Chengdu Big Love Music Festival: First impressions
So did it live up to its own hype?
Well, it's definitely big, we'll give it that. The grounds are so huge that running back and forth between four stages, beer stands, and the toilets for 10 hours is enough to tire out the legs of nearly middle-aged half-marathon runners. The scale of the grounds made the crowds seem sparse, but given that Thursday was officially a work day, the biggest acts play on later days, and skeptics never show up on the first day, we won't be surprised if there's a massive increase in attendance on Days 2, 3, and 4.
Our impressions from Day 1:
The stages All four are pretty spectacular: All boast several huge, clear live video displays, huge sound (some speakers were already farting by the end of the first day though), and ample hangout room for the audience in the front. The Big E electronic music stage boasts an impressive lights display at dark. Among the four, there's always something to watch (and often, two or more acts are playiing simultaneously). However, the published schedule isn't always adhered to; oddly, many of the acts on the Big Rock stage were running significantly ahead of time. But that meant later bands played longer sets than advertised (first-day rock headliners Extreme, for instance, played for nearly two hours instead of the published 90 minutes).
Food and drink Food stands are scattered throughout the grounds, but all food and drink must be paid for with rechargeable cards. Inconveniently, the stands where you can obtain and add credit to the cards are located only in the central food area, which is a good hike away from the far-flung stages. That means no quick beer stop for you between acts at the rock stage if you find yourself out of credit. The food is the usual suspects: lamb-meat skewers, hot dogs, spicy noodles, ice cream, and so forth — more snacks than proper meals, mostly starting at RMB10 per unsatisfying serving. Subway and CSC both have stands, and there's one stand near the Big E Stage selling burrito-esque wraps with side salads that are rumored to be tasty. The only alcoholic beverage that seems to be sold on the premises is (sometimes lukewarm) Carlsberg poured from a can into a plastic cup for RMB10 or cold Carlsberg from a tap in a plastic cup for RMB25. You can bring in as much food as you like (and we'd recommend it), but beverages are not allowed in.
Control The tickets are electronic chips strapped onto wristbands. The chips are scanned upon your entry, and re-entries are not allowed after exits, unless you have a four-day pass, in which case you can have fun trying to shower with only one hand so as not to soak your chip. There's no shortage of hawkers selling tickets near the front gate, and it's entirely possible that you'd be able to get a much better price for one than you would walking up to the official ticket-selling area. Police and security-guard presence is heavy both around the premises (otherwise, crawling over some of the flimsy fences would be all too easy), and on the grounds, including, inexplicaby and rather uselessly, in the center of small mosh pits that would spontaneously appear when Tang Dynasty or Extreme let out a fat, crunchy guitar riff reminiscent of decades past.
Sanitation There are lots of temporary toilets plus the permanent park ground toilets, but bring your own toilet paper and wet wipes as there is no running water at the temporary toilets. Tons and tons of portable garbage bins have been set up as well.
Navigation Free maps of the grounds are available in small booklets on a table to the left of the gate (after you enter). Lots of festival-goers had brought skateboards for faster navigation of the grounds; bikes are also available for rent but cost from RMB60 to 80 per hour (two- and four-seaters).
Going Legal taxis weren't exactly queued up at the exit when we left at around 1 a.m. on the first day, and the one driver we asked didn't want to use the meter. However, mini vans were offering to shuttle people back into city for RMB20 per person.
Staying Camping is allowed; tents are available for rent on site (RMB80/day or purchase for 220, according to a seller we talked to on the first day)
What to wear Sturdy footwear is advised not only because there's a good chance of getting your foot stomped on (especially at the Big Rock stage), but also because the grassy fields are extremely uneven and tricky to walk on. In the event of rain, boots would probably be a good idea for when all that sod turns into mud.
Of course the obvious comparison is to Chengdu's very first (and until now, only) large-scaled music festival, the three-year-old Zebra Music Festival. How does it stack up? In terms of lineup, scale, and equipment, Big Love clearly takes the cake. But Big Love's annoying card system makes it a hassle to buy food or drinks, compared to Zebra, which offered a range of alcoholic beverages, including several beer brands, delivered by skirt-wearing "beer girls" right to your spot on the lawn (and they accept cash). Getting to and away from either isn't particularly fun if you're relying on buses or taxis, but at least the Intangible Cultural Heritage Center is within the Chengdu city limits and you're thus well within your rights to demand taxi drivers use the meter (as opposed to the 198 Poly Park, which lies on the border of Chengdu and Xindu). How that plays out in reality, however, is still to be determined.
Photos by Leo Chen