Ten Of The Best Small Music Festivals In Europe

Susan Greenwood, The Guardian, May 13, 2014

Positivus, Salacgriva, Latvia

18-20 July
Situated on the Gulf of Riga, Positivius has a whimsical feel and an impressive line up: this year Elbow, Kraftwerk and Anna Calvi are some of the names on the list. Away from the main three stages there is a local arts and crafts market, a cinema tent, circus perfomances, modern dance, theatre and art. It's not the slickest festival out there but that's actually something of a bonus as the idyllic setting would be a little at odds with anything sharper.
positivusfestival.com, three-day camping ticket €63

La Notte Rosa, Rimini, Italy

4 July

The Italian Riviera pretty well parties its way through the whole summer, but on "the pink night" of 4 July the stretch from Cattolica to Riviera di Comacchio – that's about 110km – goes into overdrive, with musical performances, dancing, theatre, revelry, fireworks and partying passeggiatas. There are over 300 shows, ranging from children's entertainment to blues concerts. The participating towns all put on a great show, so even if opera on the sand isn't your cup of tea, you can still drink in the party atmosphere at heaving bars and nightclubs or simply dance in the street. Needless to say, it helps if you like wearing pink.

lanotterosa.it, prices vary

La Roche Bluegrass Festival, Roche-sur-Foron, France

30 July-3 August
France may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of rootsy American music, but the little town of Roche-sur-Foron in the Alps has taken bluegrass to its heart. The three-day family-friendly event showcases 30 bands from Europe and the US as well as music workshops, a market, food and dancing in the street, plus impromptu roadside concerts. This year the Grammy-nominated Blue Highway from Nashville will be headlining, along with Hickory Project, Garcia Grass and the UK's Kentucky Cow Tippers. All the concerts and sideshows are free, and as La Roche is less than an hour away from Geneva airport, it's a fun and easy way of getting a taste of authentic bluegrass without flying to the Appalachians.
larochebluegrass.fr, free

Mysteryland, Haarlemmermeer, the Netherlands

23 August
Mysteryland is basically what happens when you cross electronic culture, music and arts with Alice in Wonderland and happy people and in a wood near Amsterdam. While big name artists such as Chris Liebing, Ben Sims and Henrik Schwarz perform on the bigger stages, there's also a host of talent at smaller venues – from performing writers to light artists and interactive theatre, and a chance to eat dinner with some of the craziest people you'll ever meet. The atmosphere is giddy and creative, open and inclusive. Just make sure you leave pretty much every inhibition at home.
mysteryland.nl, tickets from €72.50

Førdefestivalen, Førde, Norway

2-6 July
The rather peaceful town of Førde, 150km north of Bergen, sits on the banks of Førde fjord, at the mouth of the river Jølstra, and is blessed with dramatic natural scenery. In between the glaciers, forests, waterfalls and mountains, a festival dedicated to traditional and world music takes place, with bands performing alfresco against incredible backdrops. The five-day event is now in its 25th year and there will be around 300 artists from 30 countries, including Mali, Ghana, Kurdistan and India, performing at over 30 venues. There are also workshops, exhibitions, dance and children's events, all in a folksy-acoustic vein.
fordefestival.no, ticket for five concerts £85

Flow Festival, Helsinki, Finland

8-10 August
Forget green fields and sloshing about in the mud, Flow is all about urban design and industrial spaces. It's set in the Suvilahti power plant area (a short walk from the centre of Helsinki) which gets transformed into a living art space against which bands including the National, Janelle Monae, Bonobo and Darkside perform. As much attention is paid to the food as the music, organisers taking their cue from the local foodie scene and engaging vendors who would rather eat their own feet than serve soggy chips. A festival for all the senses and one that successfully manages to be cool and cosy at the same time.
flowfestival.com, three-day ticket €159

Aste Nagusia, Bilbao, Spain

16-24 August
Forget La Tomatina and bull running in Pamploma … each year Bilbao unleashes one of the greatest parties in Europe on to its streets, and it's one not to miss for all the tomatoes in Spain. The nine-day "Big Week" event is a celebration of Basque culture, with the streets filled night and day with dancing, drinking, concerts, fireworks and traditional sports. Well, it wouldn't be a proper festival without the odd wood-chopping demonstration …

astenagusia.com, ticket prices vary, much is free

Surfer Joe Summer Festival, Livorno, Italy

20-22 June
You don't have to have ridden or own a surfboard or, hell, even live near the sea to appreciate surf music and culture at SJSF. With a touch of fifties and sixties nostalgia, more Fender guitars than you can shake a plectrum at and men in grass skirts with quiffs riding skateboards, this festival will happily educate you in instrumental surf rock. There are even seminars on the genre, plus exhibitions of retro guitars, movies documenting the culture, a market selling records, memorabilia and vintage clothing, and beachside gigs. You can wash it all down with a hotdog and exquisite Italian ice-cream at the Grease-style diner. Surf's up. Sorry.
surferjoemusic.com/festival, entry free

Urban Art Forms Festival, Graz, Austria

3-5 July
There's not really a seemly way to say this so let's just have it out: Urban Art Forms is a huge mash-up in a field to some of the best electronic music you'll ever hear. It gets messy; there are a lot of good-looking people going nuts; it is everything you'd imagine to be contained within a "circus" without the lions. The festival, now in its 10th edition, has always been keen to celebrate visuals alongside the music – so while Chase & Status, Steve Aoki, Erwin and Edwin and Leftboy get your feet moving, your eyes will have a feast all of their own.
urbanartforms.com, weekend ticket €99

Les Vieilles Charrues, Carhaix, France

17-20 July
Sometimes you don't need bells and whistles. Sometimes all you need is amazing bands and a touch of French class. Step forward Les Vieilles Charrues. From the small beginning of a group of friends meeting to share good food and music 23 years ago, it has grown to see the Arctic Monkeys, the Black Keys, Thirty Seconds to Mars, Miles Kane and even Sir Elton gracing this year's line-up. But despite the big names, the festival retains a feeling of a joyful party among friends: camping is free, and with 80% of suppliers to the festival coming from Brittany, it's big on local flavour and support.
vieillescharrues.asso.fr/2014, day passes from €44

This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk