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Experimental festival experience | WONDEREST moves to the Őrség this year

Last year, we dedicated a whole article series to WONDEREST, exploring different aspects of the family-friendly festival, from the zero-waste stage design to the nature-focused identity. We caught up again with the brainchild and organizer, Hanna Gulyás, who talked about last year’s experiences and this year’s plans. The festival will focus this time again on the sustainable approach and the experience of slowing down, while on the music front, we can expect exciting experimentation in terms of both sound and concert locations.

“We want people to find their way back to the present,” said Hanna last year, explaining the mission of WONDEREST. The festival, now approaching its third season, has grown out of Hanna’s Budapest project, Garden Wonder, which started in 2017 and has been running for two years in the heart of the Transylvanian mountains. But this time, she wanted to make things easier for local festival-goers with a venue that, though being closer, is still far away enough to offer an escape from the rush of everyday life. And so the choice fell on Ispánka, a rural village of 111 inhabitants. “When I was a child, I visited the Őrség a lot. I really like the way the locals protect nature, it’s no coincidence, the whole area is a big national park. We will be the first to bring a new, youthful, international festival there. We hope to earn the trust of the locals. We would also like to collaborate with the Őrség National Park; we are planning a herbal tour, for example,” Hanna said as a teaser before moving on to last year’s experience.

“Last year’s WONDEREST was a great success. One of the highlights for me was the flexibility of the people. There were challenges, but we made the best of everything. For instance, we were caught in one of the biggest storms in Romanian history, so we had concerts where people sat on the covered stage in front of the musicians, and the films were screened like that too, while it rained. On the very first day, due to a misunderstanding about a permit, the police didn’t allow us to hold the concert on the main stage. But the performing musicians found a cozy spot in the woods. All they said was that they wanted an hour and a couple of lights and then we should call everyone. There was nothing officially announced, people followed each other into the woods to a beautiful mossy patch. This concert became everyone’s favorite experience of the festival,” tells Hanna. And this year’s unusual concept will be based on, among other things, this ad hoc concert experience.

“I would like to give more space to these spontaneous sessions so that we don’t limit the program and the musicians. Therefore, there will be only a lineup and no pre-announced concerts this year. The inspiration came, on the one hand, from the tear-stained faces after the forest concert and, on the other hand, from the PEOPLE Festival in Berlin, which Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) did in 2018. He invited 200 performers for a week, rented 13 studios, and their task was to collaborate, write new music together, join in each other’s sets, and create freely so that fresh things could be born. On the weekend afterward, the festival itself was held, where the 5,000 participants didn’t know in advance where, when and who they would see. It was up to the musicians themselves to decide who would perform and in what formation. I would like to try something similar. We will rent a big wooden house for the performers, so essentially they will not be invited to a festival, but to a residency program. Well have main stage concerts scheduled for the evenings, but we won’t specify in advance who will play on which night, and they will have endless possibilities to come up with alternative concerts.”

Casper Clausen, frontman of the band Efterklang, coming from Denmark with his solo project, will be the host of the residency program. “For me, he is one of the most inspiring musicians of our time. Not only is he a musical genius, but he is one of the few people who focus on community building. On their tours, they organize choirs of local applicants, for which you can sign up online. I think that’s a huge thing. On the other hand, they organize their own fifty-person festivals on a small Danish island, where they let the participants into their own creative process. And he has been involved in the PEOPLE Festival, so he has his own experience of how such an initiative can work in practice.” Another important character of this year’s WONDEREST is the French Vincent Moon, who is both famous for his TED talk and for his YouTube channel La Blogothèque, where he made unplugged videos with famous musicians in completely random places, like a panel dumpster or a bathtub. He also has an important cultural mission: for the last ten years, he has been traveling the world with a backpack and a camera, filming each country’s specific ritual music and spiritual ceremonies. “The plan is for him to travel to Hungary three or four days before the festival to collect video footage. He’ll cut and mix his recorded material at the festival like a DJ, in a very improvisational way. He made the documentary of the Berlin festival and they’re good friends with Casper, so all the threads come together,” Hanna continued.

“Another highlight of last year’s festival was the vegan festival kitchen, for which we sourced the ingredients from a local producer in Cluj-Napoca and a chef from Budapest, Gergely Zsolnay, known from Flow Coffee, came up with the recipes. We had beautiful bowls of food and got very good feedback on them. As we will be in the Őrség, we will be working with producers from the Őrség. Very exciting in this region is the Vas Megyei Szakosított Otthon: a residential facility for the intellectually handicapped, which runs a famous organic garden with its residents. They teach them how to run a farm and involve them in dealing with customers. It is a terribly good concept to integrate them into society. Meanwhile, they have a huge supply. From tomatoes alone, they have twenty-three varieties,” said Hanna. In addition to intimate concerts, vegan feasts and forest walks, there will again be yoga, various roundtable discussions, sustainability panels, workshops and crafts, and a tree will be planted for each festival pass purchased. If distance was the only thing that held you back last year, there’s no excuse this year!

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Photos: Gretchen Kessler, Dániel Kelemen, Magdalena Kucharska, Rebeka Révész

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