A little over a month ago we kept you up to speed about Elfia, and now after some delay we proudly present our festival report! 🙂
Read all about the fun we had getting to know great new bands (well, new to CeltCast anyway) like Unicorn, Accordzeam and Love Street, and about our first face to face encounter with close friends and members of the CeltCast family Greenrose Faire. Despite the dreadful weather it was an amazing weekend filled with joy, dancing, great people, awesome costumes and just loads and loads of fun!
It’s Saturday morning, 08:00 am, and I’m driving on a nice sunny morning towards… no wait, it’s raining… I mean, now it’s sunny again… or, no, snow? Really?
Anyway, I’m driving towards the largest and most luxurious castle in the Netherlands, Castle de Haar, where the grounds are transformed each year into the Kingdom of Elfia, traditionally an event that signals the opening of the festival season in the Netherlands.
Elfia started in 2001 as Elf Fantasy Fair at the historical theme-park Archeon, and the next year it moved to Castle de Haar. This makes Elfia one of the longest running (maybe the longest running?) large scale fantasy events in the Netherlands. The edition I was heading to now was the 23rd event, since 2009 they organise a second event each year in Arcen on the Dutch/German border, so that is definitely quite the achievement! With their key concept being “You’ll never dream alone”, Elfia has a large focus on the expression of dreams, with costumes as the most obvious way to shape these dreams. Going to Elfia will always mean being treated to a visual extravaganza, with costumes, cosplay and crazy characters all around, all weekend long!
After driving through all of the seasons of the year, even though it was only a fifteen minute drive, I arrived at the castle gates, which were buzzing with activity! Entertainers getting ready for the day, merchants bringing in their last merchandise, festival volunteers flying all over the place to get everything ready for the first visitors, and security guards helping everyone get to where they needed to be. There was already a strong festival vibe in the air! The reason I was this early was that I was invited for a little chat by the festival’s stage-manager, Steef, and well, once the doors open to the public someone in that position has little to no time to spare. My tickets were waiting for me at the entrance, but since the festival wasn’t open yet, and wouldn’t be for quite some time, there wasn’t anybody there yet. But no problem there, because the events many volunteers are all easily recognisable, as they are all dressed in tabards, bright red and yellow robes that have the logo of the festival on them, so I just grabbed the nearest one 😉 and a few radio calls later I had my very own golden armband and I was on my way to the Elfia stage, walking through the gorgeous castle gardens that would not look out of place in any movie about renaissance era courts.
The first thing anyone notices when approaching the main stage area is the bar. A huge pirate ghost-ship that seems to sail through the fields, a very recognisable sight, and a clear indication of having entered a different world! Close to opening, the stage was crawling with sound engineers, light technicians, and all sorts of other stage crew. The buzz of anticipation was heavy in the air, that special type of feeling when you know that months of hard work are coming to life in these last minutes and hours. Having agreed to meet Steef here, but not having any clue as to what he looked like, I thought I would just try my luck and call out his name, and it worked. A very friendly gentleman in an Elfia tabard responded and invited me backstage. In keeping with good Dutch tradition, after a first handshake I was shown where to find the coffee, the life juice of any event. It turned out that Steef had that specific combination down to perfection, where one combines professional attitude with a very friendly posture, that makes you feel right at home! We briefly talked about what what we were both exactly doing there, and what we could do for each other. I could tell right away that this was going to be an awesome weekend!
After this introduction, and of course the first coffee, I had some spare time, so a chance to wander around the grounds a bit. It is very hard to put into words the feelings you get from just casually walking around here. Winding paths take you from merchant filled market squares, through tree lined walkways to grass fields, all filled with the most amazing and wonderful people and sights. Smells of wood-fired grills and steam-powered popcorn machines, sounds of birds and people having fun. All of this combines to create a truly magical atmosphere where one would expect fairies and other mystical, mysterious creatures to pop up around every corner.
But it was time to get to work, as the powerful sounds of Bateria Volle Petaj were pumping up the visitors! This Dutch percussion group has been around since the early 90’s and they originated from the Carnaval in the south of the Netherlands. Their rhythms are based in Latin music, mainly samba and samba related sounds from Brazil. They know how to play together and they know how to party, and all of that comes together when they perform. They seem to radiate joy and enthusiasm, and that is contagious! It is almost impossible to keep yourself from moving to their pounding percussion! This is a great wake up call, thank you Bateria Volle Petaj, and thank you Elfia!
Next up: UNICORN! This self described “Irish swing-folk band” was formed in 1996 by Martien Tijburg and John Kuiper, and has since then had various other band members. Nowadays it consists of the founding members, joined by Betty Borstlap, Jolanda Traarbach, Martine Nijenhuis and Erna Sommer, though they play in various configurations with not always all six of them on stage. Their performance on this Saturday started with a Balfolk dance workshop and that’s where one can see the experience of these performers come to light. The dance instructor would explain some moves, and the band would seamlessly join in with some appropriate music, as if a director was conducting it all! Highly trained in the musical arts, these musicians swept up the dancers and definitely owned the stage. What a joy to hear both some well known traditionals as well as their own music performed brilliantly!
After a short break there was another Balfolk workshop, this time by French musical wonders Accordzéâm. These men have all received higher education in music and that reflects in everything they do! Since this started as a Balfolk workshop things started out slowly, and with a lot of repetition for the new dancers. But once a few dances were taught, wow, did these guys give away a show! From very recognisable traditionals, to their own style of sounds that just feel like “home”, and to top it all off several very well known modern anthems turned into folk, in a way that makes you wonder if they weren’t actually meant to be played like this. Who knew that you could dance Balfolk to folky versions of The Emperial March and theme songs of Ghost Busters and Indiana Jones. But maybe the one that caught me most of guard and pleasantly surprised me was the heavily folkyfied version of AC/DC’s Highway To Hell that had the dance-floor go absolutely mad!
A 45 minute break in the programming allowed me to get a drink and slowly sink back to earth after this awesome performance, but I might as well have stayed up there in music heaven, because after a quick sound-check it was time for Greenrose Faire to take the stage! We’ve known these guys and girls ever since they boldly just sent us their CD’s, and we’ve loved their unique sound from day one! But being from Finland it’s not like they’re in the area a lot, so this was the first time we had a chance to see them live. And man, what a show it was! As said, Greenrose Faire have their own specific sound, and it connects amazingly with the Dutch crowd. I was fortunate enough to already know their songs, so I was very content being right in front of the stage singing along. But behind me the dance-floor filled up, and filled up, and then filled up a bit more, as everyone just walking by got caught in the flow and energy of this awesome group of people and immediately decided to stick around for the show. Aside from the fact that they are amazing musicians, and they seem to have a great talent for writing music that connects with the listeners, the one thing that I really want to point out about their performance is that they radiate fun. They enjoy their time on stage, they enjoy being together and playing together, and that shows!
After a very swift turn around, much respect to the stage-crew and technicians for their quick and professional work there, it was time for the last band of the day, Love Street. This band, mainly based in England, plays what they call Celtic Folk Rock, and I think that that description is spot on! They are a powerhouse on stage, seemingly born to perform, and they certainly Celtic-Folk-Rocked Elfia! Their take on some of the more well known folk anthems gave those songs a flair that almost turned them into completely new songs, and that is something I really love to see. Combine that with their own work, and you get a show that I will remember for a long time. Their music is a style that you won’t hear on CeltCast, too much amplification for our little gentle stream 😉 , but they are definitely a band that I will keep an eye out for, and will most likely be visiting again!
Unfortunately life caught up with me after that, and I had to leave, thereby missing the day’s finale, stuntmen and a fire-show. I was bummed about that back then, and after having seen the photo’s of that show I am bummed out even more! Extravagant and massive, the show was a fitting end to an amazing day of music, dance, fantasy and friends!
Sunday was focused on one thing, and one thing only: recording! After having had technical difficulties with our recording equipment all through Saturday, causing all of the day’s recordings to be useless, this was the day to get down and dirty. The day started with a show by The Instant Voodoo Kit, a band from Germany that has their own style of entertaining. The show was much more than a musical performance, it was a combination of music with storytelling and an almost circus-like appearance that blended together to create their own atmosphere, their own little universe. It is a combination that one usually either loves or hates, and I certainly enjoyed myself, so you can count me in the first category.
After this performance there was a 45 minute window, and I ran backstage to used that to get an interview with Niilo and Salla of Greenrose Faire. I had spoken with them and the other band-members several times during the weekend, and what continued to amaze me is how lovely these people are. But don’t just take my word for it, stay tuned, we will publish the interview sometime in the future 😉
Next up was another great show by Accordzéâm. I would love to describe this performance in great detail, but I doubt there are enough adjectives in the English language to do it justice. What I would like to point out it that despite the fact that the Sunday is traditionally a bit of a quieter day, as most visitors that choose to go one day will be there on Saturday, one hardly seemed to notice that on the dance-floor. It seems the Sunday visitors are the hard core of fantasy-folkers, and they were there to party the entire weekend! Accordzéâm certainly gave them what they came for, and mental pictures of a massive “cercle” are stored under “awesome” in my mind!
Then another quick turn around (really guys, resetting the stage and sound-checking in 15 minutes, awesome stage crew!) and it was time for another Finnish fest with Greenrose Faire sharing their magic on stage. Feeling very confident with myself I sang along to every song I knew, but not too loudly, as the recordings were going great today and I wanted to record Greenrose Faire, not “Arjan’s impression of Greenrose Faire”. I have talked about the chemistry these people have on stage, but that is only one way to describe the professionalism of a band. Greenrose Faire showed us another sign of being an amazing band. During their last song of the set (fortunately) all of a sudden the power went out. No lights, no sound, nothing. But even before the engineers and stage-crew had a chance to respond to this, Tomi, the bands drummer, seamlessly moved into an amazing drum-solo, as the drums were the only instrument that didn’t need amplification. Turning a bad situation into something impressive, that is awesome!
Unfortunately, resolving the power crisis took some time, leaving not too much time for Love Street to wrap up the festival, but they did do that in style! Even their rather short show was a lot of fun, and again they surprised me with their power and sheer pleasure in being on stage! Their last song was accompanied by streamers and confetti canons, and that was a fitting way to end the day, go out with a bang!
There are so many things I could, and would like to say about this weekend. At the beginning of this report I touched briefly on the weather. This stayed the same all through the weekend. Rain, sun, hail and even snow, all made repeated appearances both days, and if you didn’t like the weather at some point, all you had to do was wait five minutes, because that’s how long it took to change. Surprisingly though, the weather didn’t seem to stop the dancers, and once they started dancing the sun seemed to show itself every time. Maybe there is some truth to the old concept of rain-dances, and Balfolk is the sun-dance equivalent, who knows?
With Elfia being very oriented towards costumes how could I not take a moment to appreciate those? I am not a costume wearer myself, but I do love to see people enjoy themselves by being themselves, or by being whoever they want to be. To see so many people that have clearly put a lot of effort into this, ranging from zombies, through animé, to complete historically correct Victorian dresses, that always gives me a warm feeling inside!
And this warm feeling also extends to the organisation. When we first reached out to the with our ideas we never expected such an enthusiastic an friendly response. From the very first day we felt welcome and we felt a part of the family, how awesome is that? We already can’t wait for Elfia Arcen in September! A special thank you goes out to one member of Elfia in particular. The stage-manager Steef made not just the backstage area, but the whole festival feel like home! From the first second we met to the last handshake at the end this guy was both professional and a friend, and that’s a noteworthy combination! Dude, you are awesome, and don’t let anybody tell you any different!
Now, with all of that said, and it turned out to be a lot longer than I originally expected, with Elfia “in the pocket” I would like to officially declare the festival season open! We hope you’ll enjoy many festivals and we hope to meet you all there! Stay safe and keep folking!