Changes in Riga, and at the Positivus Festival
After first coming to Riga in 1999, then arriving back here in 2008 to find that, really, not many things had changed to my American eyes, I find the current speed of change in the city to be a bit of a shock.
Even so, it was a bit of a surprise to arrive in Riga earlier this week and find that there are now cafés in parts of town where there were no cafes. There are plenty of buildings now under reconstruction, and buildings that I first met as somewhere between bedraggled and falling down, which are now all glammed up and sparkling! In contrast, some of the other old buildings that I was surprised to see still standing on my last visit have now been torn down. Some of these have been replaced with dirt parking lots, others have just had the holes where they used to be spackled over with paving stones.
My onetime Latvian houseguests, Instrumenti, (who preformed at SXSW in 2010 dressed as pandas) are currently on an advertising coaster from Absolut, with a recipe for the Absolut Instrumenti on the back! “It’s the recipe for getting absolutely drunk,” one of the guys in the band joked with me, handing me this stiff “business card” at a bar.
Among the changes in Riga, it’s planned that the national currency, the Latvian Lat, will be replaced by the Euro at the start of next year.
Of course, the reason that I’ve been coming to Latvia every summer for the past few
years is for the Positivus festival, which I’ve been to every year except the first.
It’s a big music festival that– as far as I can tell– seems to have a larger cultural place than do festivals in the US.
Since I arrived earlier this week, I have been walking the pretty streets of Riga in an attempt to ditch my jet lag in an alley that hasn’t been renovated since Soviet Times. In my wonderings I noticed two different business tie-in’s to the festival. In the US you often see festival co-promotions from liquor companies or other entertainment-oriented goods and services, but you don’t often see them for serious products, like banks or electric companies! Unless I missed something, banks in the US don’t often have promotions with rock festivals. It’s not the the kind of tie-in that I’ve ever noticed with South By Southwest , Fun Fun Fun Fest or the Austin City Limits Music Festival!
Apart from the changes in the city of Riga, this year there will be changes miles down the road in Salacgriva, where the Positivus festival is expanding this year to three days. While I’m used to three-day festivals in the US, they often lack the intensity that I usually see during Positivus. (Maybe it would be a good idea to book myself a full-body massage for next Monday?)
This year at the Positivus Festival I’m looking forward to seeing bands I know I enjoy live, like the mellow XX, the electronic-oriented Crystal Castles, smooth-voiced Michael Kinawuka, the who knows what will happen when he gets into the crowd Darwin Deez, super-fun !!!, the heavy sounds of the Suuns (whom I’ll be seeing at Positivus for the third time in 2013), the charming stage show of Iiris (an Estonian artist whom I’ve seen before at Positivus).
At Positivus I’m also looking forward to acts I’ve never seen live, but that my friends have raved about: like the folky Noah and the Whale, the intense Palma Violets, arty Sigur Ros, disco-ish Imagine Dragons and Charli XCX, who I really have no idea how to describe, other than knowing that she inspires a lot of devotion from her fans.
As I have said before, there may be more American tourists in Latvia than when I first started coming here, but I don’t usually see that many Americans at Positivus. (If you are American and at the festival, please introduce yourself to me if you see someone who just “looks American.” There’s a good chance that it’ll be me!)
*Full disclosure, most of my Latvian friends are part of the music industry here, many doing something official with the festival. Several friends organize the “I Love You” stage at the Positivus festival. Last year when I brought my husband to the Positivus festival, one of the festival organizers kindly reserved my Riga hotel room for me.