by Paolo Sorbello
Salacgrīvā, Latvia is a small town on the Baltic Sea shoreline that offers nothing special throughout the year. It’s too far from both Riga and Tallinn to make for a summer retreat. However, for the past seven years, every July, it becomes the venue of the famous Positivus festival, attracting tens of thousands of people from all ages and corners of Europe. Tidily organized, but at the same time laid-back and not too strict, Positivus attracts lovers of all kinds of contemporary music, from the electronic to the more instrumental flavors.
The lineup of this three-day event is long and varied, composed of local bands as well as European and American musicians. Indie rock and house music bands and DJs outnumber the other genres, but everyone can find their place around the big field where the five stages are scattered. The marine forest helps prevent the sound of each gig from overlapping with the neighbor’s and the beach stages are crowded all day, with people swimming at midday and dancing at midnight.
There is the possibility to camp on a nearby field and many attendees chose this option. Endless rows of tents are crammed together, forcing everybody to socialize and share drinks as well as personal stories. This was one of the most interesting bits for an “outsider” like me: English was the main vehicular language, especially when Latvians or Russians (not that many of the latter) approached Estonians. The Baltic languages are not related closely enough (or at all in certain instances) to allow for easy communication. Therefore, one had to choose: either the language of the former oppressor, or the one of the hegemonic culture of today. Nonetheless, the first language of social interaction remained Latvian, since the festival takes place on Latvian soil.
The vicinity of the border with Estonia, only 10 km away, attracts many from the Baltic neighbor and the popularity of the festival ensures participation from every corner of the region. The “Erasmus culture” of the youth is well reflected, as several traveled with their significant other, friends or relatives from the Baltics. It was not rare to hear: “I’m here with my Lithuanian girlfriend and I came all the way from the UK” or “It was here last year that I met my current boyfriend”.
The bands offered a lot of entertainment, although from a more distant eye, the least-known bands produced the best quality of music. The more famous a band, in fact, the more effects were needed to re-enact the perfect sound. Powerful shows were offered by Las Vegas-born “Imagine Dragons” and British “Noah and the Whale”, who were able to enjoy the relaxed atmosphere of the festival and wore endless smiles on their faces. Laughter was brought by most local bands, Estonian “Elephants from Neptune”, Lithuanian “Colours of Bubbles”, Latvian “Them Lemons” and “Pienvedēja Piedzīvojumi”, who were happy to perform and joke with the audience. During one of the loudest gigs , by metal heroes “Inokentijs Mārpls”, a tiny blonde 3-year old girl ran across the stage to go hug her father’s leg. Coincidentally, her father was the screaming bass player in the band.
Another unusual note was the appearance of Estonian President, Toomas Henrik Ilves among the crowds. While wearing the traditional cape of his country and dark sunglasses, he could have been mistaken for one of those funny characters who wear bear costumes or flashy onesies. Instead, he found the time to promote the 2014 Tallinn Music Week and to mingle with people, always closely followed by half a dozen worried guards.
The festival ended pretty well, with a total attendance of around 30 thousand, several administrative fines and only 15 “criminal cases” – mostly for driving under the influence of alcohol and drug possession – and 24 people had to be treated by the paramedics. Looking at the turnout, all in all it went pretty well.