My brother and I had an odd style of backpacking through Europe. We made all of our major decisions by the flip of a Euro. This method seems ridiculous in retrospect, but at the time it was the only proper way to celebrate our vagabond freedom. So, after hunching over a coin in a Paris train station, we boarded the night train bound for Interlaken, Switzerland.
Nestled deep in the Swiss Alps, Interlaken is a picturesque Swiss village bordered on all sides by rugged mountain terrain, and two large lakes to the east and west. Because of this pristine geographic location, Interlaken is renowned as a hub of outdoor recreation and extreme sports, boasting endless opportunity for hiking, skiing, hang gliding, river rafting, rock climbing, base jumping, and whatever other life-compromising stunt these mountain folk call ‘fun’. My brother and I played it safe and stuck to hiking, for we were drawn into these mountains by other forces than that of the adrenaline junkie. We had come for the annual, three-day Greenfield Music Festival.
So had thousands of others our age, we soon realized. It was not hard to spot the makeshift village of tents sprawling across the fields at the edge of town. We roamed the crowded campsites for only a few minutes before we met a group of music fanatics who travel to the festival every year from Bern. We camped for three days with this rowdy gang, getting a glimpse of an authentic view and insight into Swiss youth and music culture.
The Greenfield Music Festival itself was a blast, but it was not unlike a Coachella or Lollapalooza at first impression. There was tight security, overpriced food tents, an onslaught of corporate sponsorships, and all American bands (which at first I thought was a cultural disappointment, but I could not complain while singing along to Wolfmother, Sublime with Rome, System of a Down, and The Gaslight Anthem).
As we became more immersed into our new group of friends and the festival lifestyle, I began to notice distinct differences between the music lovers here and the music lovers back in the states. The most obvious: these kids love to drink, and not in the fashion of American college students. There are no drinking games, and no voiced intent to be hammered or blacked out. Instead, they steadily drink all day, seemingly sober until night rolls around, and then it gets rowdy. The tent village at night was a carnival of practical jokes, fire dancers and lots of singing. I swear these Swiss boys march to the portal potties and back to only serenade the tent village with their gleeful drinking songs in unison.
Yet my favorite aspect of the tent village was not the constant partying or incessant practical jokes. What I enjoyed most were the quieter, more intellectual camps that stayed up late discussing bands and genres. I spent long hours discussing upcoming bands and concert experiences with them, and I must admit, I enjoyed it more so than similar conversations in the states. Back home, music fans seem to all believe themselves to be the one true critique and speak with an air of conceit. But here, humbled by the ancient Alps, the music lovers are eager to derive any wisdom from one another, always nodding their head in respect.
After three days, I was covered in mud and ready for a hot shower. Our new friends referred to us a mental list of Swiss musicians to check out, but of course, I struggled to pronounce the words, and failed to commit to memory. The Greenfield Music Festival still occurs in Interlaken every June. I suppose I’ll just have to return one day, granted the coin flip is in favor.