Ilana recommends Sziget Festival

Long time ago, I used to be a rebel girl going to concerts and spending a lot of time at jam sessions. I wasn’t the hard-rock type or the very hippie happy kind of girl either – although I enjoyed a lot walking bare feet in Lausanne for 5 minutes or so. I grew up in a diverse intellectual environment, with private piano lessons and a lot of classical music and Sunday classical concerts. My way of seeing differently my future was to add jazz to my hobbies.

Later on, in high-school, the father of one of my best friends was a jazz lover and I was introduced to the secrets of good music, with some rock from the 60s as a diversion. I tried as much as possible not to miss the big names playing in my town – including by getting to know the concert organizers and getting invitations and free tickets (networking and media relations was always my strong point, you see). I remember how hard – and sometimes impossible – it was to convince my mother to sponsor my adventures, lecturing her that ‘a jam session will never finish before 4am’. My big disadvantage at the time was that I was the only one in the family with such bohemian passions and not even my otherwise very supportive brother did not feel compelled to encourage me to go. However, from time to time I was able to impress my guardians with the intellectual background of my friends and after deciding that I am in a good company I was allowed to go.

During my summer vacations, I discovered Montreux Jazz Festival and for a long time I hardly miss one single summer edition. The irony is that today, when it starts, I am living closer to this gorgeous place in Switzerland, but I don’t share the same passion when I hear or read about it. But the feeling of freedom that I had then will never abandon me. It is how I want to live my life, free as a jazz composition, I told myself at the time. 

When it was not Switzerland for the musical summer, it was my Hungarian island – Sziget, at the beginning of August. I went there two years in a row, and for different reasons: I was in love with Budapest and its bright youngsters – and I continue to be now, despite the huge political disappointments of the last years – I wanted to improve my Hungarian, and to meet my lovely friends living in Budapest. 

During the festival, the city turns into a huge camp of young people looking for music. Inside the precincts of the festival, there are many stages and tents, each playing a certain style of music or having concerts. In between, there are discussions or NGO-related presentations and a lot of beer drinking and dancing on the grass. At the time, I had a lot of energy to spend the whole night concert hopping – not dancing, as I was not brave enough – and talking in at least 4 languages in 30 minutes and go back to the home of my friends hosting me and being fresh enough for a 3 o’clock coffee at one of the gorgeous open bars from the Danube banks. I always went to the concerts of the best bands in Europe and the tradition continues today, as big names from UK, US or Central and Eastern Europe are playing regularly (Alex Clare is one of the guests this edition). At the time, I was very interested in the local European musical scenery and enjoyed to get in touch with the beats and trends as well as with the musical styles of various countries, especially from Serbia, Russia and Hungary itself. Very often, they were doing more than music, sending strong social and political messages and for me it was always interesting to observe the mixture. 

Those looking to save money, preferred to spend their whole time at the festival campus and pay a little fee for camping. Otherwise, there is plenty of hostels and affordable hotels in the city and the transportation – including during the night – is going quite well. People do speak English and be not afraid if you are not able to say more than – after long hours of training – ‘Köszönöm’ (thank you, in Hungarian). 

If you are young, curious, in love with different styles of music, keen to (re)discover a beautiful city and its people and do not have a big budget for the summer, consider Sziget Festival. Before and after you can have a tour of the country and relax at Balaton or see admire the multicultural richness of Pecs.