The Budapest Glastonbury

One of the most common views aired at this year’s Sziget Festival in Budapest was how much it resembles Glastonbury, an opinion shared by many of the visiting journalists and the acts that played the event.

Festival press and PR coordinator Gergÿ Salamon rounded up a posse of international journalists because he felt the old Eastern Bloc’s longest-running outdoor wasn’t getting as much global coverage as some of its younger neighbours like Serbia’s Exit Festival and Poland’s Heineken Open ‘Er.

Salamon felt it was time Sziget, which was established in 1993, four years after the fall of Communism, reminded Western Europe of its heritage.

If he’d also wanted references, he’d have had no problem getting them from the acts on this year’s bill. This may be where the Glastonbury comparisons started.

“This atmosphere is magical. Perhaps this is the world’s greatest festival, even better than Glastonbury,” said Sister Bliss of Faithless, which has played Sziget so many times it might be considered a regular.

“We would really love to come back as soon as possible,” said James Ford of Simian Mobile Disco. “This festival is a lot like Glastonbury, it’s huge and there are plenty of programs.”

Although the festival has had its run-ins with the local authorities, particularly in 2007 when the mayor of Budapest’s 4th District unsuccessfully sued it for being too loud, it now seems to be winning favour with politicians.

This year’s visitors included Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis, the U.S. Ambassador to Hungary and another Sziget regular, who described it as “the best party in Europe.”

The national MPs putting in an appearance included Zsolt Nyitrai and Bence Rétvári, who described Sziget as “Hungary’s third most important country-brand” – apparently behind former international soccer player Ferenc Puskás and Rubik’s Cube.

This year’s festival attracted 382,000 people Aug. 11-16, only 2 percent down on the record-breaking 390,000 it pulled in 2009 and in line with the average crowds of the last five or six years. Half of the fans came from outside of Hungary.

Event chief Károly Gerendai was quick to announce that Sziget 2010 has made a profit, saying he’s pleased that the recession and the wet weather appear to have no significant impact on the event.

The acts enjoying the magical atmosphere on an island in The Danube also included Iron Maiden, Muse, The Hives, Ill Niño, Billy Talent, Kasabian, and Gorillaz Sound System.