I wanted to make a point to cover the music first, and bring out as much positive as I possibly could regarding who played, what stood out to me, etc. I think this part if very important for people that are heading out to see a show or festival, don’t know a band, and decide after reading a review to check one of the bands I discussed out. With this said, I hate writing negative things about artists, or their music, I’d rather focus on the positive, and what I enjoyed, however I can’t say that the overall experience as an attendee of Sonisphere Spain gave the me the same sensation.
The event was a huge success; Last Tour International put the festival together, and has been organizing it since its initial inception four years ago. They run several other festivals here in Spain, and bring a lot of the big name acts to this country. I must say that this was the most poorly run festival I have ever attended, bar none. Up until a few weeks ago the festival was going to be held at another location (also on the outskirts of Madrid in Getafe) where the previous two Sonispheres were held. The problem with this location was that you were basically in a dust bowl during the shows. At the end of the night you were covered in dust, and the Red Cross had to tend to scores of people that could not breath correctly as a result. So Last Tour boasted how the festival would return to the Auditorio John Lennan, where they held the now defunct Electric Weekend which also had METALLICA as its headliner. Now pay close attention because when this information came out, they mentioned (and this is still on their website) how this new location held up to 40,000 people. Ok, so on Sunday a day after the festival wrapped they mentioned that day 1 had over 38,000 people attend while day 2 had over 54,000! So how can a location that could hold up to 40,000 people hold 14,000 more? When I interviewed John Schaffer of ICED EARTH a few months back he mentioned how the music industry mostly about illusion, and the music actually came second. I mentioned this because it seems like either someone doesn’t have their facts straight, or just lying. In the end they’re trying to sell certain illusion. The kicker is that the food court per say was nowhere near being full at any point during the festival.
So I get to Getafe, there are no signs regarding where the Sonisphere is taking place, until you’re practically on the festival grounds. I can’t tell you how many people stopped me for directions, or mentioned they drove around for an hour and a half until they found it. What I did was follow all of the people with the black hard rock and metal t-shirts! Once I got there I followed the signs to the parking lot, which I discovered was already full by the time the gates had opened. I circled for a bit, and saw the droves of people walking from all directions, so I drove until I found a spot. As I mentioned previously 2km away, more or less a mile and a half, which isn’t that big of a deal if it wasn’t that they boasted about the parking situation! Not only that but as customary with Last Tour’s festivals, they offer free camping, provided you show them your ticket. What they don’t allow you to do is drop your things off anywhere near the camping area. So get this, I had a mile and a half walk, with my tent, cloths, food, drinks, sleeping bag, etc. I walked for about two minutes, turned around, and took a relative up on their offer to stay with them in Madrid. That said, I had plenty of friends that made the trek to the camp grounds. Once there they were lucky if they found a spot to camp. Tents were less than half an inch away from each other, if they could somehow squeeze in. A lot of people camped on the side of the road, or slept in their cars. Someone working the event (who chose to remain anonymous) copped to the fact that they only had camping for about 10,000 people. So you’re putting on a show in an area that holds 40,000 people, and you only have an area large enough for 10,000 people? No provisions could have been made to either setup parking or camping somewhere off location and have people bussed to the site? The same organizers do this at other festivals, why not here? It really seems as if Last Tour really did not plan well, or they just flat out don’t care about the state or wellbeing of the attendees to one of their premier events.
I went to the festival given the impression that I would be able to interview four bands, so I took my netbook with me, I usually write questions down at home, and use the netbook during interviews to rattle off my questions. So after walking for 20 minutes I got to festival site. I went through the first security check point, then through the booths where I received the festival bracelet, and then through one last check point where I was denied access into the festival. I was told that a laptop was not permitted. I mentioned why I had the device on me, and was told that unless I had a pass specifically for it, that I would not be allowed in. The person next to me was denied entry because they had an old digital camera the guards mistook for a professional reflex camera, what a joke. I was very annoyed to say the least, given the debacle with the parking, camping, and now this? So I collected myself, calmed down, walked 20 minutes back to my car, and then 20 minutes back to the festival where I was finally let in. Ok, but check this out, a laptop isn’t allowed, but handcuffs, iPads, a motorcycle helmet with horns, someone with a gas mask that had three inch spikes coming out of the sides, and last but not least a rubber Thor hammer, were all allowed in. Sure it’s just a toy, but imagine if someone gets drunk and pissed off and decides to smash someone in the side of the head with it? So anyway, I could really see how my netbook is much more dangerous than any of those objects. I could also see how an iPad varies a considerable amount from the netbook. What did they say to get it in, “hey it’s only a big phone?” Speaking of phones, there was little to no phone service, no 3G or internet anywhere. You want this to be considered a major festival, you need these amenities.
Once inside you would have found bathrooms to your left, stage 1 to your far left, the token booths, various bars, the DJ tent, stage two in front, and the food court to the right. With regards to the food court a lot of people bitched about the prices; I didn’t find them to be that bad. All festivals or shows have over priced food and beverages, it is what it is. The problem with the food stands was that the lines were unorganized, food was handled with bear hands, some venders refused to give you change, and there was dust and dirt everywhere. They mentioned this wouldn’t take place, but the dust was still ever present. You paid using tokens, they were either picks that represented 1€ or paper bills that represented 3€ and 8€. Why those amounts is beside me. But more than one person mentioned that while paying with the paper bills, the vendor refused to tender them change. So they’re essentially ripping you off. Food and beverages was not sold together, so after waiting an hour for a sandwich (which was my case), I then had to go to a bar on the other side of the grounds to buy something to drink. Is it too much to ask to have the same people sell some sort of drinks? What about having a beverage stand in the same area?
As far as bathrooms are concerned, ok, so you always have your usually filth, excrement, and urine all over the place in the bathrooms. Whenever you get that many people together, you’re bound to find a few hundred slobs. If they’re drunk to boot, well you can just imagine. The worst thing that I saw was that they have portable standing stalls for the men, and for the first time ever there some that were not accessible because they were overflowing or leaking urine from the bottom. Funny thing is Last Tour promised more bathrooms and showers at their new and improved location. This wouldn’t be an issue if this was in fact the case, or if things had been planned accordingly.
Would this festival be allowed to take place in another country? What about if there was some sort of health inspection that took place? I would imagine that the answer would be no.
With regards to the overall sound, stage 2 sounded great, stage 1 (the main stage) was terrible. There was one spot where stage 1 did sound great, they had a giant screen behind the sound tower that had its own speakers. Everything was perfect there, but if I’m at a festival I want to see the band in person, not have to watch a screen as if I was at home. For that I’ll stay home and put a DVD on. No reason why the sound could not be as good in front of the main stage.
With regards to the security team, I saw one very alarming trend taking place, and no I’m not talking about my netbook debacle. KYUSS LIVES! was on the second stage, and their die-hards were going nuts. Some people got up on people’s shoulders, and were immediately told to get down, I thought this was odd, but ok, I guess it’s a precaution. What was far worse was if you crowd surfed, security jumped into the crowd, and pulled you out, jamming people’s arms up behind them as if they were going to be handcuffed! I was in shock, this for crowd surfing? Was the security team privy to what takes place at a concert? The security also wore black padded gloves that are not needed, unless your intentions are to pound on someone. I was appalled, were they there to preserve the safety of the crowd, or were they there to be a goon squad? Someone must have mentioned this because on day 2 I saw a different demeanor from the security team. Still no reason for them to act this way to begin with.
They had a “black hole” on day 1 and “snake pit” on day two. In other words if you paid more (not sure on the exact amount), you had the right to be upfront and dead center for all of the acts on the main stage. No big deal as I’m used to attending shows in the states, and seeing this. But at a festival? Sort of doesn’t make sense. I do have to say that if the area was not filled a few songs into someone’s set, they would let anyone in. I did witness one incident were security was allowing a group of females into the “black hole”. A gentleman came along and was denied access, while wearing the designated bracelet for the area! Another member of security noticed what had taken place, and he ran over and let the guard know about his error. The second guard apologized to the livid fan that told him that he didn’t pay extra to not be allowed in and worse yet, see someone deny him entry while trying to chase tail.
As they say in Zombieland it’s the little things that count, so many little things could have been done to make the experience so much better. Why not come up with a plan to make sure you have enough parking and on site camping for everyone that will attend? Ok so you switched plans to have the festival at this location, but I’m assuming that even with a few weeks’ notice you could work something out? What about assuring that the food vendors aren’t ripping people off? Or making sure that they’re properly handling food? How about allowing beverages to be sold in the food court? What about the bathroom areas, you couldn’t double what you had to ensure there was nothing overflowing? How about cell phone coverage, I’m shocked that in a city that has repeatedly tried to obtain the Olympics doesn’t have adequate service for all of those that attend a festival within the city. I’m sure that when Real Madrid plays in their home stadium (Santiago Bernabeu) you don’t have these issues, and that stadium holds over 85,000 people, almost the combined total for both days.
I do have to say that they got one thing right, moving the festival to late May, which gave us very mild weather, and perfect for the event.
From a reviewer/journalist standpoint, I’d like to do further homework on who is asking for press passes. What good does it do if you’re randomly giving them out? That’s the reason I was given as to why I was not given a press pass, something I find hard to believe. Also, if you’re only going to allow the national media to have a 10 second blurt on METALLICA, don’t you think everyone that wants to and can go see them is already there? If you want this to be an internationally recognized festival you need to expand, allow people with coverage in the states (hello it was Memorial Day weekend and Madrid was full of Americans!) and the UK to have access, and not just the same old same old top 40, or network TV access for hopes that maybe one additional person goes. In the end they need to think quality not quantity. Do those outlets provide you more viewers? Sure, but are those viewers going to turn into concert goers at a metal festival? Chances are no.
All in all I have to say that if the music on day 2 wasn’t as good as it was the festival would have been a total disaster. Not for the organizers as they broke all types of records for attendance, and were more than likely swimming in money on Sunday morning. What I would like to see is that take into consideration how crappy of an experience the event was for those that attended. Have some sort of backup plan if things don’t work out, or alternatives to make sure concert goers receive the best experience possible. After all, they’re the ones that guarantee that your festival stays alive for another year. If not go back and see why some of your own festivals no longer exist. Learn from your mistakes; don’t try getting away with them until someone calls you on them. One can hope they will for next year’s edition.
Victor M. Ruiz