13 Dez The Horizontoer Festival: A Diary
„Would you like some Nutella on that pancake?“
Oh yes, this headline runs way deeper and does not include pancakes and Nutella as you know it. Read on if you’d like to know how this one goes 😉
My trip to the North Sea, to the Dutch part of the Wadden Sea, from West Frisia to North Holland was somewhat two-parted: During the day we were out and about, enjoying nature and culture, sailing and sightseeing. At night, however, we were airing out our old festival-selves.
The experience is almost too hard to be put into words, but I did try. I started with different perspectives, scattered flashbacks, but in the end decided to put my memories into a diary, because it’s the most personal form of writing. And it fit.
The Sea-faring Festival
It’s a Dutch festival!
The Horizontoer Festival is different than all other festivals I’ve heard of so far. It’s a feast, it’s a celebration, yes, but it’s also a sea-faring festival. You love music and art, you love the sea, you do the math.
The annual event Horizontoer (‘Horizon tour’) generally takes place in the beginning of August for 10 days, sailing to and fro the Frisian coast and islands. Yes, Horizontoer is a floating music and theatre festival. Artists, festival goers and crew travel with six traditional sailing boats from island to island. Music and theatre groups play on the coastline, every island and do wonderful acoustic sessions on board as well. And all the while you’re looking out onto the beautiful Wadden Sea World Heritage.
When I got the mail that I was in, that I was one of four bloggers that were invited to experience the first part of this festival I was so ecstatic, even though I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Since I was in the harbour of Rotterdam on the day I got the news, I took it as a sign 🙂
So on the fifth of August in 2016 I boarded the Waddensea boat for an epic trip around Friesland and the 28th Horizontoer.
Friday, 5 August
It all starts in Harlingen. We abandon our ship in the port and flock into the heart of the small city in Fryslan, Netherlands. We grab some beers from a nearby bar and wait patiently in front of the charming gazebo that strangely reminds me of the fictional Stars Hollow.
There are 20 or so others with us at the town square. I am excited to be part of this festival but have no real idea of what to expect. Stuart Mavis is getting ready to play on stage. All bands have introduced themselves earlier this day but apart from that I’ve never heard of them before. Neither have my new Dutch acquaintances. We decide that if we don’t like them, we’ll simply move on to the next stage, the next bar.
But we don’t. In fact, this very first band will become one of my favourites all through the festival. More people are arriving at the town square, pulled in by their melodies that could easily be the soundtrack of this summer.
We head to a pub after Stuart Mavis and meet a totally different setting. Big Bucks & Easy Money are up on stage (ie.the space between the dart board and the corridor leading to the restrooms). It’s hot, it’s super crowded and with each song the band is stoking everything up. The two singers and guitarists may possibly be the oldest artists accompanying this festival. And probably the most energetic. Apart from the other bands, they mainly do cover songs, but boy do they know how.
Saturday, 6 August
9 am, Breakfast with the bands
It got late last night. One of the festival’s sailing boats has officially been claimed as the Aftershow Party Boat. I get up around 6 am, just in time to catch the sunrise. Others have tried as well, but left too soon. They don’t know that the weather can change as fast as lightning out on the open sea. Or maybe patience and fatigue simply don’t add up.
I go back to bed for a few hours. When I resurface, a few breakfast pieces are scattered around in the dining area, some are cleaning up, others are up on deck, basking in the sun or tuning their instruments.
I meet the unplugged versions of the musicians. Telling from their looks and supersmall eyes, it got pretty late for them as well. I am somewhat pleased that the rockstars-to-be and their onlookers all look the same in the morning.
I love the acoustic sessions of the festival that take place on the boats. Spontaneous or scheduled, with the sun shining down on our heads.
We’re sharing the housing with some of the artists and since you can’t really hide on a small sailing boat, we hear and see all of them playing, practicing, getting ready for tonight’s gig. We come across the lead singer of Stuart Mavis and he goes from stroking a few chords to playing an acoustic session for us with dishevelled hair. He says that he’s more nervous when singing in front of small group. It is more intimate, he says, you simply feel more naked. Before he leaves, he asks us which shirt he should wear for tonight.
When I hear the band’s repertoire for the second time, I start listening to the lyrics. And guess what, they’re storytellers.
There’s a difference between bands that fill their melodies with words for the sake of the song and there are bands whose lyrics you want to – need to – remember. I ask him whether they’ve released an album or can be found on Spotify. He confirms the latter but he’d rather we didn’t listen to that old stuff of theirs. There’ll be more in the future, he promises and winks.
A few weeks after the festival I read on Facebook that they’ve signed a contract with Sony Benelux. So, there will definitely be more. You should watch out for this band.
7 pm, The festival continues on Texel
We’re in Den Burg on Texel Island. Most of the bands will play here tonight, we have it all mapped out. We took our rental bikes and rode across the island, greeted by indifferent Texel sheep with their sheeplocks flying in the wind (quite the funny sight!).
So why is he calling himself Little Giant? Yes, that blond guy on stage is tall and he makes singer songwriter music that wouldn’t work when played too loud. But why the Little? I try to remember to ask him but I ultimately forget.
I met Pip of Little Giant when we were both out on the sea, trying to capture the sunrise this morning. Both with an analogue SLR camera. Figure that.
Now he’s on stage and we’re invited into this new world that he’s creating with his music. There’s a heavy emphasis on the instrumental part of his songs and he easily draws the attention of the audience to just him and his guitar and his harmonica and his drums that he often handles simultaneously.
When I try to take a photo of him, he winks at me and tries to hold extra still, because he knows how difficult it is to shoot analogue in these lighting conditions. There are a couple of songs he plays that I find incredibly beautiful. I hope he releases an EP soon.
Welcam to da music. Raggae. Ska. Mr Wallace. I know that they’re good. Probably very good. But that’s coming from my objective understanding of music combined with the ecstatic crowd and the fact that this band seems to be a bit better known than the rest. But I’m not big on Ska and similar to every other Ska band I know, their songs all seem to sound alike after a few beats and beers. But still – they’re really good.
And then there’s Silent War. The first time I hear them, they remind me of The Verve. The second time I can’t remember how I ever came up with that thought. They are fascinatingly intense and you can’t help but stare while your arms and legs and head are rushing to keep up with the heavy drums and chords of their Indie Rock music. And just like that, they become another favourite of mine.
The artists‘ passion is tangible throughout the whole festival. Hold out your hand and you could touch it, I swear.
We’re riding back on our bicycles in the dark; the small circles of our headlights forming the only source of light. You can’t really appreciate complete darkness until you come to an island. I’m bringing up the rear, because my tail light is the only one working. The girls in the front are singing jolly Dutch songs, I almost lose a shoe and we’re cracking up about one secret and then another. Funny, how our voices seem to be the only sounds out here.
Have I mentioned chef? His name’s Maarten, but in Dutch it sounds more like the German name Marta. We were told that a few simple meals were included during this trip. But Maarten simply can’t do simple.
During the trip he serves and mass produces food that should be accompanied by cloth napkins and impeccable table manners, including at least two kinds of forks.
But the best part… the absolute best part of Chef Maarten is that he whips up fresh pancakes at 4 o‘clock in the morning. For all of us.
I’m sitting among mostly Dutch-speaking people I have just met one or two days ago and yet I feel strangely at home. How do they freaking do that?
The last band, Le Seton, arrives. Suddenly the dynamic changes from funny to bizarre, but in a good way that only seems strange the morning after. Suddenly people are eating sugared pancakes from each other’s shoulders and we end up singing a karaoke version of a song we’ve never even heard before. But more on that later. It’s 5 am and I have to go to sleep.
Sunday, 7 August
Afternoon, The Boat Sessions
The acoustic session by Marleen & Manuel are taken underdeck. There’s simply too much wind upstairs. We squeeze into the dining area of our neighbouring boat and listen to their songs. They play some cover songs in between, but change them enough to make them their own. When some of the mentally challenged festival tourists in the small auditorium recognize the songs from the radio, they sing along.
A few hours later, I’m up on deck again, listening to the singer songwriter Kira. The wind has lessened a bit, but she still has to pause to put her curls into a bun. She has her guitar in her arms and tells us the stories of her songs, anecdotes and travel notes. I can’t believe how accomplished her acoustic songs sound, both in melody and text. I also can’t believe that her playlist, scrawled on a piece of paper, stays put beneath her strappy sandal with all this wind. I am quite enchanted.
We head back to Den Burg, knowing that this was going to be our last evening together. We’ll see the bands one last time and as we pick our favourites, we know this is going to be some sort of Best of night.
When we arrive at the stage house we listen to the last tunes of To Twelve and I’m a bit sorry that I haven’t caught their other sessions.
This night we are watching Le Seton perform for the first time. I don’t know how to describe his performance, because it’s as complex as the singer himself, but it’s obvious that he is a natural at attracting crowds and making them holler.
Eric Seton is the cool guy, a dude, a rapper, a singer, a messenger, unjustly funny, honest, the one who always seems to have hundreds of friends and authentic to the bone. Oh, and he is also the Nutella guy.
After him, we watch Stuart Mavis again. And even though this might seem strange, thinking, why don’t we just go and see the others, they’re one of those bands who’re only getting better, the more you hear of them.
We change locations, which – in this charming little town – means walking around a corner and into a tiny bar.
Silent War is going to be the last band for tonight.
And what happened there, we never saw coming…
The grand finale
The backside of my T-Shirt is pure liquid. It must be 100 degrees in this bar. Someone poured their water straight down my back (at least I hope it’s water) and the shots at the bar hold more alcohol than juice.
My back and twisted ankle are killing me, but this time I don’t care. This time I just have to be out there and dance and shout and jump. The small crowd is going wild and heading straight for some kind of musical climax.
And all because someone (make that everyone) decided to sing I’m gonna
Lick. Nutella. Off. Your. Ass. (in Dutch)
We were still on a Dutch island called Texel, in a bar in Den Burg that couldn’t possibly house more than 30 people. I was with friends I had just met a few days before and whom I understood only occasionally, but party we could.
It was my last night on Texel and it was going down with a bang.
When Silent War played the final tune of their fantastic gig, Le Seton unexpectedly jumped in to join them on the tiny stage. He started to jam, Silent War came back, stepped in, the crowd picked up on the chorus and suddenly nobody wanted this night to end. Over and over we sang the same chorus while Le Seton adapted the lyrics.
It was absolutely epic! Magic!
Monday, 8 August
Morning, This is good-bye
It’s the last day for us bloggers. I will be the first one to abandon ship, because I have the longest ride home. The artists are staying for another night. After tomorrow, the second part of the Horizontoer Festival will officially start. With new bands, new reporters and new islands.
This morning, we’re sailing to Terschelling and the wind is blowing mighty strong. Our captain has a surprise for us, but the further we sail out onto the open sea, the less sure he becomes, whether he can keep his promise.
After last night’s blast, we all seem too restless to stay under deck. And even outside the air seems somewhat charged. I believe it’s a mixture of sluggishness and excitement, comfortable silence and laughter, happiness and blues.
The wind holds, but the captain lets us hoist the heavy sails anyways. This is his surprise for us – making us feel like we’re part of the crew and showing us a glimpse into his world that is all essential teamwork, hitching up the knickers and freedom.
When the sails are set and the engine falls silent we all end up lounging on the top deck – the artists, the bloggers, the festival tourists, the chef. As we hide our tired eyes behind the sunglasses, we feel mighty comfortable in this hotchpotch and we stretch out and relax a bit more.
A few minutes, an hour or two go by as we follow the clouds, the waves and the horizon.
Time is not of the essence out here.
What matters right now is this strange accumulation of random people, the memories we’ll be sharing from now on and the wind in our hair.
All analog pictures taken on film with vintage and lomo cameras. No Photoshop, digital filters or anything, just pure and creative film photography.
Exceptions to the above are the title picture, the three collages and five concert pictures.
Films: Kodak Portra 400 (colour pictures), Ilford hp5 plus 400 (black & white pictures, +1 push) & Fuji Instax
Developing: Mein Film Lab (colour and black & white pictures)
Scan: Mein Film Lab (colour pictures), CanoScan 9000f (instant pictures and black & white pictures)
All photographs displayed in a low resolution.
A huge thank you to the INTERREG program of the European Union and the INTERREG partners who made this wonderful trip possible. A big thank you goes to Stichting RegioMarketing Toerisme for organizing this Blogger’s event and to my new Dutch friends 🙂