FRF is officially a three-day event, running from Friday morning until late on Sunday night, though for those who come early there is an opening party held on the Thursday night.
Having the festival held in a ski-resort area during summer gives festival goers an abundance of accommodation options: from the pure-festival-experience option of camping, through to the VIP lodgings of the Naeba Prince Hotel. The camping area is on the lower slopes of the ski-resort, and those unlucky enough not to arrive early will find themselves setting up their tent on seemingly impossible gradients.
This year was my second FRF experience. After the expense of last year’s festival I told myself that
I wouldn’t be going again. However the 2010 lineup of artists (Massive Attack, MGMT, Muse; to name but a few) saw me whip out the credit card almost instantaneously.
While the lineup up is usually truly amazing (though, your mileage may vary), it’s the atmosphere and the beautiful location that keeps the punters returning. Think giant mountains, surrounded by trees and fresh mountain air while watching Vampire Weekend entice people as far as you can see to get out of their camp chairs and jump around. It’s sensory bliss. The spectators are also a different breed to what is generally experienced in the West. People are happy to sit back, relax and take in the music. And when I say sit back, they do just that, bringing in camp chairs, inflatable mattresses and tarpaulins. Not even the deafening metal of The Melvins is enough to stop some people dozing off for an afternoon powernap.
Like many large music festivals, it’s spread out among several stages that tend to cater for a certain genre of music, from electronic beats through to hippies with acoustic guitars and percussion. To walk from one end to the other requires you budget at least 30 minutes. It’s forgiven because the commute between the stages are via beautiful forest paths lined with art and the occasional hidden stage/bar/restaurant. Though, a word of warning, the paths do turn to mud with the inevitable rain (so bring suitable footwear).
The perfect accompaniment to great music and watching bizarre festival fashion is always food, isn’t it? Unlike any other festival that I have ever been to, the food here is genuinely a highlight. It’s almost as much of an attraction as the music itself. Honestly. There are vendors selling any and every variation of food that you can imagine, from Russian sausages through to Spanish paella, British fish-n-chips, Turkish kebabs, Italian pizzas, Thai curries and plenty of Japanese cuisine. And at ¥600 for a delicious Thai curry, I was in heaven.
While I appreciate that a ‘rock festival’ isn’t to everybody’s taste, to those of you who are interested in live music, because of its unmatchable ambience, beautiful setting and the cultural differences of the spectators, FRF should be added to your ‘must-see festivals’ lists. At the top. In bold.
Where: Naeba Ski Resort, Niigata.
Getting there: Echigo Yuzawa is the nearest bullet train station. Shuttle buses run between the station and the festival frequently.
When: End of July
Cost: Weekend ticket – ¥40,000; Single day – ¥16,800;
Camping – ¥3,000
By Ross Cole-Hunter