With the music festival season in full swing, here’s our pick (and insider tips) of six must-attend festivals from across India. Whether you’re a blues purist, a techno weekend warrior, or a classic rock fan, there’s a festival for everyone.

MAGNETIC FIELDS: 14-16 December 2018, Alsisar Mahal, Rajasthan. Tickets start at 12,000

UK producer Joy Orbison (below) is one of this year’s big draws at the Magnetic Festival.
UK producer Joy Orbison (below) is one of this year’s big draws at the Magnetic Festival.

The large-scale music festival has its charms, but it also comes with downsides—long lines at the bar, getting jostled by over-enthusiastic teenagers, and having to watch your favourite act through a mass of selfie-sticks and camera flashes. If you prefer a different, more intimate festival experience, look no further than Magnetic Fields, a boutique festival that takes place at the majestic Alsisar Mahal in Rajasthan.

Since its inception in 2013, Magnetic Fields has become a haven for expats and well-heeled music fans, thanks to the old-world charm and luxury of the venue as well as its cutting-edge lineups. This year, you can choose between the grimy UK techno of Joy Orbison, the propulsive dance music of Canadian producer and DJ Daphni, or the kaleidoscopic jazz duo Kamaal Williams.

There’s also two specially commissioned audio-visual sets by Indian artists. The more literary-minded can attend Magnetic Words, where an assortment of thinkers and writers will be taking the stage. You can also sample from a selection of award-winning virtual reality films, or check out the reliably fascinating art installations.

The inside track: Keep an eye out for vintage low-powered radios scattered across the palace. They’ll be broadcasting clues for a World War II themed treasure hunt designed by science historian, artist and writer Rohit Gupta aka Compasswallah.

*****

MAHINDRA BLUES FESTIVAL: 9-10 February 2019, Mumbai, Maharashtra. Tickets start at 2,500 for a daily pass, and 4,000 for a season pass

Supersonic Blues Machine with Billy Gibbons at the 2017 edition of Mahindra Blues.
Supersonic Blues Machine with Billy Gibbons at the 2017 edition of Mahindra Blues.

It’s not very often that you come across a music festival that has tractors at the centre of its origin story. The Mahindra Blues Festival—often credited with the rejuvenation of the Indian blues scene—owes its origins to the farmers of the Mississippi delta, where the blues were born.

In 2011, Mahindra and Mahindra Ltd was looking for ways to highlight their association with these farmers, the main market for their tractors, when they hit on the idea of using blues music to forge a unique cultural connection (since 2015, they’ve also held a Mahindra Blues Weekend in Chicago).

Despite these somewhat unromantic origins, the festival has become a mainstay on Mumbai’s cultural calendar since its inception. Held at the historic Mehboob Studios every year, it’s that rare event where well-dressed CEOs, ageing hippies and fresh-faced teenagers rub shoulders to watch the likes of Chicago blues legend Buddy Guy, Grammy winning singer-songwriter Keb’ Mo’ and the iconic icon Taj Mahal do their thing onstage.

Blues harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite will headline the Mahindra Blues in February next year.
Blues harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite will headline the Mahindra Blues in February next year.

Next year’s line-up includes electrifying blues-rock star Beth Hart, veteran bandleader and blues harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite, gospel-influenced electric blues singer-songwriter “Sugaray" Rayford and Memphis vocalist and harmonica player Brandon Santini.

The inside track: Don’t forget to check out the specially curated food stalls, one of the highlights of the festival. Also keep an eye out for the Mahindra Blues Band Hunt winner, usually performing on a special stage in the garden, to get an early look at a possible future headliner.

*****

ORANGE FESTIVAL OF ADVENTURE AND MUSIC: 15-18 December 2018, Dambuk, Arunachal Pradesh. The four-day festival pass is priced at 5,000.

The Orange Festival of Adventure and Music is perfect for the outdoorsy music fan. Photo: OFAM
The Orange Festival of Adventure and Music is perfect for the outdoorsy music fan. Photo: OFAM

If you like your live music with a side serving of mountain vistas and high adrenalin adventure sports, then you should make your way to Arunachal Pradesh’s Lower Dibang valley for the Orange Festival of Adventure and Music (OFAM).

Held in the quaint village of Dambuk, OFAM was conceptualized by Abu Tayeng as a way to create self-employment and business opportunities for local youth. Now in its fifth edition, it offers attendees the chance to take part in activities like white water rafting, dirt biking, zip-lining, and ATV rides in the surrounding forest. One can also try their hand at local tribal activities like archery, angling, and forest food walks.

This year’s Orange Festival is headlined by Los Angeles’ The Iron Maidens, the popular all-female tribute band to the British heavy metal legends. Other artists include The Bluegrass Journeymen, Bipul Chettri, Sapta, Suraj Mani and many more.

The inside track: Don’t forget to take a hot-air balloon ride for a rare bird’s-eye view of the Lower Dibang valley’s incredible beauty and rugged charm.

*****

VH1 SUPERSONIC: 16-17 February 2019, Pune, Maharashtra. Tickets start at 2,499

The elaborate stage design at last year’s VH1 Supersonic festival in Pune.
The elaborate stage design at last year’s VH1 Supersonic festival in Pune.

For a few years, the competition between India’s original EDM festival Sunburn and upstarts VH1 Supersonic meant that India had one of the happiest EDM fan bases in the world, as the two festivals competed to get the biggest and best names available.

And while Sunburn is still a draw for those who want to spend New Year’s Eve dancing to EDM and trance, Supersonic has chosen to go in a different direction and transformed itself into one of India’s biggest multi-genre music festivals, with artists like US rapper Macklemore and alt-rockers Incubus playing alongside EDM mainstays Major Lazer and Eric Prydz.

This year’s line-up includes a live set by British nu-jazz/downtempo electronica producer Bonobo and American EDM producer Marshmello, with support from instrumental rock act Polyphia, bass music exponents Tropkillaz and Indian blues-rock guitarist Blackstratblues. For such a large, multi-stage festival, Supersonic is also notable for providing a smooth experience for attendees, with interventions like cashless payment using a microchip in the wristband and a special ladies only bar.

The inside track: Every year, VH1 Supersonic pulls out all the stops when it comes to its art installations and set designs. This year, expect seriously over-the-top stage designs with state-of-the-art visuals and pyrotechnics, as well as a lot of interesting installations and experience zones scattered across the festival grounds.

*****

GOA SUNSPLASH: 12-13 January 2019, Mandrem, Goa. Tickets start at 2,000 for a day pass, and 3,500 for a season pass

Goa Sunsplash is India’s only festival dedicated to reggae culture.
Goa Sunsplash is India’s only festival dedicated to reggae culture.

Reggae has been a late starter in India’s music scene, with the Jamaican Rastafari-linked genre finding few takers in the country till the late 2000s. But ever since the pioneering Delhi crew Reggae Rajahs formed in 2009, reggae and its sister genres—dancehall and dub—have become a staple of India’s party culture, with artists like Shaggy, The Wailers and Julian Marley having toured the country in recent years.

The Reggae Rajahs founded Goa Sunsplash in 2016 as a platform for the emerging reggae movement to build on. Three years later, it is South Asia’s biggest celebration of reggae culture, with three stages catering to everything from ska to dub and dancehall.

Jamaican reggae superstar Anthony B. will be headlining the festival, alongside London’s Channel One Soundsystem. Other international names in the line-up include upcoming producer and singer ZJ Liquid, multi-instrumentalist dub producer Egoless and spiritual dub producer Kibir La Amlak, alongside Indian acts like Bombay Bassment, Dakta Dub, DJ Sa, DJ Uri and many more.

Headliner Anthony B’s music fuses Afrecentrism with Rasta spirituality.
Headliner Anthony B’s music fuses Afrecentrism with Rasta spirituality.

Apart from the music, activities such as yoga, dance workshops, sound healing, martial arts and social forums are also a part of the programme.

The inside track: This edition will feature two hand-built Indian soundsystems. The soundsystem is an essential element of reggae culture. If you’re lucky, you may just get to witness the two soundsystems face off for an authentic Jamaican-style soundclash.

*****

NH7 WEEKENDER: 7-9 December 2018, Pune, Maharashtra. Tickets start at 2,500 for a day pass, and 4,500 for a season ticket.

Shubha Mudgal will present a surprise new track at the NH7 Weekender. Photo:
Shubha Mudgal will present a surprise new track at the NH7 Weekender. Photo:

One of the highlights of festival season is NH7 Weekender Pune, the flagship event for “India’s happiest music festival". This year’s edition features guitar virtuoso Joe Satriani, post-rockers God Is An Astronaut, prog metallers The Contortionist and Bollywood producers Salim-Sulaiman. But we’re most excited about a debut solo set by the Hindustani classical vocalist Shubha Mudgal. Edited excerpts from an email interview:

This is your second performance at the Bacardi NH7 Weekender, but the first as a solo performer. What can the fans expect from your set?

I will be performing with a band of fabulous musicians with whom I have had the fortune to work for several years now. I have Srijan Mahajan on drums, Gaurav Balani on the bass guitar, Aditya Balani on the guitar, Aneesh Pradhan on the tabla, Sudhir Nayak on the harmonium and Anil Chawla on keyboards. We intend to perform some of the better-known tracks I have been associated with, like Ab Ke Sawan. However, I also have a surprise track which I will be presenting for the first time at the Pune weekender with a wonderful Dhol-Tasha group from Pune called Taalvadya Pathak. Believe me, those dhol players can drum up quite a storm!

The Weekender audience is a little different from your regular fans. Are you excited to bring your music to such a young and diverse set of music listeners?

Yes, I am excited, a trifle nervous too. But then I remind myself that it will be an audience of music lovers finally, and that I wasn’t exactly a teenager myself when I recorded Ab Ke Sawan, Mann Ke Manjeere and Dholna. The young and diverse listened to those tracks, sung by a middle-aged, overweight, sari-clad woman then, so maybe they will in 2018 too?

Which act are you most excited to catch at the festival?

A lot of the acts in the Weekender lineup are artists I have not heard live but am familiar with their music only through recordings and YouTube videos. But by the time I reach Pune, I might not get to hear many of the acts though I will try and be in time to listen to the great Joe Satriani.

Is there an upcoming indie artist that you’d like to collaborate with?

Yes, many. The point is, would they want an ageing aunty collaborator?

The Inside Track: Make sure to grab a Bacardi bucket at the bar. It’s not only a great way to carry a pitcher’s worth of alcohol around, it also makes for a great souvenir.

Shubha Mudgal was interviewed by Vatsala Chhibber.

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