Backstage at SulaFest

After 12 editions, music remains the heart of the festival, but there is room for improvement

At the recently-concluded 12th edition of SulaFest in sunny Nashik, the prominent mood was alcohol-fuelled cheer. But this is not to say that’s all there is to the two-day wine, music and gourmet food festival by Sula Vineyards.

The long-running event has, since 2008, drawn a crowd that’s ready to party. What has changed is not just the scale, but also how it has to compete alongside other big-ticket music festivals, including the ongoing Vh1 Supersonic at Pune.

With a total of four visits to the festivals since 2013, I’ve seen an ebb and flow in their aims with each edition. Often, the afternoon acts are talented artists from India and abroad who are trying to get a crowd moving. They had even scaled up to a third stage for electronic music fans a few years in between, so it’s safe to say there’s been no dearth of risks and experiments on the music programming front. If anything, the music — programmed by Ra Music’s Jehan Johar, a seasoned music curator and DJ-producer — has well exceeded expectations many a times.

Divine performing at this year’s SulaFest

Divine performing at this year’s SulaFest   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

About the music

Himanshu Vaswani, the Mumbai-based co-founder of artists and event management company 4/4 Entertainment, calls SulaFest’s programming “extremely risky and unique”. He adds, “With acts like Bloc Party, Cat Empire, Parov Stelar, Jungle etc, the fest has pleasantly surprised me over the six editions I have attended. I definitely think that they are as relevant as ever.” The line-up has also included dub, ska and reggae bands — even big brass sections come in and take the crowd by complete surprise. Vaswani also praises the festival’s willingness to book “big bands”, not being daunted by the idea of the logistics and costing of a 10-member outfit.

This year, out of 12 artists performing at the amphitheatre stage, seven were international. Johar says there are no fixed ratios for international to Indian artists programmed. “In our effort to offer a wide range of music, it’s important for us to bring in a healthy number of international acts.” He adds that SulaFest will always include “a few strong Indian names, therefore we rely on a combination”.

However, a Nashik native who has attended the festival seven times, says the festival has slowly let down on the Indian indie programming front. “I like discovering new music, especially in a live setting. I’m way more open. I love the fact that they’re bringing great international acts, but they’re not pushing our scene,” the attendee says.

Crunching numbers

SulaFest still holds clout simply because it’s always guaranteed a crowd. In excess of at least 10,000 people across two days, the major area where the festival has to up its game is on the crowd control front. Year on year, women are made to feel unsafe and men come to blows with each other while their friends add fuel to the fire. The Nashik resident also rues the fact that some lessons are hardly learned for a festival 12 years in the running — like when bars say they’re out of drinking water, or there are only four washrooms on site, and no portable loos, which means wait times can go up to 45 minutes. And when it’s all done with, cars and buses are ready to scramble out of a two-lane exit from any direction possible, causing at least an hour’s delay in just getting out of the main gate. Vaswani says the infrastructure around the venue is the only turn off for him. With the music always tight, it’s time for SulaFest to take a look around at everything off-stage.

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Printable version | Apr 1, 2020 12:49:24 PM |

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