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As I write these lines, the 2011 Roskilde Festival is drawing closer to its end. The last koncerter are culminating on the six scener (’stages’, scene in the singular), sending the vibes of electric guitars, passionate vocals and the cheering of the crowds into the damp night. For many hours the more than 75.000 participants will still be dancing, singing, drinking, kissing, making love, smoking, watching clouds and stars (one stjerne, many stjerner) – in both senses of that word. Tomorrow is the time to weep, to pity oneself for having tømmermænd (’hangover’, literally ’carpenters’), and start packing and cleaning up the urine-smelling surroundings of one’s tent, amid hundreds of tents that are either already abandoned or being left, on one of the vast, trampled-down grass fields that serve as festival camps.
Roskilde, a Zealand town less than an hour’s drive from Copenhagen, used to be best known for its cathedral and museum of Viking ships. But in 1971 that all changed with the launch of a new music festival, which was soon to become the greatest of its kind in Denmark, and one of the most visited musical events in Northern Europe. For a few days thousands of people from Denmark, Sweden, Norway and further afield flock to the rural outskirts of Roskilde, where an enclosed area of open-air stages has become a Mecca for music lovers. Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, Metallica and U2 are just some of the bands and artists to have entertained the crowds at Roskilde. In recent years there has been an increased focus on world music and upcoming artists from scenes other than the traditional pop & rock one.
Today Roskilde almost has the role of a rite of passage for many young Danes. Many people speak fondly of their fist, umpteenth, last time at Roskilde. It is a place where you, i et kort øjeblik (’for a short while’), can escape the strictures of modern bureaucracy. It is like an eternal oasis, where you can hang out with your venner (’friends’), get high on music and maybe find a kæreste (boyfriend/girlfriend).
In addition to the music, Roskilde today has become a venue for all kinds of things, from expensive Tex-Mex restaurants to expositions of street art to bathing and an annual nudist foot race (nøgenløb). If you are sensitive to noise and smell, Roskilde Festival is not the place to go. Otherwise, you should consider this very different Danish experience.