September 01, 2008

Russian Woodstocks

With each passing year, Russia’s summer festivals are gaining ground as alternatives to the stifled city music scene. Largely ignored by most media outlets, the festivals attract hundreds of thousands of musicians and music lovers and offer an atmosphere of amazing creativity and diversity. As well, the festivals offer regional performers from all over Russia a chance to make a name for themselves and build an audience without having to break into radio or television. 

Pustye Kholmy (“Empty Hills”) attracted 45 thousand people in mid-July to its traditional location along the Ressa river in Kaluga oblast. This is up from about 20 thousand fans last year (The first Pustye Kholmy in 2003 was attended by just 300 people). Some 500 musicians performed on wooden stages built by volunteers. 

The art sculptures, impromptu performances and workshops make Kholmy a bit similar to America’s anarchic Burning Man festival. The difference however, is a focus on music and the fact that there is no ticket charge. Kholmy is free, non-commercial and organized by volunteers, though in past years it has taken money from sponsors. 

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