The People Rock It Up A Notch

Rock For People festival’s switch from Chesky Brod to the old military airfield on the outskirts of Hradec Kralove looks to be a big step toward confirming the Czech festival as one of the best in the old eastern bloc.

It doesn’t have the cachet or the capacity of Hungary’s 60,000-plus Sziget Festival (August 8-14), generally regarded as the leader among the outdoor fests building in the old Soviet satellite states, or the unique laid-back political cool of Serbia’s 50,000-capacity Exit Festival (July 12-15). But, along with the previous weekend’s Heineken Open’er Festival in Gydnia, Poland, this year’s July 4-6 gathering showed it’s steadily moving up to average per-day crowds equaling some of the regular Western European festivals.

Next year, for the first time since walls and old communist governments came tumbling down, the inclusion of Romania’s new and apparently instantly successful Bucharest B’Estival and Slovakia’s 10-year-old 30,000-capacity Pohoda July 20-21 could mean acts and agents have the opportunity to play as many as a half-dozen established and reliable festivals in the central and southeast European regions.

Festival co-organiser Stepan Suchochleb said the major factor in RFP’s success has been its ability to reach a wide age group.

"Festivals in the Czech Republic are new to youngsters who are growing up, but let’s not forget that they can also be new for older people who didn’t see such things under 40 or so years of communism," he explains.

The strategy is reflected in the billing. One of the biggest crowds to gather in front of the second stage on the second day was for Jaroslav Uhlir, a middle-aged gentleman who sings his apparently hysterically funny songs to his own keyboard accompaniment.

The best-received contemporary national act to play the main stage was Divokej Bill, a major record-seller in the Czech Republic, whose efforts to export their talent includes a well-attended June 20 show at London’s Islington Carling Academy.

"We’re glad that RFP is now the biggest and most established festival in the Czech Republic. We have a solid base of hardcore fans that will always come no matter who’s playing," Suchochleb said. "It’s our dream to sell all the tickets before we announce the lineup, as in the case of the U.K.’s Glastonbury Festival.

"Our audience base is steadily growing and, with our proven record of working with various bigger as well as smaller acts, we can now pretty much talk to any big international agent," he said. "We know that lack of finances – our three-day ticket only costs around 25 euros (US$34) – sets a limit on what we can bring, but it can be overcome by good reputation and hospitality we provide for all our acts."

The new 30,000-capacity site is on the old Czech military base at Hradec Kralove – about a 90-minute drive up the new M12 motorway that goes north of Prague – where one of the bunkers still houses a Russian-built jet fighter.

Other bunkers have been converted into smaller stages and bars, with another – with metre-thick walls – being used to house a media centre for journalists.

The international acts July 4-6 included The Killers, Basement Jaxx, The Hives, Enter Shikari, Levellers, Mory Kante, No Means No, Sick Of It All and Disco Ensemble, the Finnish band that’s winning fans during festival shows it picked up via Eurosonic-Noorderslag’s European Talent Exchange Programme.

There was also a strong German contingent among the major acts, including Beatsteaks, Die Happy and Puppetmastaz.