I have been to NH7 Weekender in Pune every year for eight consecutive years since the inception of the festival in 2010. The venues change but for the most part, the vibe does not.
On Sunday, I returned to a music-festival ground after a little more than two years. The second I entered Mahalakshmi Lawns, the venue for the Bacardi NH7 Weekender, it instantly seemed like familiar territory.
I felt this way even though my last visit was in 2017. After all, I had been there every year for eight consecutive years since the inception of the festival in 2010. The venues change but for the most part, the vibe does not.
I took along somebody who was attending Weekender for the very first time, which in some way helped me experience it with a fresh perspective. Because while I was observing everything with occasionally jaded eyes – minutes after reaching the Jack & Jones stage, I complained about how the sound was less than optimal – they were consistently impressed by the scale and spectacle of it all.
To Weekender veterans, this was definitely a scaled-down version, from the stage backdrops to the number of stalls and of course, the line-up, just 24 acts across four stages (not counting the stand-up comedians). Even the bar menus used to be bigger. This time around, rum was the only option, and beer, vodka, and whisky were conspicuously missing from the list. But despite the lack of international acts and offerings for two of the festival’s largest audience segments, electronic and hard rock/heavy metal fans, the music, by and large, did not disappoint.
On account of my two-year gap between fests, the programme provided me the opportunity to watch several acts I had heard recordings of but not seen live. Back in the pre-audio-streaming era of the early tens, it used to be the other way around.
Among the acts I caught live for the first time, When Chai Met Toast lived up to hype, and Osho Jain pleasantly surprised me with his energetic set. But the issues with the acoustics at their stage left me wanting at the performance by The Yellow Diary. And despite hearing just the last few minutes of Tanmaya Bhatnagar’s performance, I was happy to find her voice sounds just as great in concert as it does on her releases. Both Sunday headliners, Rivtiz and Ankur Tewari, reminded us why they are among the biggest independent acts of the country.
Alas, work and personal commitments meant that I could only make it for the second day. From the chatter I read on social media, a lot of students had to skip Weekender because of a clash with their exams. We can blame the third wave of the pandemic, which led to the postponement of the edition this year to March, which is far from the ideal month to hold an outdoor event in Pune.
The organisers could do little about the heat but could have perhaps programmed shorter sets and started the proceedings a little after 4 PM when the sun is not out in full force. To save ourselves from heatstroke, we got to the venue after 5 PM, and as a result, I missed seeing a couple of the artists I wanted to catch, such as Anoushka Maskey and Kayoben.
Another fallout of the pandemic was the reduced capacity of the event, which was limited to approximately 3,000 people.
On the bright side, the smaller crowds gave Weekender 2022 a feel similar to the 2011 instalment, which was held before the festival went 'mainstream.'
This also meant it was easier to bump into scenesters you had not met since 2019.
I was flooded with memories of the happy times spent in such an environment but remembered why it could occasionally get a little uncomfortable. That occurred when watching Ritviz’s special Words of Vizdumb show. There is something to be said about the energy in the densely packed first few rows of a stage but there is also something ominous these days about being in such close proximity with so many unmasked people. I guess this is a way festivals have changed for the near future.
What has remained the same is the sense of community and euphoria. Now that I am of a certain vintage, I often struggle to find company for live gigs, many of which take place on working weekends instead of weekends, which are dominated by DJs. At a festival, even among strangers, I feel like I am among my tribe. This is a special brand of people who will power through the clogged traffic, the heat, the crowds, and the overpriced booze just for that incomparable excitement. After 25 long months, I hope to be at the next music fest on my agenda within less than 25 days.