Stepping off the air-conditioned coach of the Blue Mountain Express, bleary eyed and hung-over as a correspondent/musician-on-tour could possibly be under the circumstances, I make my way to the taxi at Mettupalayam Junction, with my ever-trusty keyboard in tow. Ten minutes into the drive, we arrive at the foothills of the Nilgiris – only 36 hairpin bends to our destination. As the band and I make our way up the hills, we’re greeted by the occasional band of curious primates that have made these foothills their home. A short while and many “popped” ears later, we pull into the resort at Fern Hill, to be greeted by a sweater clad, sari wearing hostess who promptly proceeds to apply tikhas to our foreheads.
After what was quite the scrumptious breakfast, we’re met by one of the organisers of the event and after a short drive down the hill, we pull up to the massive wrought iron gates of the Fernhills Palace, Ooty – we’ve arrived. Trudging through the thick woods that cover most of the sprawling palace grounds, we make our way to the stage where we’re scheduled to perform in a few hours. Looking around the grounds, one can’t help but notice a sense of utter ease about the place – the air is thin and yet somehow refreshing – and then there are the lush, green, never-ending mountains and valleys that stretch as far as the eye can see – welcome to the cultural extravaganza that is The M.A.D. Festival.
With over 3000 music aficionados present to watch the over 50 acts that took to the stage, this three day celebration of the arts also featured six workshops, all held on the palace grounds. From rock and pop to jazz, blues and hip-hop acts, the organisers certainly left no stone unturned in the effort to bring together some of the best national and international acts that left the audience wanting more. What sets goMAD apart from the other musical festivals in the country is the added experience of camping outdoors – rows of tents line the camping areas and as day turns into night, bonfires play host to some impromptu jam sessions and great conversations over drinks courtesy the bar in the woods.
Performances from international bands such as the Swiss fusion act 1001Ways, South African singer Sabelo Mthembu and Noori (of Coke Studio fame) displayed class and craftsmanship in their renditions of popular covers as well as their original material. One of the most original international acts this correspondent came across was in the form of Manchester-based Jeremiah Ferrari, a four-piece roots reggae band that absolutely grooved the socks off the audience. With trace elements of punk, ska and calypso thrown into their eclectic reggae mix, these guys were truly a breath of fresh, inspiring air. Some of India’s best live acts also took to the dual stages – including the likes of Parikrama, Agam, and many more. Bombay Bassment, a hard hitting hip-hop act exhibited some interesting crossover concepts, while Sky Rabbit was more Coldplay-esque, with a rounded sound that mesmerized the audience. True to their reputation, Live Banned and Baiju Dharmajan Syndicate put on a high-energy set that had the crowd on its feet, always wanting more. The Shobana Dance Company also put on an exquisite display of showmanship and grace in their performance and was one of the closing acts at this year’s edition of the event.
Well thought out and efficiently organised, the minds behind the event took painstaking efforts to ensure that the festival goer returned with memories that could not have been experienced anywhere else – be it the uniquely creative art and craft installations that dotted the woods between the stages or the various number of food and beverage stalls that wet many a parched throat and satisfied peckish appetites. A heady mix of art in all its glory, this year’s experience at The M.A.D. Festival was a hoot and a half and this correspondent, for one, is already eagerly looking forward to next year’s edition – until next time!