THE NUMBER of people who year after year return to the Bažant Pohoda festival suggests that the organisers of this open-air event, which takes place annually at Trenčín airport, chose an appropriate name: ‘pohoda’ means being easy and relaxed.
The 16th festival, held between July 5 and 8 this year, attracted approximately 30,000 people, and only around 1,000 tickets, costing between €59 and €99, remained unsold. The event offered a mix of different music genres as well as forums for discussion of current social and political issues. The CNN news website ranks Pohoda among the 50 top festivals worldwide, according to the festival’s website.
Michal Kaščák, Pohoda’s chief executive officer and founder, declared the festival a success and told The Slovak Spectator that only two bands – out of almost 200 acts scheduled to play – failed to show up. Kaščák also referred to virtualfestival.com, a site that reviews festivals, mainly in Europe, which gave the festival 10 out of a possible 10 points.
The festival programme began at 20:00 on July 5 with sets by two bands – one Czech, one Slovak – and ended on July 8 with an ecumenical mass. It offered a wide enough range of musical experience to appeal to fans of pop, rock, alternative and even rap music.
Scores of individual performers and bands played across the festival’s fifteen-odd stages, tents and zones, among them Lou Reed, The Kooks, Public Enemy and Slovak singer Jana Kirschner. The festival also attracted Slovak public figures like former prime minister Iveta Radičová, investigative journalist Tom Nicholson, former police chief Jaroslav Spišiak, and national ice hockey team member Michal Handzuš, according to the Pohoda website.
As is now traditional, various NGOs such as political ethics watchdog Fair-Play Alliance and Dobrá Krajina, a website run by the Pontis Foundation, which collected €17,087 to support non-profit projects, participated in the festival in order to advocate the causes they represent.
“Pohoda is an amazing place and Michal Kaščák is a great visionary,” Zuzana Wienk, the head of Fair-Play Alliance, told The Slovak Spectator. She added that he had managed to create a much deeper dimension to what could have been just a regular festival.
Variety of activities
Given the variety of activities on offer, there was little opportunity for visitors to become bored. The layout and scheduling of the festival meant attendees were easily ‘distracted’ by performances that they stumbled across while en route to the gigs they were planning to see.
The festival menu included items such as fairground rides, but also artistic activities such as an oriental dance workshop, a book-reading club and theatre performances. More than a dozen discussions on political, public or scientific issues provided a forum for those visitors who were not looking for easygoing fun, but a more challenging experience instead.
“In Slovakia, where I feel that people are not really interested in these issues, suddenly there are people who care about the media,” Lukáš Diko, the head of news at TV Markíza, told The Slovak Spectator, referring to a debate about media ethics.
Perhaps along with the diversity of the programme, it is the relaxed atmosphere of the event, reflected in its name, that visitors most appreciate.
“People here are very cool; you do not have so many drunk people running wild all the time,” Thekla Mikscha, a 19-year-old Austrian student of art and Spanish, told The Slovak Spectator, adding that even though security measures were not ultra-strict one did not have to worry about having things stolen.
This year 1,491 children under 12, a record number, visited the festival, up markedly from the 855 who came last year, according to the Pohoda website: a sign, perhaps, of the sense of security felt by festival-goers.
The spirit of respect for diversity was clearly expressed by the several hundred people who participated in a workshop to teach traditional gypsy dances, which saw non-Roma embrace Roma culture in a way which was, by Slovak standards, uncharacteristically open.
With a festival of this size it was hard to avoid some mishaps, especially with temperatures hitting 34 degrees Celsius (93.2 degrees Fahrenheit). Several people collapsed, while disruption was caused by a series of thunderstorms, one of which interrupted the programme for about an hour.
A more serious complication, which attracted widespread coverage in the local media, was a diarrhoeal infection which occurred during the second half of the festival and affected more than 100 people. It was reportedly caused by norovirus – also known as “dirty hands sickness” – according to the Sme daily, citing the Regional Public Health-Care Office in Trenčín.
There was criticism regarding access to water supplies, which due to the heat came under heavy pressure: there were long queues for the public showers, especially in the mornings. Participants also complained about a lack of drinking water in the area set aside for tents.
However, the organisers got high marks for handling the situation during the thunderstorms. Jon Wright, a journalist from the virtualfestivals.com website, observed that “women and children are shuttled into nearby aircraft hangars, all stages close down and the site is virtually cleared”.
The precautions were understandable: just three years ago the 2009 festival was tragically cut short by the collapse of large tent during a gale, which led to two deaths and left almost 100 other people injured.