Nadia Elkharadly: Music Festival – Where dreams and nightmares come true

Nadia LogoThis past weekend, my fellow Soundgarden fangirl Emy and I flew down to Washington D.C. to get our quarterly dose of SG music love at the DC 101 Chili Cook Off.  I am definitely no stranger to a music festival; I’ve been to several, both at home and in the U.S. since delving into this music journalist world.  As a result, I’ve developed an idea of what makes a good music festival, and what kind of a clusterfuck a bad one can be.  And let me tell you, DC 101 (a rock radio station in Washington) needs to go back to festival planning school, because they put on a pretty shitty festival.

fangirlsI’m going to put it out there right now:  there were only two reasons why Emy and I decided to hop a Porter flight to the confusing capital city of our neighbours to the south.  The first, which should go without saying, but I will say it anyway; SOUNDGARDEN.  In case you haven’t noticed, or haven’t ever read a word I’ve written, but I’m somewhat of a fan.  Alright, I’m a batshit crazy fangirl.  I admit it.  It’s not the first time I’ve travelled to another city to see the Seattle scene originators, and undoubtedly it won’t be the last.  The reason why this particular destination was chosen was a more familial, rather than musical one; Emy’s absolutely wonderful mother and stepfather happen to live within Metro-ing distance of the festival grounds.  With two very compelling reasons for the journey found, flights were purchased and plans were made.  Anticipation for the festival was high, as it would be for any Soundgarden shows for fans of our insane calibre.  There were also a couple of added bonuses for this particular festival; the lineup, aside from the most beloved headliners, was pretty respectable.  Los Angeles bands Silversun Pickups and AWOLNATION have both impressed me in the past, putting on great live shows and being generally entertaining and awesome.

chilicookofflineupThe other bonus to this festival was right in the title:  CHILI COOKOFF.  There are only about 5 things I can make in the kitchen.  Three of those things are Kraft Dinner, Chef Boyardee and a mess.  One of the other two, however, is chili.  It’s the frat boy in me I guess, but beer and chili are one of my favourite combinations, and this event promised copious amounts of both.  Suffice to say, I was definitely looking forward to the festivities, musical and otherwise.

It’s got to be an art, putting on a great music festival.  A killer lineup is just the beginning; putting together a list of bands that are currently, musically relevant, picking enough up and comers to fill out the day, giving them exposure and fans entertainment while they wait for their favourite headliners to take the stage.  The true challenge is logistical; something that most festival goers would never, and truly should never even think about or notice while enjoying their day of outdoor music.  Sound quality, concessions, access to alcohol, and bathroom facilities, these are things that people take for granted in life, but badly arranged can truly make or break a music festival.  And many of those things were done very very wrong at this Chili cookoff deal.

dc101chiliMy first beef with this festival (pun intended) was the distinct lack of Chili at an event CALLED a Chili Cookoff.  Now, I’ve never been to a chili cook off, so maybe a combination of naiveté, perpetual meat cravings and plain old faith in humanity created visions of rows and rows of steaming, simmering pots of savoury, spicey, beefy goodness in my head.  Imagine my shock and disappointment at seeing this:

IMG_00000567Three types of Chili, at a chili cook off.  And really, does veggie even count as a kind of chili?  Emy bought some and it appeared to be mildly spicey tomato soup.  Festival fail number one: False. Advertising.  We weren’t the only ones disappointed by the lack of chili and excess of lies at this festival.  Festival goers have been ranting and raving on DC101’s Facebook page during the show and ever since it ended.  No explanation, no communication and no compensation were mentioned or given by festival organizers on the day of, and my investigation only unearthed one comment on Facebook, buried among photos, complaints and general web tomfoolery, stated that a “format change” and change in partnership would result in a lack of cookoff action.  One practically hidden Facebook post is probably the saddest attempt at a public announcement any organizing body can make.  Lack of chili and lack of accountability definitely soured more than just me against this badly put together event.

dc101chili1Sadly bereft of chili, I figured I ate least had access to the second half of that delicious combination: the beer.  But, due to the grandiose level of disorganization that characterized the DC101 Chili cookoff, obtaining palatable, drinkable beer was far more challenging and anger inducing than it ever should have been.  Obtaining beer generally goes like this: walk up to bar, ask for a beer, hand over money to barkeep, take beer in hand and drink to your heart’s content.  Apparently, Fake Chili cookoff organizing committee decided that conventional drink purchasing methods were far too simple.  Needing to give thirsty music and chili lovers a challenge, the beer purchasing process went more like this: stand in one endless line for thirty minutes, purchase overpriced beer tickets, head to a beer truck, discover that you can only receive BUD OR BUD LIGHT GROSS with aforementioned tickets, take beer from bartender, experience disappointment with every subpar tasting sip.   For those of us with more discerning beer drinking taste, there were a few kinds of craft beers that were available for consumption, but THAT acquisition required waiting in yet another absurdly long line, buying even more expensive-already-overpriced beer tickets and waiting in an even LONGER line with other disgruntled yet discerning beer drinkers.  In all my festival going experience, even where I’ve had to actually chase down mobile beer vendors, never have I had a more difficult, and more annoying time trying to obtain and imbibe alcohol.  Suffice it to say, I, nor anyone else around me, was impressed.

So, no chili, and ridiculous missions to obtain beer aside, you would think that music would satiate every hunger and thirst that I managed to feel that day.  Unfortunately, Fakechilicookoff2013 took place in what seemed to be the parking lot of the Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in East D.C.  A parking lot that was made entirely out of concrete.  Aside from being murder to stand on for hours at a time, it treats sound to an ugly duckling makeover of the highest degree.  You’d hope that people organizing an event of a musical nature would think that providing show goers with a comfortable venue in which to hear music played to its full potential would, you know, actually think of these things.  Thinking was clearly not on the top of any of these organizers list of skills.

soundgardenchiliIn case my ranting above wasn’t clear, the DC101 Chili cookoff was probably the most disappointing music festival I have ever been to, and I’ve covered Edgefest and Canadian Music Fest.  Would I ever go to this festival again?  Hell to the no.  Would I have ever gone if Soundgarden wasn’t headlining?  Hell to the no.  That being said, I’m still glad I went, if only to get one more Soundgarden fix before Pearl Jam kidnaps Matt Cameron for their own summer tour.  It goes without saying that Soundgarden blew my mind, as they do every time.  Aside from playing a more meagre than usual festival style setlist (which was still amazing, obviously), Emy and I managed to get right into the thick of things – I’m talking inches from the fence, moshpit deep here.  There’s something truly visceral about literally being crushed, thrashed and trashed, surrounded by music fans that are just as insane as you are.  Of course, moshpits are generally not the safest places for humans, especially of the female variety, but luckily there are always a few moshpit “heroes” that take it upon themselves to protect and watch over ladyfans.  While American music fans are a lot rougher in the pit that Canadian fans (in my experience), they were proportionately as protective as they were rougher.  As you can see (read) I clearly survived the show, as did Emy, with only several scratches and bruises to show for it, and our intense love of Cornell and company stronger than ever.

Have you ever had a completely terrible concert or music festival experience?  Share with the class, using the comment button below!

Until next time,




Nadia’s column appears every Wednesday

Contact us at:

DBAWIS ButtonNadia Elkharadly is a Toronto based writer with a serious addiction to music. Corporate drone by day, renegade rocker by night, writing is her creative outlet.  Nadia writes for the Examiner (.com) on live music in Toronto and Indie Music in Canada.  She has never been in a band but plays an awesome air guitar and also the tambourine.  Check in every Tuesday for musings about music, love, life and whatever else that comes to mind.

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3 Responses to “Nadia Elkharadly: Music Festival – Where dreams and nightmares come true”

  1. It’s all about expectation, isn’t it, so I do sympathize. But let’s go back a few decades….

    In general, stadium rock festivals in the summers of the ‘70s were tests of endurance for anyone who wasn’t just looking for a place to get stoned. You might be there frying or soaking for eleven hours and hear only four hours of actual music, all of it mono, most of it distorted. Often the only words you might be sure you’d heard all day were “Testing! One! One! One! One! … Two! Two! [etc/]” as every band brought out and set up its own sound system on the (1) stage … and the name of YOUR CITY, which was exciting. Only headliners, who played after dusk, were entitled to use lights and the really unpleasant levels of distortion, and there were no screens, so only tall aggressive people could really see what was going down. Beer? Real food? In your dreams! But, hey, at least you’d be able to say you’d been there.

  2. haha very true! but having been to better run festivals (and other very poorly run festivals), i definitely think that there are standards that can be adhered to, and that people have come to expect. that being said, i’d watch Soundgarden play in a ditch on the side of the 401 and still love it haha.

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