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The Colours of Ostrava Music Festival. I’d never even heard of it before I was invited to attend the TBEX (Travel Blogger Exchange) Conference in Ostrava, Czech Republic. Of course, I was familiar with Sziget, Tomorrowland, Exit, Pinkpop and the other major music festivals in Europe. Why hadn’t I heard of Colours of Ostrava?! Now that I’ve attended, I can honestly say it’s truly a first-class festival. And that’s saying nothing of one of the most incredible venues in the world.
The History of the Colours of Ostrava
The Colours of Ostrava music festival was spearheaded by a bar owner on the famous Stodolní walking street lined with bars and clubs. With 8000 attendees, 50 bands and 24 DJs, the first event lasted two days. The festival increased to three days in 2004, and four days in 2006. In 2005, the venue grew to include the Silesian Ostrava Castle on the other side of the river.
Then in 2012, the venue moved to the Lower Vítkovice Mines. This massive industrial mining complex still has all of its blast furnaces, ovens and other structures that go with a mine, albeit in a dilapidated state. It was shut down as a working mine in 1998, and has since been slowly immortalized as a testament to Ostrava’s leading role in Europe’s Industrial Revolution. The mine is currently on the list of tentative UNESCO World Heritage Sites. One of the highlights is the Bolt Tower, so named after Usain Bolt who frequents Ostrava for training sessions. Its superstructure is built on the mine’s old blast furnace and rises 255 feet, making it the highest geographical spot in Ostrava! You can take two elevators up 17 stories to a viewing platform that surrounds the tower and spirals down to the Bolt Cafe, unquestionably the coolest place in town to grab a chai latte.
Over the years, thousands of artists and bands have performed at Colours of Ostrava, including such notable names as Alanis Morissette, The Cranberries, Bastille, Björk, Of Monsters and Men, Passenger, Norah Jones, and Imagine Dragons. Every year the festival gets better, and 2018 was no exception!
Colours of Ostrava 2018
First of all, I’m guessing most of my readers are wondering where the hell Ostrava is. The Eastern Czech Republic. Where’s that? Think right in the center of Europe. And no, it’s not Czechoslovakia. Slovakia branched off as a separate country in 1992. More recently, the country has been renamed Czechia, but most locals I talk to still consider the official name to be the Czech Republic.
To get to Ostrava, I had a 13-hour bus ride from Amsterdam to Prague, arriving at 6:30 in the morning. A couple of hours later (after a golden hour stroll around one of the most beautiful cities in the world), I was on a train to Ostrava. Unfortunately, the Czech Republic has a very strange system where you have to book your train ticket and seat separately as two transactions. I missed this and was relegated to standing in the aisle for the 3-hour trip. Not easy when you only slept a couple hours on the bus.
I arrived at the Ostrava central train station (Ostrava hlavní nádraží, or hl. n. for short) around noon. It took me a few minutes to work out how to pay for the tram, which ended up being a little under $1. Most tram stops around town have a little ticket dispenser which takes coins, but the train station didn’t have one and I didn’t have coins, so I purchased them from the tourism center by the entrance.
The Vitkovice venue was about 15 minutes away from the station. I picked up my press pass there before heading onward to drop my bags off at my Couchsurfing host in South Ostrava. After a much-appreciated shower and change of clothes, we were back on the tram for the first day of the festival.
My host Lenka had been to the festival several times before and was happy to show me around, but I needed to check into the press center first. I immediately got lost trying to do so. Vitkovice really is a huge location, and with multi-level walkways and corridors between the mining buildings, I didn’t stand a chance. After several wrong turns, I finally made it…to find an empty room. Well, the computers were there, but none of my fellow bloggers. I’d have to find the other bloggers at another time.
I spent the next couple hours walking down every path in the venue, getting thoroughly oriented and ready for the rest of the week. I met back up with Lenka and we visited the electronic stage, and then saw Future Islands at the main stage. The former was really good; the latter not quite my cup of tea. I wasn’t the only member of the crowd that found the performer’s antics more than a little humorous, or his grunge voice slightly obnoxious. Throughout the rest of the day, we saw George Ezra, the end of Jeremy Loops and N.E.R.D. I had no idea Pharrell Williams was part of that last band. Their hard melodies and lyrics were in such contrast to his megahit “Happy,” but I still enjoyed them.
My host had been really excited about the food at the festival, and I quickly learned why. There were hundreds of stalls set up, many of which accumulating lines of dozens of hungry concert-goers. For my first meal, I attempted to get a Hungarian lángos…and failed. Instead of the deep-fried Hungarian pastry covered with cheese and sour cream, I ended up with a bramboracky – a savory potato pancake. I must have picked the worst stall to get it from too, as it made me a bit sick to my stomach. A couple days later, I ran into a friend who’d purchased one from the same stall and also found it quite bad. Luckily, that was the last bad meal I had at the festival.
I compensated later that evening with a sorbet cone and a hot dog from the Maxi stand. For one of the cheapest meals at the festival, the $2.25 hot dog was surprisingly good. Not that the festival was expensive. Most of the meals were less than $5! You gotta love the Czech Republic if you’re on a budget. Well…the Czech Republic outside of Prague.
On the morning of the second day, I had a tour around the city center. After a short lunch with the other bloggers at Cross Cafe, we made our way back to the festival. There weren’t a lot of bands I was particularly interested in, but there were plenty of other attractions at the festival.
Many of the sponsors had their own venues set up with various activities. Some of these included an H&M Block setup where you could make your own clothing items to wear at the festival. The Captain Morgan station had a bunch of boats in a sandpit you could lounge in while sipping on your rum. There was even a London Red Bus serving teas and iced lattes (the only place I could find them at the festival).
Perhaps the most interesting station, and the one most prominent, was the Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey Experience. They had all kinds of booths set up, By the entrance, they were serving Jack Daniel’s burgers. On the other side was a lively bar area. There were temporary tattoo artists, a DJ booth (the place got really lively at night), and two giant games of Jenga against one of the walls. When we arrived, Gone in Sixty Seconds was being shown on the cinema screen and bean bags were arranged on the ground. I watched the end of the movie with a group of other bloggers while dressed-up Jack Daniel’s girls brought around whiskey shots. I should mention it was really interesting watching a movie that was dubbed in Czech with English subtitles.
There weren’t a lot of performers I was interested in seeing that day either. Okay, I actually didn’t recognize any of them! Some of the other bloggers knew Kaleo, and I went along with them. The Icelandic blues-rock band was really good! I could definitely see the band going more mainstream in the near future. Or am I just being a moron and stepping on a bunch of toes for not knowing they’re already really popular?
When the show was over, four of us went up to the top of the Bolt Tower. The two girls were actually terrified of heights, and when we got to the seventeenth floor, they almost refused to get out of the elevator. It was even harder to get them onto the catwalk that surrounds the tower, although they did eventually relent to take some really amazing photographs. It was from up there that we really got an idea of how extensive the festival was.
Friday morning started off with a tour up Ema Hill, an artificial slag heap in Ostrava and the highest point in the city limits. This was followed by a lunch with a large group of fellow bloggers at Hogo Fogo, one of the top-rated restaurants in town. I swear the meat patty in the burger was over an inch thick! Eat that, In-N-Out!
When we got to the concert venue, we went right back up to the top of the Bolt Tower for daytime shots. This time I knew to look out for Usain Bolt’s signature on the top of the tower. I also spotted a mini cooper which must have been airlifted onto one of the viewing decks. Mini was one of the many sponsors of the festival.
At 6 p.m., we went to the second main stage to watch Calexico. I’d never heard of this Arizona-based band either, but I particularly liked their indie rock style. Joss Stone was up next at the primary main stage, and she was awesome. Although I recognized her name, I wasn’t actually familiar with her music. I liked it, and also really enjoyed the way she interacted with the audience.
Then there was Jessie J. If Joss Stone was awesome, Jessie was phenomenal! I definitely knew her songs. Domino and Price Tag were the highlights, but all the songs were great. Okay, that’s just based on my taste, and it’s not like I’ve ever searched for her music intentionally. She also had fantastic crowd engagement and wasn’t afraid to get down on our level. I always like seeing that in a performer, when they make the show more about the interaction with the audience than about themselves (as LMFAO! did when I saw them in concert).
I ended the evening with a chorizo and mushroom quesadilla, complete with a generous helping of homemade guacamole. As I said, the food at the festival was fantastic, and the Guacamole stand was no exception. The guy who prepared my quesadilla owns the Taco Boss truck in Prague, and he’s dedicated to bringing authentic Mexican food to the Czech Republic, going so far as to bring the real corn tortilla making machinery all the way from Mexico.
On the final day of the festival, all I could really think about was the final performance. Meeting up with other bloggers, we started off the afternoon with a Jack Daniel’s hamburger, and then visited the various arts and crafts stations around the venue. The first performer we saw was Seasick Steve, a very eccentric individual who came onto the stage just a little buzzed and continued to drink a bottle of wine throughout his performance. The guitars he used were quite entertaining, one of which was fashioned out of beer bottles and old license plates.
For dinner, I succeeded in finding the best langos from a stall which had unquestionably the longest line at the festival. Boy was it worth it! I got everything on it and the deep-fried dough pastry was heaped with sour cream, cheese, ham, bacon, onions and garlic.
For dessert, I had a bubble waffle topped with ice cream, chocolate sauce and whipped cream. I’d first seen bubble waffles in the street markets of Thailand. They’re basically like an inverted Belgian waffle, with bubbles of dough rather than ridges. The line there was long too, and I barely had time to finish my dessert before heading to the next show.
Ziggy Marley was up next. Under a big logo of Rebellion Rises, he sang hits like One Love, Love is My Religion, We Are the People, and Rebellion Rises. We had front-row spots, although the blogger with me got busted when she tried to get a video of the concert. Turns out the band had extremely strict rules on who could film them.
And then it was time for the grand finale. I’m guessing most of the 50,000 attendees crowded in front of the main stage as Kygo climbed onto his platform. For the next hour and a half, we jumped and danced to one hit after another. I got tears in my eyes when he played Stargazing, and again when he gave a tribute to Avicii. By the time the final fireworks went off, I was simply giddy, screaming at the top of my lungs. I can definitely say Kygo stole the show!
After the show, we all went to the Captain Morgan’s tent for rum and late-night dancing. By the time I finally crawled into my bed at my Couchsurfing host’s house, it was after 5 a.m. and the sun was up. Even then, I could barely sleep from all the excitement coursing through my body.
So Much More Than a Music Festival
What I personally found so fascinating about Colours of Ostrava was that there was so much more than just a music festival. Aside from the dozens of food trucks selling the best food in town, there were tons of other activities. As mentioned, the sponsors all had their tents or zones. Jack Daniel’s had giant games of Jenga, temporary tattoos, dancing and movies like Deadpool (dubbed in Czech with English subtitles). H&R Block had a big arts and crafts tent where you could fashion your own clothing to wear during the festival.
On one end of the venue, there was a large family zone with all kinds of activities for the kids. I missed that area myself, but I saw there were capoeira lessons among other things. On the other end of the venue was the Meltingpot which had arts and crafts exhibits, workshops and even a small Czech film festival. Perhaps the only disadvantage was that most of it was in the Czech language.
Another thing which really set the Colours of Ostrava apart as a music festival was the lack of drugs. Unlike the drug-filled Beats for Love EDM festival which took place in the same venue two weeks earlier, I hardly noticed any drug behavior. There was only a single moment when I detected a puff of pot smoke during the four days of the festival. Of course, alcohol was in high supply, which is unsurprising in the country with the highest average beer consumption per capita in the world.
Attending the Colours of Ostrava Music Festival
If you’re planning to attend the next Colours of Ostrava festival (which you totally should), start thinking about accommodations now. Although Ostrava is usually fairly cheap, hotels and hostels raise their prices for the festival, and many of them will be fully booked weeks before the event starts. I was extremely lucky to find two Couchsurfing hosts to stay with, one of whom was attending the festival herself and could show me around. You always have the option of festival camping at several different locations which include bathrooms and showers, and most are within walking distance of the venue.
As far as attending the festival as an English speaker, I had surprisingly little difficulty. Most of the announcements were in Czech, but the signs and information were mostly in English, or at least understandable. Most of the food stall staff were able to speak English and translate items on their menu if needed. There were certainly times while I was in the Czech Republic when I ran into a language barrier, but it was not nearly as difficult as some other countries (Ukraine, France).
Tickets for the festival are around €100 ($115) for a regular 4-day ticket. There are also early bird discounts, as well as VIP tickets which get you access to the VIP area near the main stage. The VIP area has great views of the stage, its own food and drink bars with shorter lines and slightly cheaper menu items, and (the best part) clean bathrooms with generally short lines.
Colours of Ostrava 2019 will take place from July 17-20, 2019 in Ostrava (obviously) at the Lower Vitkovice Mines. Stay tuned to find out who will be on the line-up. Perhaps I’ll see you there. Don’t forget to bring comfortable walking shoes (I averaged over 10 miles of walking a day around the festival) and link your credit card to your Google Pay or Apply Pay account so you can pay for your food and drinks with contactless.
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