At the beginning I must admit that for me, this year’s Maifeld Derby festival wasn’t exactly blessed with good fortune. At first, there was all the going back and forth about whether the festival will take place or will be rescheduled again. Then, when finally the good news about the festival really happening arrived, my personal festival-crew fell apart because one pal decided to cry off and another did the same shortly afterwards. On top of that, the German GDL (German train drivers’ union) decided to strike for four days – exactly starting one day ahead of the Maifeld Derby. Due to that, another friend of mine couldn’t attend the festival and I personally had to miss out the festival’s Friday. Well, as a fan of live shows you’ve gotten used to obstacles over the past months, right? Nevertheless all those obstacles came along I tried to stay positive and looked forward to my first festival in two years and even scheduled some little interviews with the aim to find out how a Covid compliant festival feels for the artists themselves.
So, on Saturday the 4th of September I took the train and tram to the festival ground at the Maimarkt area at Mannheim in Southwest Germany. Being in the local public transport I already realized that this year’s festival version would be different to the years before. Normally, the tram from the central station to the Maimarkt is packed with festival attendees during the day. But on Saturday afternoon, I only witnessed about four other people getting out of the tram at the Maimarkt area. Due to the current restrictions, only 2000 visitors were allowed to get a ticket for the Maifeld Derby festival, under normal circumstances around 15.000 music fans attend the special weekend. The festivals entrance was empty as well and I wondered whether there would actually be people at the festival ground. At least, you didn’t have to wait in a long queue to get in.
Arriving around 4pm on Saturday at the Maifeld Derby (other than I expected) only a few music fans romped around the area although the first act aleady started playing at 3pm. Before arriving, I imagined that people would be so happy about a festival actually happening that they would arrive as early as possible to see as many acts as possible. Turned out that I was pretty wrong here. The festival also hadn’t been sold out during the whole weekend and you could still buy tickets at the evening box-office. Maybe the short-notice of only a few weeks played a part here. But it also seemed like the pandemic made people being sceptical and restrained about events such as this year’s Maifeld Derby – although having a well-developed hygiene concept with masks, distance, restricted visitor numbers and the now usual confirmation of being vaccinated, tested or healed from the virus. When talking about festivals during the pandemic with the Belgian newcomer C’est Karma, who opened the festival on Sunday, she confirmed the assumption:
“I played a few festivals this year and it always felt like people were more hesitant about coming and in their general behaviour. The pandemic has changed us all in some ways and it also has an impact on how people go to concerts and festivals.” (C’est Karma)
And it wasn’t only the festival’s visitors who had been more hesistant, the artists also behaved more restrained which already got obvious before even seeing them live on stage. Normally, the backstage area of the event is crowded with different artists getting together and having fun with each other. This time, the area was empty and most of them stayed in their own backstage boxes or tents. The only thing which kind of made the artists more laid-back was the little pool that stood next to the backstage area in the horse stalls. During my interview with Efterklang, some people even jumped in (at first even with a mask on) and fooled around. At last … some fun in the area! Otherwise, it had been so quiet around there that you were able too sleep (what one member of German-Indie pioneers The Notwist actually did one time).
Getting back to the stages – this year there were only two of them instead of four and seats were placed in front of all of them – the impression of everyone being cautious again proved to be right. During the day, almost everyone stayed seated, only a few people in the first rows dared to stand up and dance a little bit. When it slowly started to get darker outside, it seemed like the music fans began to relax. German singer-songwriter Sophia Kennedy, who played around 7pm, could get more and more fans to stand up and dance to her catchy pop sound which lives from electronic interludes and her strong voice.
Kennedy really knew how to heat up the crowd for Danish Indie-darlings Efterklang, who followed shortly afterwards at the main stage. As for Efterklang the interaction with the audience plays a big role in general – they try to integrate their fans in everything they do as much as possible – singer Casper animated the crowd to clap and sing along, until everybody stood up and joined the enchanted music fans. The Danish indie group presented a beautiful show featuring some songs from their new album Windflowers which will be released in a few weeks. Shortly ahead of their set during my little chat with them, they committed that it feels kind of weird for them when people are seated during their concerts.
“I think our gig here will feel different because it’s unusual to have such a big stage and a seated audience in front of it. Usually, we only have a seated audience of that size in venues like the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg or some sort of cathedral. It will be different, but it can also be good.” (Mads of Efterklang)
And their show was definitely pretty good. You could see and feel their gratitude and their enjoyment to be able to play live again. Efterklang’s positive and thankful attitude directly transferred to the audience which enjoyed the gig as much as them and thanked them with participation. Sophie Hunger, who followed as the closing act on Saturday, also expressed her gratitude to perform at the Maifeld Derby. Her show had also been solide, but admittedly, I never really got her music as the songwriter mainly plays with dissonances and uneasy sounds which require a lot of concentration from the listener. But still – a very satisfying experience for the audience.
Amongst Efterklang, another highlight for me from this year’s event was Dutch psychrock band DeWolff. They were the only act (at least from what I saw) which managed to activate the crowd fully with their energetic live show. They jumped around on stage, improvised long guitar solos and spread their energy around the audience. Normally, I’m not really into that sort of classic rock, but the three lads managed to get me fully into their groove. And that’s exactly one part about festivals I missed the most: discovering and enjoying acts you normally not go to a concert. And maybe it was what I was most craving for.
During my festival visit, I also talked to one member of The Notwist – Cico Beck – about what he missed the most about playing festivals during their absence due to Covid. His answer was clear:
“Definitely the energy. The experience of many people coming close together and the energy that is transmitting from the music to the audience during the live shows. It’s simply a special experience which you cannot replace in on other setting like in rehearsal or a streaming concert.” (Cico of The Notwist)
Whilst DeWolffs one hour gig, the special experience Cico was talking about definitely occurred. On Sunday, after DeWolff played their rousing set, The Notwist closed the festival with their light-filled show. Unfortunately, the beautiful light-installation the German indie-pioneers had on stage couldn’t distract from the technical problems which occurred during the first 30 minutes. Lead singers Markus Archer’s voice had been way too quiet and badly mixed, it seemed like one of his two microphones didn’t work. Technical problems can always occur and it’s definitely not the band’s fault – but the way they treated with the issue could have been better. The Notwist neither said anything to the audience nor stopped their set for a few minutes to solve the problem. They just continued until somebody else seemed to have fixed the problem. In general, after DeWolffs energetic and interactive show, their gig seemed to be a little bit our of place with no talking or interacting with the audience at all. The energy keyboard and guitar player Cico Beck was talking about (sadly) didn’t emerge at their closing show.
The general view
Looking from a general perspective to this year’s Covid compliant version of the Maifeld Derby festival, you could say that under all the circumstances – restrictions, limited booking-possibilities, short-term realization, the GDL strike – the organizers did an awesome job and it was totally great that they chose to let the event happen when others already cancelled their festivals months ahead. During the last 1 ½ years, people started to get used to not going to cultural events like festivals and concerts. What they really needed was a reminder how great live events can be and what we missed out due to the pandemic.
And the Maifeld Derby definitely was a more than warm reminder of how great culture, music and people coming together can be. Even under different conditions like the one we’re experience in the Covid-age festivals can be a great experience I definitely don’t want to miss out any longer. But one thing is also for sure: it will probably take a longer time until people are willing to be in a big crowd again after the pandemic is over, but the first step into that direction is done by showing that it’s possible. Talking to Casper from Efterklang about the effects of staying at home during the last 1 ½ years, he also determined, that there is a long way to go from here:
“I think the psychological damage it has caused to people being in social spaces like here is huge. It will take a long time before people start to feel comfortable in spaces again and some might have found out that its nicer so stay at home. It’s a very special time now, but I do feel music, culture and arts play a huge role. I’m just hoping that people realize what they miss and are up for going out again soon.” (Casper from Efterklang)
So, thank you Maifeld Derby for taking a first step into the right direction and reminding people of how great live events can be. Your enthusiasm and passion means everything to music fans like us.
Maifeld Derby will return from June 10 to 12, 2022. Hopefully in a more conventional form. We’ll definitely keep it on our radar.