2014's Top 10 Festival CircuitsArticle by: Chip Conley|@ChipConley
Tue January 07, 2014 | 00:00 AM
While many labor over new resolutions this time of year, the festival fanatics of the world start planning their travel circuit. My craziest 2013 circuits included traveling from Kuala Lumpur, and 90-degree heat at Thaipusam, to 30 degrees below in Manchuria for the Harbin Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival. I also did Burning Man in the Nevada desert and the Telluride Film Festival in the Colorado Rocky Mountains in the same week.
Here are my recommended festival circuits for this coming year:
1. FULL-ON PHILIPPINES (January). Many northern hemisphere festival fans get a little stir-crazy mid-winter. Have no fear, there are two colorful festivals in the Philippines in January that allow you to take a beach vacation in-between. Start with the bigger of the two. Ati-Atihan is on our “Best of Fest” list (one of the 50 best festivals in the world) and goes from January 10-19 with the primary partying on the last weekend.
Photo: Ree Dexter Engienero
And, then, the smaller but no less festive, Dinagyang, is not far away and runs from January 24-26.
Photo: Rod Ervin Sollesta
2. CARNIVAL, THE BRAZILIAN WAY (March). Rio gets all the attention, yet you have multiple choices when it comes to experiencing a Brazilian Carnival.
Photo: Carnaval.com Studio
Salvador, the capital city of Bahia, is considered even more robust and full of mayhem than Rio (some feel it’s not too safe), but if you’re looking for more of a local street party, this may be your best alternative.
Further up the coast are Olinda and Recife that have a celebration that’s truer to the roots of Carnival in which the majority of people are participants not spectators. I’m probably going to party hop from Olinda to Rio during the February 27-March 5 festivities.
3. COLORFUL INDIA (March). If you’re in India, you can experience Carnival in the funky seaside city of Goa early in the month. Then, give yourself a break and move north to Jaipur where you can see all colorful hell break loose with the Holi celebration (March 17) commemorating the coming bright spring and end of the dark winter.
Photo: Art Gimbel
The Jaipur Elephant Festival, while more tame than it used to be, happens just a day before Holi (March 16). And, for those looking for something with more of a devotional flavor, the Sikhs have their three-day community festival, Holla Mohalla (March 15-17), in the nearby Punjab region.
4. MOODY MOROCCAN MUSIC (June). My #1 favorite circuit this year is in Morocco, one of my favorite soulful spots on the globe. I’d start by spending a few days in a stylish riad in Marrakech in late May. Few places in the world mix the old and new with such magic as this Moroccan city. Then, keep the Moroccan modern theme going at the Festival Mawazine (May 30-June 7), the largest music festival in North Africa with quite a cosmopolitan line-up. Head to Fes for the Festival of World Sacred Music June 13-21, one of my most relaxed and transcendent festival experiences in 2013.
Photo: Chip Conley
And, then, finish with the Gnauou World Music Festival on the coast in Essaouira from June 20-23. That trippy trip leads you to a place where you can ride camels on the beach or kite-surf for days on end.
5. THOSE HIPPY-DIPPY BRITS (June). If the Marrakech Express isn’t your cup of tea, you might find some magical tea here in mid-England with these two festivals that are always back-to-back (sometimes butt-to-butt due to a certain amount of nudity that occurs at both events). The Summer Solstice at Stonehenge isn’t just a hippie phenomenon from the 60’s. It’s been a celebrated spot for festivals for more than 4,000 years and the dates are predictable (June 18-22).
Glastonbury, on the other hand, is a mere youngster by that comparison and, yet, being 44 years old in 2014, it’s one of the oldest rock music festivals on the planet. It’s June 25-29.
Photo: Ross Huggett
6. EUROPEAN DANCE PARTY (July/August). This is a circuit that only happens every two years as the third leg on this stool is bi-annual. You better love your EDM (Electronic Dance Music) if you’re going on this ride. Start with the visual spectacle in Boom, Belgium, Tomorrowland (you’ll have to find scalped tickets at this point for this July 18-27 event), which is so popular it has spawned Tomorrowworld outside Atlanta.
Photo: IDT Belgium
Sneak out of Tomorrowland before it’s over and hop on over to the Secret Garden Party (July 24-27) near Cambridge, England which many Americans compare favorably to Burning Man (in fact, the Burning Man event is now managed by someone who used to run Secret Garden Party).
Photo: Andrew Whitton
If you’d prefer a little world music instead, you could do Peter Gabriel’s WOMAD, which are the same dates as Secret Garden Party (SGP) and about 80 miles west of London instead of 80 miles north where SGP is.
Boom is a savored transformational festival that happens only every two years in Portugal (August 4-11). Yes, you start in Boom, Belgium and you end with the Boom Festival in Portugal. Your mind may be mush from all that music, as all you can hear is Boom!
7. THE BEAST IN THE EAST (August). This could be subtitled the Eastern European Dance Party. One of the weirdest, wildest music festivals in the world is on the beaches of the Black Sea in the Ukraine. Kazantip is a musical republic, a rogue state that truly has rebelled against its historical Soviet bloc roots. It happens to be one of the most fun, eccentric festivals anywhere and runs from July 31-August 14.
Photo: Art Gimbel
After odd Kazantip, Sziget will seem rather normal but it’s anything but that. Located on an island in the Danube in Budapest, this popular festival with more than 1,000 diverse acts lasts from August 11-18.
Photo: Art Gimbel
8. MACHO AMERICAN STYLE (July/August). If John Wayne is your hero and you’re a testosterone junkie, then the prairie states of America are your perfect midsummer circuit spot. Start with America’s most celebrated rodeo, Frontier Days, in Cheyenne, Wyoming (July 18-27).
Photo: Frontier Days
Then, head north about 10 hours by car (or, better yet, Harley Davidson) to Clinton, Montana for the Testy Festy, the Testicle Festival celebrating “Rocky Mountain Oysters,” bull calf testicles (July 30-August 3). Finally, ride nine hours to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota.
This festival three-some isn’t necessarily the perfect summer vacation for many families, but it is a particularly scenic drive.
9. INDIA THREE WAYS (October/November). Speaking of three-some, there are so many ways the Indians celebrate with their festivals. There’s a reason they’re arguably the most festival-centric culture in the world. In mid-fall, there are three quite diverse festivals that will give you a flavor for this unique country. Start with Diwali on October 23 which can be experienced anywhere in the country but it’s best in someone’s home. Diwali is to India what Christmas is to the West.
Photo: Partha Sarathi Sahana
There may be value in doing Diwali in Rajasthan so that you can immediately transport yourself to the Pushkar Camel Fair (October 26-November 3) that is medieval and nomadic.
Photo: Babel Travel
Finally, if you seek a Sikh, the ultimate Sikh religious festival is Guru Nanak Jayanti at the stunning Golden Temple in Amritsar, India (November 6-7).
10. THAI YOURSELF DOWN (November). I’m getting exhausted just imagining all these festival circuits. If you’re a little more leisurely with your time, you could spend the whole month of November in Thailand. You’ll start in the northern Thailand city of Chiang Mai for the ethereal beauty of Loy Krathong, where you’ll see thousands of sky lanterns sail to the heavens while hundreds of candles floating on banana leaves make their way down streams and on ponds (November 7).
You have a nice little break and about 400 mountainous miles to get to Surin City for the annual Elephant Round-up (November 15-16) that celebrates the intelligence and agility of these mammoth creatures. You’ll have a little break before the third leg of this journey, so visit the oldest Khmer ruins in Thailand in this Surin region. Finally, you’ll go to central Thailand, closer to Bangkok, for the wacky Lopburi Monkey Banquet (November 30) where monkeys show that they have no table manners at all.
Photo: davidd / Creative Commons
Here’s to a fantastic and festive 2014!