8 best Indian music festivals for travelers

8 best Indian music festivals for travelers

India may not have a festival season, but it sure has a festival scene
NH7 Bacardi Weekender
Blasting off this weekend, Bacardi NH7 Weekender is the best organized indie music festival in the country -- with top-notch production quality and 50 artists in the lineup.

An elusive experience till a few years ago, the Indian music festival is fast putting down roots all over the country.

On the beach, in the hills, under a banyan tree, inside a fort –- the sounds are emanating loud and clear.

Here are some of our favorite Indian music festivals worth traveling for:

1. Bacardi NH7 Weekender in Pune

When: November 18-20, 2011, 2:30-10 p.m., daily

Where: Laxmi Lawns, near Magarpatta City, Pune

Thanks to top-notch production quality and an exciting lineup, artists and audiences agree that the three-day NH7 Weekender is the best organized indie music festival in the country.

“The people that come to the festival are hardened music lovers, it’s excellent to play for this kind of an audience,” says Swarathma bassist Jishnu Dasgupta.

In its sophomore year, the festival is the brainchild of Only Much Louder.

Some 10,000 people are expected to find a spot in the sprawling seven-hectare space for this year's festival. 

“Music and lineup aside, the organizers take care of small things," says Tapan Raj, one half of live electronic act MIDIval Punditz. "Security is great, girls don’t feel unsafe, ambulances, appropriate information, toilets, food, drinks, it's all there." 

The 50-artist-strong festival has become the place for the best performers from the country, across all genres: The Raghu Dixit Project, Demonic Resurrection, Tough On Tobacco, Bhayanak Maut, Indian Ocean and Pentagram all played in 2010 representing a mix of rock, metal, indie and ethnic fusion.

Some of acts return to the stage this year while newer additions such as Advaita, Soulmate and Menwhopause cut their teeth.

How to get there: The venue is a 15-minute drive from Koregaon Park in Pune. Traffic willing, the drive from Mumbai takes about three hours.

Pune has a fully functional airport. The city is best navigated by car. No festival transport is provided.

Tickets start at Rs 750 for one day and Rs 2,000 for a three-day festival pass.

Check out the NH7 Weekender for more information.

2. Fireflies Festival of Music

When: November 26, 2011 

Where: Fireflies Ashram, near Bangalore

Fireflies Festival of MusicMumbai band Something Relevant performing at the Fireflies Festival of Music in 2011.Akshath Jitendranath and Ananda Siddhartha were just 11 years old when they first put together what is now called the Fireflies Festival.

They were guided by Siddhartha’s father, a trustee of the Fireflies Ashram. They drew the posters, made press kits and distributed them in Bangalore.

“We started calling it Fireflies only in 2007, which is also when we started printing posters,” says Akshath.

What started as a dusk-to-dawn commune of musicians, performers and audiences coming together drew 5,000 people last year.

“That is what a good festival is -- it starts small, attracts the people who understand its vibe and grows not because it’s an advertized event, so it grows organically,” says writer, music aficionado and CNNGo contributor Rayna Jhaveri.

On a single stage, set up under the overarching branches of an ancient banyan tree, artists perform from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Though concert-friendly bands have made appearances, the Fireflies calling card remains its eclectic soul.

Chennai band Yodhakaa, Dollu Kunitha, Lounge Piranha and The Bicycle Days have all seen the sun come up behind the banyan tree.

As always, proceeds go toward the education of adivasi children in the Kabini area, outside Mysore.

How to get there: The festival is held at the Fireflies Ashram, Dinnepalya, about 20 kilometers from Bangalore.

The only route to the venue is via traffic-clogged road. Though organizers encourage car pooling, they don’t provide any transport.

Tickets are Rs 500 per person.

Visit the official Fireflies site for more information.

3. Sunburn

When: December 27-29, 2011

Where: Candolim beach, Goa

SunburnWith more than 100,000 visitors expected this year, Sunburn is one of Asia's best, and biggest, electronic music festivals. For sheer size, consistency and being in that sunshine state called Goa, Sunburn is championed as Asia’s best electronic music festival by its promoters.

Not in its fifth year, 2011 is expected to be the biggest yet. More than 100,000 people are expected at the three-day beach dance party.

Locals have been complaining about the frustrating traffic because of the festival. But it’s hard to worry about the world outside when there’s a neon-colored stage, sand under your feet, the ocean behind you and EDM in your ears. 

Produced by celebrity DJ Nikhil Chinappa and event management company Percept, the festival hasn’t always been easy to put together.

Goa laws, erratic sound deadlines, traffic snarls, terrorist attacks in Mumbai and poor planning in initial years have all threatened the festival.

Bookmyshow.com’s CEO Ashish Hemrajani, official ticketing partner, says that this year the fest has registered more international card swipes than ever before.

“A lot of foreigners attend the festival, but we’re never sure if they’re already in India or coming for this," Hemrajani says. "This year, though, people seem to be making the trek for Sunburn."

Paul Van Dyk played in 2010. Pete Tong will be there this year. Laughing Buddha, Rae, Brute Force and regulars such as Jalebee Cartel, Pearl and Ma Faiza will occupy the seven stages.

How to get there: Sunburn is spread over four hectares of Candolim beach in north Goa.

Taxis within the city can be expensive. Renting a two-wheeler or a car is the best way to stay mobile. Organizers will provide buses from the airport to the Sunburn site.

Tickets: Day One: Rs 3,000; Day Two: Rs 4,000; Day Three: Rs 6,000. Three-day pass: Rs 7,000 (plus tax).

For more visit the Sunburn site.

4. Jaipur Literature Festival

When: January 20-24, 2012

Where: Diggi Palace, Jaipur

Jaipur Lit FestRajasthani folk musician master Chugge Khanji performing at the Jaipur Literature Festival in 2010.Technically the Jaipur Literature Festival is an event at which you’re more likely to bump into a book than a bansuri flute.

But that’s only during the day.

Every evening at the Diggi Palace, visitors huddle around bonfires to beat the January chill and sprawl across the lawns for electrifying music.

This literary festival has been growing in prestige and may be known for the authors it attracts, but the carefully curated list of artists who perform every evening has just as many fans.

Sanjoy Roy, whose company Teamworks produces the festival, says they knew music would always play a very important part.

“We were sure it had to be world music rather than pop and rock,” Roy says.

People of all ages start tumbling on to the lawns past 7 p.m. to hear Susheela Raman’s acoustic set, raise their hands with Junoon’s Salman Ahmad or sway with Rajasthani folk musicians who jam with all and sundry.

How to get there: Diggi Palace is in the center of Jaipur city. Jaipur is accessible via road, rail and air. The NH8 highway connects Jaipur with New Delhi in about four hours.

Though the festival is free, delegate day passes (Rs 2,500 per day) ensure entry to the concerts.

For more visit Jaipur Literature Festival.

5. Storm

When: January 20-21, 2012

Where: Coorg, Karnataka

Storm festivalStorm has been called India’s first camp-out music festival, set in this location in Coorg.The postponed Storm music festival will have to deal with two issues before launching in January 2012.

Firstly, festival-goers got spooked by the festival's last-minute cancellation this year.

And, of course, the "Storm runs into bad weather" jokes. 

It had been derided as India’s first camp-out music festival (though technically Escape has been pitching tents for two years now) and was almost ready when the unrelenting rains turned the venue into an inaccessible mass of sludge and slush in 2011.

Trucks carrying equipment were mired. But the organizers are sure that January will be pitch-perfect. They're consulting architects to make sure access roads are elevated in case of a repeat. 

Lavin Uthappa, managing director of LiquidSpace Entertainment, belongs to Coorg and has been planning this music festival for 10 years.

"Almost all the 37 artists have agreed to be there in January to perform,” he says.

Among them are Swarathma, Yodhakaa, Soulmate and Nikhil Chinappa.

Storm is a "no-drugs, no-plastics" festival. Uthappa says the idea is to respect the land and its culture.

How to get there: The venue, Stormfields, is an 11-hectare expanse in Coorg, Karnataka.

The nearest town is Madikeri, 21 kilometers away and a 45-minute drive to the concert area, which is only accessible by road. The towns closest to Madikeri, which does not have a railway station, are Mysore and Mangalore. Bangalore, the state capital is 252 kilometers away.

The organizers have arranged for local cab and bus drivers to be at Madikeri to ferry concert-goers to the venue for an additional charge.

Tickets bought for November 2011 will be valid in January 2012. Day ticket cost Rs 1,450. Festival ticket costs Rs 3,200, including tents on sharing basis.

For more information visit the Storm festival site.

6. Sulafest

When: February 2012

Where: Sula Vineyard, Nashik

SulafestSulafest's semi-circular Greek-style amphitheater makes the perfect setting for a concert.Sula Vineyard’s day-long annual wine and music festival in Nashik has become quite the draw for concert-starved Mumbai folk.

Sulafest’s first edition was held in 2008 to celebrate the wine company’s 10th harvest.

Since then, the festival, with its colorful canopies, has consistently grown with performances by Pentagram, Jalebee Cartel, Something Relevant and MIDIval Punditz.

“I think we’re just happy to be in a place from where we can’t see a building,” says Mumbai-based financial consultant Akshay Singh. "The size of the property also helps. Not everyone likes continuous music and one can easily move away from the stage area towards the food or the vineyard."

Though the vineyard has a 20-room resort called Beyond, it fills up at lightning speed. Other hotel options include Ginger and Taj Gateway.

How to get there: Nashik is a 180-kilometer or three-hour drive from Mumbai. Trains are available, but road is more convenient. Festival organizers don't provide transport.

Ticket rates to be decided.

For more information visit the Sula Vineyards site.

7. Escape Festival of Art & Music

When: May 2012

Where: The Lake Resort, Naukuchiatal

Escape festivalEscape has three stages overlooking a lake. Dramatic mountains provide the backdrop.Back in May 2009, some 80 musicians decided to get away from New Delhi for a few days.

They chose a resort in the Himalayas next to a lake and that became their Escape.

The music and arts festival has grown from 80 to 2,200 participants over three days this year, with 30 bands.

But it’s never been about size.

Organizer L Tochhawng says the focus is on older bands mentoring younger ones.

“The artists here may not be as well known, but they do their own thing, find their voice,” Tochhawng says.

Adil and Vasundhara of Half Step Down from New Delhi, Alisha Bhatt and Big Bang Blues have all traveled up north for the fest.

A mid-sized stage, with a lake behind, is at the center of this musical gathering.

Some people lounge in front, some, who want the music to only waft in, sprawl all over the property. At night they close the doors to their rooms or zip up their tents pitched specially for this mini-festival.

With each year, the festival has been trying something new.

Adventure sports got panned while the screening of Q’s controversial film "Gandu" was celebrated. 

Though Escape has three stages, only one is operational at a time. This essentially means that from 2 p.m. to almost 5 a.m., the music changes directions in the mountains.

“I don’t like concerts in stadiums," says Abhinav Dhar, co-founder of ad agency Dhar and Hoon. "I look for the type of music and the space. Escape puts music first and is not about celebrities. It creates a real mood."

How to get there: Naukuchiatal is about 300 kilometers from New Delhi. The drive can take up to seven hours. The nearest railway station is Kathgodam, 35 kilometers away.

Though the festival doesn’t provide transport between venue and station, the travel agency they have tied up with, Shanti Travel (+91 (0)11 4607 7800), will arrange for vehicles.

Ticket rates to be decided.

For more information visit Escape Festival of Art & Music.

8. Rajasthan International Folk Festival

When: October 26-30, 2012

Where: Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur

Club MehranRajasthan's International Folk Music Festival is held every October at Mehrangarh Fort during an auspicious time on the Hindu calendar. We aren’t sure if the Rajasthan International Folk Festival (RIFF) in Jodhpur would have the same magnetic pull if it wasn’t held at the striking Mehrangarh Fort.

The Jaipur Virasat Foundation had been working with local performing artists from the state and in 2007 decided that they needed a bigger stage and a newer audience.

A joint initiative between the foundation and the Mehrangarh Museum Trust, RIFF has now become the country’s definitive folk music festival.

It’s held every year in October on the full moon night or Sharad Purnima, a time considered auspicious on the Hindu calendar.

Festival director Divya Bhatia explains that the concerts are built around the moon. Performances begin as early as 5.30 a.m. to take in sunrise and run as late as 3 a.m. to see the moon wane.

All of it ensconced in Mehrangarh Fort’s age-old, rock-solid structure.

Local artists have usually taken center stage: Babunath Jogi, the reciter of epics; Chanan Khan Manganiyar, one of the last people who can play the surmandal, a santoor-like instrument; Bhanwari Devi, with her all-encompassing voice.

But Bhatia says they’ve been inviting folk artists from other parts of the country for next year's event and plan to book some from Morocco and Southeast Asia, too.

How to get there: Mehrangarh Fort is five kilometers from Jodhpur airport. The city is easily accessibly by road, rail and air. It’s a 12-hour drive from New Delhi and a six-hour drive from Jaipur.

Ticket rates to be decided.

For more information, visit to festival's official site.


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Jhilmil Motihar is a freelance features writer, people-watcher and traveler -- often all three at the same time.

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