The main reason I headed here this year was because my son loves Sabaton. He’s ten years old, his first gig was Sabaton at Glasgow Barrowlands with Alestorm, and his second gig was seeing them again at Glasgow Academy last year. When he found out they did a festival, he just had to go.
The thing is, festivals are several days long and even the “family friendly” ones basically just allow kids. They don’t put much on for them so as an adult you’re trying to entertain them for hours when you want to be watching bands play. Only this is Sabaton, the band who refuse to play venues unless they become “all ages” for their shows. They do something different.
For the last couple of years, SOA has had a “Kids’ Area” where your littler ones can kick back and chill while you go and bang your head to some noisy people on a stage a hundred yards away. Sponsored by local supermarket ICA they’ve been able to pop up a “METAL-ICA” banner which Hetfield and co obviously haven’t found out about yet due to lack of being sued.
Courtesy of ICA your kids can eat as many hot dogs, apples and bananas as their little tummies can hold for the many hours the tent is open – roughly an hour after the first band comes on until the time the headliners start at 22:30. They also have healthy fruit juice cartons that the kids only have to ask for.
And an Xbox 360. And a PS3. And a shedload of Lego. And bean bags. And some guitars, drums, a keyboard and a microphone. Don’t think they’re just left to their own devices, either. Random famous faces (as well as guitar techs and the like) pop in and put on a show now and again, and work with the kids to make them feel part of something special.
This year also had an appearance by a local group focused on getting children interested in science – something I was bouncing about as a computing teacher. Programming Beebots, an AI setup and some science games were added to the toys the kids could play with. In other words, big score and somewhere my son and his new friend we met on the campsite on the first day spent ages.
Oh, when we arrived on the Thursday for the opening party all the kids were given souvenir Sabaton earplugs in a little branded pouch. Lovely touch. And all their ticket money goes to a children’s charity. Even better.
OK, so the kids are sorted. What else? Oh, yes, the size. It’s small, but perfectly formed. A festival doesn’t need to sit on 300 acres to be enjoyable as anyone who’d been to Wildfire, Breaking Bands, Amplified or many others can attest.
There are two stages, one of which was used on the Thursday before they started to alternate on the Friday into Saturday with “bigger” bands on the larger of the two. Sound was generally good to awesome on both – credit to all who did the work on that score. With them being so close together, and with band changeover’s being around 15-20 minutes, you’ll miss nothing if you want to see everyone on the bill.
There’s a good variety of food trucks covering pizza, burgers, tacos, fish’n’chips, Thai, sweeties, pulled pork and others. Also on site were the usual festival type outlets you’ll be used to – clothing, patches, bags, ponchos, tattoos (yup – and they were popular, too!) and so forth. Prices are on the upper end of acceptable, depending on how your currency is against the Swedish Crown. A meal from a truck will set you back around 7-9 SEK (£6-£8 roughly as of time of writing). The food quality varies from pretty good to “that was almost worth the inflated price” (the orange burger truck).
Also on site were Metalheads Against Bullying, a great charity and one (as a parent and teacher) I can wholeheartedly get behind.
Everywhere takes plastic, except the people wandering around selling ponchos. I bank with Halifax and their credit card doesn’t charge fees for overseas purchases, making it far too easy to buy things. I didn’t use cash on my entire trip. In fact I didn’t even see any Swedish currency. This, apparently, is not unusual.
Security is tight but friendly. Everyone entering isn’t just checked for a wristband, but given a quick pat down and bags are checked. No alcohol is allowed anywhere outside of the marked beer tent area, into which children are not permitted after the opening party on Wednesday.
You’ll go through similar searches entering the campsite as well, where they also ensure you don’t bring glass in with you. The land used can play host to wildlife at other times of year and glass can injure or kill the animals. Plastic and cans only, folks.
All this sounds draconian, but it’s done with a smile. Hell, when I went to shake the hand of one of the security staff as we left on the Sunday I ended up getting a huge hug instead!
Our time on the campsite was enjoyable enough. Thankfully Austin made a friend within minutes of us starting to pitch tent (a boy from London the same age) and this made life a lot easier for myself and the other lad’s parents. We let them run wild and one group of campers even made them a huge hammer, sword and shield from empty beer cans and gaffer tape. There was a huge “help each other out” vibe to the place and it was generally kept pretty tidy. Toilets were numerous enough and clean (same can be said of the festival arena) though the partying went on all night. Austin sleeps like a log, I use earplugs. Problem solved.
Do note that camping is in addition to your festival ticket. If you want to camp, you must buy a separate camping ticket for each person over the age of 12. 12-and-unders camp for free [confirmed with festival organisers, thanks for the correction in the comments!].
The location’s great. There’s a supermarket and a McDs within a 15 minute walk (also a sports / camping store in case your tent pegs bend or your gas cooking gas runs out), a swimming pool with slides on the site for a couple of quid and you can use their showers for free with your festival wristband, and a crazy golf course just outside the main festival entrance. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many metalheads with putters.
Getting there and away isn’t too hard either. There’s a bus from Falun train station (the 153) which takes about 10 minutes, or you could walk it in half an hour (if that) if you don’t have too much to carry. If you’re not up for camping then you can book hotels in the area, but they’re not cheap and many do push the prices up for the duration.
Finally, the weather – something over which festivals have no control (as Amplified will tell you…). We got lucky due to the strange weather Europe’s been having recently, with generally clear skies and mild temperatures. We only had one blast of rain which lasted an hour or so over Powerwolf’s set on the Saturday. Other than that it wasn’t bad at all. I’d recommend checking before you leave home and packing for all eventualities, especially if you have little ones to think about.
Overall, my son and I had a great time though spent a fair bit more than anticipated mainly due to the pound nosediving recently. Sweden as a whole still wasn’t as expensive as I was led to expect, but those little individual transactions do mount up. If you have kids and want to try something a little more exotic than a small UK festival, and something like Download worries you due to its immense scale then Sabaton Open Air is a cracking few days.