up there will live with me forever.
Photos by Aron Keling and Jack Pasco
Gifs by Grayce Leonard