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July 6, 2011

T in the Park – Balado, Kinross-shire, Scotland July 8-10 2011: Is it the best music festival in the world?

I have been meaning to preview Scotland’s premier music festival, ‘T in the Park’ for some time, but the days ran away from me over the past few weeks. Only today did I realise that it takes place this weekend, so there’s no time like the present to get cracking with the preview.

‘T in the Park’ is a major Scottish music festival that has been held annually since 1994. It is named after main sponsor and Scottish brewing company, ‘Tennents’ (the lager, in my opinion, is horrible). It was originally held in Strathclyde Park, Glasgow, however has been held in Balado, near Kinross in Perthshire since 1997. Originally a two day festival, T in the Park has become a three day event (due to popular demand) since 2007. This year’s showcase kicks of this Friday (July 8th) and features Arctic Monkeys, Coldplay, and Foo Fighters as Main Stage headliners. That’s just a taste of what’s available at this multi stage laden event that covers each and every music genre, the established act too bands still seeking a record deal and musical representation from the world over.

Acts appearing in the opening years at Strathclyde Park included Primal Scream, Oasis, Manic Street Preachers, Rage Against the Machine, Cypress Hill, The Prodigy, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Alanis Morissette, Black Grape, Supergrass, Radiohead, Beck, Pulp, The Foo Fighters, Teenage Fanclub, and, No Doubt. Since moving to Balado in 1997 the festival has expanded in size with a even more diverse range of bands - The Killers, Kings of Leon, Travis, Texas, Green Day, Foo Fighters, Garbage, Moby, Iggy Pop, Stereophonics, R.E.M., The Proclaimers, Idlewild, Muse, Razorlight, The Polyphonic Spree, The Specials, The Chemical Brothers and Kasabian. In modern times, ‘T in the Park’ has shared much of its lineup with Oxegen (festival that takes place on the same weekend in County Kildare, Ireland). Acts generally play T in the Park one day and Oxegen the next, or vice versa.

I won’t proclaim to be a huge music festival attendee and indeed have only been to a few of the many huge festivals that take place around the world e.g. Glastonbury, Coachella, SXSW, Bonnaroo, Roskilde, The Leeds and Reading Festival, Fuji Rock, LOLLAPALOOZA, The V Festival, Austin City Limits etc. The success and enjoyment of, T in the Park is, like most outdoor music festivals, heavily dependent on the weather. I have attended, T in the Park in baking sunshine, pouring rain and somewhere in between and can confirm that weather plays a huge part.  That said the event organisers have really pulled out the stops in bringing the world’s finest music talents to the wee country that is Scotland and providing epic entertainment to the 85,000 strong who attend.

Main Stage Headliners:

2002   Oasis                 The Chemical Brothers
2003   R.E.M                 Coldplay
2004   The Darkness      The Strokes
2005   Green Day          Foo Fighters
2006   Red Hot Chili Peppers        The Who
2007   Arctic Monkeys       The Killers   Snow Patrol
2008   The Verve         Rage Against the Machine       R.E.M
2009   Kings of Leon   The Killers        Blur
2010   Muse              Eminem                 Kasabian
2011   Arctic Monkeys     Coldplay       Foo Fighters            
Clearly the main stage represents the cream of the crop…the band of the moment if you will, but as I mentioned, the genres represented run the gamut -

To the contenders and a brief overview. Note: these views are clearly subjective, but to my mind, these are the others deemed ‘best festivals around the world’.

‘Glastonbury’ has been on the calendar since dairy farmer Michael Eavis first held a free-two day festival on his farm in 1970. Since then, it's been the festival in England for seeing the biggest and best bands in the world. It may also be the muddiest in the world. Heavy rain, most prominently in 1997, turns Glastonbury into a muddy fest. Pretty much everyone from Radiohead to Jay-Z have headlined this festival, and with more than 700 acts each year, there is something for everyone. This year's headliners included U2, Coldplay and Beyonce. Apparently there is no festival next year…not back until 2013.

The Godfather of European summer festivals, ‘Roskilde’ has been going strong since 1971. This is no small feat given it was started by two Danish high school kids. Headliners recently included Kanye West, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Faith No More, The Mars Volta, Pet Shop Boys, and Nine Inch Nails. NIN’s 2 hour performance was by all accounts, epic.

‘Coachella’ is the hands down winner for best US festival in the minds of many. The weather is pretty much guaranteed to be blistering hot in the daytime and uncompromisingly cold by night. This doesn’t distract the paying hordes with 50,000 tickets for each day and more than 20,000 people on a campground. In 2009 Airborne Toxic Event, TV on the Radio, and, The Killers played alongside festival forefathers such as Leonard Cohen, The Cure, and Paul McCartney.

‘South By Southwest’ is both a film and music festival held in Austin, Texas for a week in March of each year. The event has taken place each year since 1987 and has grown to become the premiere annual festival for new and rising recording acts. Members of the music industry looking for the next big thing crowd the streets and clubs of Austin with 6th street being the hub. More than 2,000 registered bands playing a vast variety of venues in a three day period is simply incredible.  

‘Bonnaroo’ Music and Arts Festival is a four day event held 60 miles outside of Nashville, Tennessee. It began in 2002 and has rapidly grown to be one of the country's premier festivals. Traditionally, the focus has been jam bands with a notable sprinkling of bluegrass, folk, alternative rock and pop. In recent years the lineup has branched out somewhat and now also includes hip hop and R&B artists as key components of the festival. I recall seeing Kings of Leon put in an amazing performance there in 2004 (on TV) and have been an avid follower since.

The best music event that I have attended was most certainly the catalyst to this blog, SXSW in Austin, Texas earlier this year. That said I am not sure if I consider it in the same division as those above. SXSW is just so unique…it’s basically bar hopping and seeing great quality live music everywhere you go. The others mentioned are held in large fields over a three day period and host bands on a number of stages/tents. At the end of the day, I would love to have the opportunity to attend all of these festivals one day, but if I had to settle for, ‘T in the Park’, I would have no complaints. The acts are strong year after year, the organisation is brilliant and the predominantly Scottish crowds are, for the most part, absolutely ecstatic to have such a wealth of top notch bands on their doorstep. If you get the opportunity, go to ‘T in the Park’.  

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