Latvia's hidden gem
Manic Street Preachers - Positivus Festival 2012

The Baltic States aren’t the first place you’d think of when planning a party, but there’s no Iron Curtain here anymore. Latvia regained its independence in 1991 and is home to Positivus, the largest music festival in the area, with 25,000 revellers on site each year. Here the most celebrated acts in the provinces share stages with internationally renowned artists. Whether you’ve come to see Macitajs on Acid or Manic Street Preachers, this is a hidden gem, and a beer is only £1.70 too!

“It’s the second year we’ve played and it wasn’t a hard decision to come back,” exclaimed Manics frontman James Dean Bradfield before tearing into ‘Tsunami’ as a wave of buoyant hands swayed in unison. We can only agree with his enthusiasm. We’d love to go back to a festival like this. Salacgrïva – an hour’s drive from the Riga capital – is a bucolic idyll with an inviting forest surrounding its green fields. If you ventured through the trees there were all kinds of wonderful things to find, from smaller stages, art stalls, people ensconced in hammocks watching metal bands, to a beautiful beach on the other side offering serene sunsets.

First time UK performers were struck by the friendly atmosphere and exuberant audience reaction. Lucy Rose looked on the verge of tears towards the end of her set, declaring this crowd to be the best she’d played to. Wild Beasts had people hooting & howling on their inaugural visit, and Friendly Fires frontman Ed Macfarlane’s hip-gyrations were off the scale as the main stage was ignited by their debut Positivus appearance. The group left the stage drenched in sweat after giving their all.

While we talk of being drenched, the weather can make or break a festival, but a brief downpour on Saturday only furthered the sense of occasion, coming appropriately during Jamie N Commons’ ‘Nina’, a piano-blues number about love “falling down like rain”. The Vaccines turned the main stage into a muddy dance-pit as people gleefully squelched around to the best of their debut album, plus a few glimpses of second record ‘The Vaccines Come of Age’. The rain did little to dampen spirits, more seeming like a further attraction to enjoy in the otherwise humid climate.

Throughout the weekend one of the hottest stages was The Palladium – a covered tent showcasing talent from the Baltic. The tent was often so full we couldn’t fit in. It’s clear there’s huge support for the strong regional music scene with acts such as Astro’n’out, Black Apple Market, and Elephants From Neptune, providing a mini-festival of their own for fervent fans of home-grown talent.

Keane headlined the main stage on Friday. Cherub faced frontman Tom Chaplin conducted a huge crowd which became an impromptu choir, singing back the words to ‘Everybody’s Changing’, ‘Bedshaped’ and the evening’s finale ‘Somewhere Only We Know’. There must be a painting of Tom locked away in a room somewhere corroding because his face shows no signs of ageing, and his sprightly onstage moves show no hint of slowing. He bounced from left to right, even standing on a monitor at one point before half being tempted to dive into the sea of arms in front. Someone really should tell Keane they’re not a rock band, but on the energy in this performance it’s hard to fault them.

Saturday saw the less youthful veteran Welsh legends Manic Street Preachers providing an anthemic set. Opening with ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ was a bold statement from the group, who seemed on top form and eager to please. As ‘A Design for Life’ seeped from the speakers, condensation from those below rose to the stage, giving the impression that things were really boiling over. “This one’s dedicated to James Dean Bradfield,” says bassist Nicky Wire ahead of another classic. “He’s my best friend. We went to school together, we learned to play music together, we fell in love with the same girls together…” he reminisced, then the two swung their guitars to every note of ‘You Love Us’ as though eighteen again. It was a nostalgic set hitting the highs of their lengthy career. “Words can’t express how much fun we’ve had here tonight. We’d definitely come back again,” says Bradfield as our festival came to a close. We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

Words by Simon Butcher
Photo by Anna Kroeger

Click here for a photo gallery of the festival.

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