Delta Music Fast Food

Organised by the Anonimul Foundation, the Delta Music Fest took place between the 30th of August and the 2nd of September in Sfantu Gheorghe. This was yet another polluting festival hailed by environmentalists fighting to "save" the Danube Delta. As places in need of "saving" are ten-a-penny these days, we can probably look forward to festivals in our muddy volcanic springs, in the Dimbovicioara caves and on the bison reservation in Hateg.  SFANTU GHEORGHE The streets of Sfantu Gheorghe are covered in a fine layer of dust and, when it rains, gigantic puddles form every few metres and remain for days unless the rays of the sun are particularly powerful. There are a few small shops in the centre in which you can buy food and various odds and ends. It's a quiet place, with a few children kicking around a deflated football on the main street, a place better suited to photography than festivals. Once an hour an old bus trundles through, whipping up a cloud of dust, and a few horse carts pass by, in search of passengers looking for a ride as far as the beach, which is a fair distance away. We walked for over half an hour and still had some way to go along paths lined by grapes ripening on their vines. The locals lean against their garden fences and are no longer astonished by the exotic clothes, hairstyles and piercings that pass before their eyes. They've seen about all there is to see over the past three months in which their town has played host to so many complex events that are so far removed from the realities of their day-to-day lives. The villager we're staying with laughs: "They came along with their Anonimul, and so now we're making money off festivals. But I've had some people coming to stay every year for the past 19 years. Those are the ones who count, the ones I prepare for. The ones coming for the festival, well, they'll probably only come once, I don't know if I'll see them again next year." She's a teacher of mathematics and IT in another village along the Danube, even though she doesn't like either subject. She studied choreography, but as there were no teaching jobs available, she took what she could get. Villagers with boats and the necessary permits organise excursions through the nature reserve that will set you back 30 lei per person. A gigantic seafood meal in a local's house, replete with carp and soup made from catfish, cost us 20 lei a head. The beach is beautiful and deserted. A sudden rain turned the sand into a sort sea of damp lava, interspersed here and there by a lonely bush or clump of shrubs. It's a quiet, wide-open space. As it's difficult to find such scenes in similar places, I suppose that in a few years, with some good marketing, you won't be able to find it here, either. And the guys here have shown that they know a thing or two about marketing. FROM THE CAMP-SITE TO THE STAGE The four star campsite is quite impressive, but looks a bit out of place in this picturesque Danube town, and I have one major gripe: it's almost impossible to find fish in the canteen. If you want to eat, you'll have to make do with grilled meat and mici. This situation reminded me very much of Ostrov, a town on the Danube, where the owner of the only restaurant in town offered mici, and only mici, to those travellers waiting to take the car ferry across to Bulgaria. There was no question of adding variety to his menu with some fish dishes. No, it was exclusively mici. I'm just as perplexed here in Sfantu Gheorghe where, located between the Danube and the sea, a seafood soup is impossible to find and where we are forced to eat French fries. Here, while salivating at the thought of a seafood restaurant, I came across places selling hamburgers. This is in stark contrast to the enterprising idea of some sharp-minded businessmen in Brasov, who dug an artificial lake outside the land-locked city, stocked it with fish, and opened a successful restaurant. The organisers faced one major problem: an acute lack of visitors. I would hazard a guess that about 300 ticket-holders turned up, and in a desperate move to generate a crowd, free tickets were distributed in the village. This led to a somewhat eclectic and heterogeneous public dancing to the sounds of electro, trance and trip-hop. Some locals brought along their families, others came with their mates, and after a few shots of something cheap and strong were shouting from the front row: "Get a haircut! Why don't you play something we can listen to?!" Shukar Collective was the band that probably appealed best to both camps: those who paid good money to see some big-name DJs and those who got in for free and who were somewhat confused by the whole spectacle. My personal favourite was Coldcut, who were the lead act on the last night and who managed to gather the biggest crowd, mixing music ranging from Led Zeppelin to Rage Against the Machine. Soda Surfers also went down well with a psychedelic trip-hop dub. The schedule underwent some last-minute changes, with Coldcut, for example, being moved to the last evening, which almost resulted in me missing their performance. Only the big-name bands managed to attract something akin to a crowd – the warm-up bands usually found themselves mixing it up in front of a mere handful of onlookers. Every night, between 1 and 2am, the crowds would begin to thin out, which led to the bigger bands being put on earlier in the day just so that they would have some kind of audience. The atmosphere was extremely relaxed, as people dressed in the latest fashions and with junk attitudes mingled with music lovers, brand addicts, students and artists. It was an extremely colourful festival that claimed impeccable green credentials, though I did hear that plain-clothes immigration officers carried out the occasional swoop. MARKETING AND PILES OF RUBBISH  The monster made out of plastic bottles, assembled by volunteers working on a project supported by "Save the Danube Delta" and Energy Holding, is still standing, a bit more crooked, somewhat hunchbacked, with some elements missing due to the strong winds, but he is still there, however, accompanied by his two younger brothers who hunch behind him in an Indian file of rubbish. Not only does this plastic monster still inhabit Sfantu Gheorghe's beach, he must also share it with piles of rubbish gathered by the volunteers during he festival. Over one month after the end of the festival and the proud declarations of success by the organisers, nobody has thought to deal with that most minor of issues: removing the rubbish that had piled up during those days of merrymaking. I've heard that some people have begun placing bets as to whether there'll be a Delta Music Fest next year. By any standards, this year's festival was a failure, with much fewer people attending than anticipated. Music lovers would love to see another marathon of this type, with all the big-name bands gathered together in the same place. On the other hand, however, they're not particularly enthused about having to travel for up to 12 hours for this privilege, and they felt that the choice of location was uninspired. Only this can save Sfantu Gheorghe from the same people who "saved" Vama Veche. The fact that it is tucked away at the ends of the earth, surrounded by water, may help it retain its wild, deserted air, with less discarded plastic bottles and more wild animals. Other places can host festivals. However, the price of land in the region has begun to grow. Dilema veche, 13-19 September 2007

by Ramona Crăciun