Summer is the season of music festivals in Europe, and Hungary is no exception. The three festivals that I’ve heard the most about are VOLT, which is this week; Balaton Sound, which is next week; and Sziget, which is held in August. Both VOLT and Sziget generally have rock music, although apparently Sziget is known for mixing it up with some blues and jazz, but Balaton Sound is an electronic music festival. We didn’t plan well enough last year to make it to any of the festivals, but it’s been a goal of Richie’s to attend as many as possible. This year, 30 Seconds to Mars, one of our favorite bands, was playing on Day 1 of the VOLT festival, so it was an easy decision. Our friends Garrett and Aaron flew across the pond to join us as well.
VOLT is held in Sopron, a Hungarian town quite close to the Austrian border. We didn’t spend much time exploring the town, because the festival was held on a campground, but what we did see of it was charming and worth a closer look. Most of the town’s signage is in both Hungarian and German, which is rare. Apparently after WWI, Sopron was part of the lands granted to Austria in a post-war treaty, but there was enough local unrest that it was put to a vote and returned to Hungary!
Sopron is only a little over two hours from Budapest, so we rented a car and headed out Wednesday after lunch. We checked into our sweet little hotel, complete with hotel dog and the best service we’ve had in all of Europe (if you ever visit Sopron, be sure to stay in Hotel Wollner!) The hotel staff recommended a restaurant that was delicious, one block from the hotel, and across the street from the bus that takes you to the festival.
We arrived at the festival site in what seemed like total chaos, but was actually well organized once you looked past the sea of people. We exchanged our stamped and signed ticket vouchers for wristbands, purchased festival cards (which are the only currency accepted once you’re in the festival grounds) and dove into the masses.
First order of business was to obtain t-shirts… my favorite part was trying to ask, above all the noise, if the shirt I wanted was a kid’s shirt or for adults (it was a little on the small side). The guy couldn’t understand me so I tried in Hungarian. He was shocked that a girl from Texas knew the word for “children”! We wandered around the festival grounds for awhile to get our bearings.
Richie knew a work colleague that was attending as well, so we managed to meet up with him and his friends just before Queens of the Stone Age took the stage. I knew exactly one of their songs, and judging by the Hungarian audience response, most of them were in the same boat. I had previously thought I knew more… but it turns out I was mixing them up with the White Stripes. Whoops.
They weren’t bad at all, but we were there for one thing and one thing only – Jared Leto 😉 Once the previous band exited, and the audience vanished to replenish their drinks and stand in the really long lines for the WC, we moved closer. I should note that I *hate* standing close at concerts because of the crowd and the noise and the shoving and the risks of having a crowd-surfer dropped on your head… but Richie managed to convince me that it was all part of the experience, so we forged ahead.
The concert was CRAZY. With a capital CRAZY. Once the music started, there was no turning back. People were crushed up on all sides of us and there was absolutely no escape. However, all of the people were huge fans of 30STM and incredibly nice, so I just pretended like they were my new best friends and got cozy. It really was a bit unbelievable, watching Jared Leto wave a Hungarian flag in the air and hearing all of the accented English around me screaming the lyrics to the songs. I would’ve taken a video, but honestly, if I’d tried to pull out the camera at this point, it would’ve gotten smashed to bits inadvertently.
The band played for nearly two hours, pulling people onstage and at one point going into the crowd to sing about 5 meters away from us. They played a great mix of the new album and the older ones, although I personally would’ve loved to hear a little more from “A Beautiful Lie”… but I think it was offset by the awesome stage performances from random gymnasts and the hoop-spinning guy from their Up in the Air video. If you’re ever looking for a band that combines a great musical performance with an entertaining show, this is the one. Just maybe stand in the back.