UK music festival lineups are better scheduled than most buses these days. From Glastonbury to Bestival, and all those in between, the biggest acts in the world are queuing up to play in our fields and sip our cider each and every summer.
It’s 20 minutes from Lille, 50 minutes from Paris, one hour 15 from Brussels, and less than two hours from London, with the potential to be the European epicentre for festivals, if you ask me.
European festivals have also grown in popularity, but until 2004 France was happy to play the neglected middle child (between the UK and Eastern Europe) as far as this scene was concerned. Never a country to be outdone by the Brits, they soon attempted to level the playing field with a few of their own, of which the main threat has to be Le Main Square Festival.
I’ve always been a Glasto girl but it might have just edged it for me. Set in Arras, just outside of Lille, it doesn’t take a genius to recognise this little town as an idyllic setting for a three day musical extravaganza. It’s 20 minutes from Lille, 50 minutes from Paris, one hour 15 from Brussels, and less than two hours from London, with the potential to be the European epicentre for festivals, if you ask me. Festivals are best when in the most obscure locations, although I’m sure the cows down at Worthy Farm would beg to differ.
There are no cows to complain in Arras though. There’s no mud and no faint aroma of rotting tuna. Instead, three days of music breathes life into the picturesque surroundings of the Citadel in Arras. Despite being home to a population of 48,000 probably used to peace and quiet, no one so much as blinked an eyelid at the arrival of 40,000 festival goers. Why? Because it is by far, the best organised festival going.
Train Journey From Arras To LilleUpon arrival, there were no ghastly queues or hot headed security guards – just a system of ticket, bag check, in. As soon as you’re through the gates you are surrounded by historical buildings dating from the XVII century built on the plan of the great French architect Vauban. Embedded in the heart of the 40 hectares in the city centre, the square is also a world heritage site.
There’s a dusty pathway which leads you through to the second open air stage too (The Green Room) and that’s where you find some actual grass to rest on. Both areas have a circumference of food joints and bars around them and, despite being a vast set up, nothing is difficult to get to. Go for a drink and you’ll be served in seconds. Options are limited (Heineken or Desperado) but then again you’re not left with drunken fools who have had too many shots and spirits in the sunshine by the end of the night.
The vibe is consistently merry and because refillable plastic cups are given out (for a €1 deposit) you don’t find yourself wading through rubbish. People somehow manage to rave respectfully here. Portaloos are plentiful and the loo roll never seems to run out because, well, it shouldn’t.
The festival also insists you buy drinks tokens, presumably to stop any till money going astray and this system also seems to create a more controlled level of drinking. Food wise, whatever you order seems to come in a baguette which is amusing, but more importantly great value for money. Our favourite dirty dish was kebab meat and French fries in a baguette, naturally. Or if you’re feeling fancy, dauphinoise potatoes, in a baguette too.
On to the music and it seems the French festival goers are as diligent as the festival organisers. As we panned the square it was interesting to see that most people were wearing ear plugs. Safety first in the square, evidently, but this didn’t mean they were in any way ‘square’ when the acts came on.
I Predict A RiotDay one, and the lineup was dominated by some real head banging acts, and boy do the French love those. Limp Bizkit, Shaka Ponk and Queens of The Stone Age warmed the crowd up ready for the mighty Linkin Park who are unsurpassable when it comes to live performances. We were blown away by the sheer vigor of lead singer Chester Bennington’s vocal chords. Over on the Green Room stage and Selah Sue was the one to watch. She’s mad as a hatter – like a yodeller who is possessed by Bob Marley, but on a day that was dominated by rockin’ males, she held her own. Google her.
Day two with the sun still shining, I might add, Arcade Fire continued their assault on the indie rock genre. Arras gladly accepted. It was one of the most well turned out gigs of the weekend, but that’s not to say Brit band Kaiser Chiefs didn’t give them a run for their Euros.
Lead singer Ricky Wilson was at his usual rioting best, interacting with the crowd in his best Yorkshire/French accent shouting “J’habite en Leeds. Pantalon bleu, chemise...beige?” before proceeding to try and break everything in site, including our camera equipment. Vive le rock ‘n’ roll.
Moby ended the day with more energy from the 45-year-old than all the other acts put together. On the Green Room stage, Manchester band Everything Everything showcased their style in what was their first French festival followed by Aloe Blacc who was blatantly far too amazing for this stage (main stage for him next time please) with his funky set. Kasabian were also oddly on this secondary stage even though they are main stage material but there’s nowt as queer as French folk.
The final day and the build up to Coldplay was unrivalled. The place was packed. Unlike Glastonbury, you can buy day passes for Main Square rather than having to do the whole festival. Camping is an option but it’s not necessary either. There are plenty of hotels in the vicinity with trains and shuttle buses ready to transport you at any time of the day or night.
The festival is actually more like a series of concerts and is great value for money (€139 for three days or €59- €69 per day) as each act plays for at least one hour. Bigger acts such as Linkin Park got a whopping 90 minutes.
Day three was more of a mish mash, with a random pop offering by the way of Bruno Mars. It was not what anyone expected though as he brought out a full band and included a lot of welcomed covers from Michael Jackson. No one was more pleased to be in Arras though than old school soul crooner Charles Bradley who was nearly in tears as he worked the crowd in a cat suit shouting “I love you” at every given opportunity.
ElbowAs the sun set on Arras, Elbow couldn’t have been a better choice to wind down the festival before Coldplay woke everyone up again just before home time. As their only show in France for 2011, you can imagine this was a huge pull for Main Square Festival and Martin and co, didn’t disappoint.
In fact, there was nothing about this festival that disappointed. Having grown rapidly over the last eight years, it’s now a festival force to be reckoned with. The French seem to have this knack of balancing quality and quantity. Never over crowded, you were able to get to the front easily for any of the gigs, of which many were huge world-class acts. There’s no doubt that I’ll be returning in years to come for this festival à la française. And the bizarre baguettes of course.
Keep checking www.mainsquarefestival.fr for information on Main Square Festival 2012.
Follow Lynda on Twitter @lyndamoyo
I met with Yvette Vaucher today who was the first woman to climb the north face of the Matterhorn.…Read more
I'd have preferred it if this article had fewer details about the Cote d'Azur and more about the…Read more
For God's sake, why put flights to Zurich, which is hours and hours away. The nearest airport is…Read more
Hi, I'm wondering if there was in fact some typo's with the breathing/pacing figures above...…Read more