Going out with a bang – The Garden Festival

The Garden Festival kicks-off this week in Tisno, Croatia under bittersweet circumstances as it celebrates a 10-year anniversary in the last year if its existence. We’ve all had our share of cool festivals so why write about one that’s ending?

If you ask anyone who’s been there, the overall sentiment is that Garden Festival has procured a vibe that other festivals cannot achieve. It’s hard to put a finger on what makes the magic but here are a few of the special ingredients: It starts with an intimate attendance of 2,500. (They could fit more bodies but chose to preserve the intimacy.) There’s only two small, main stages so in between 5 days of blazing sun and cool dips in the sea, you actually get to see all of the well-curated talent –Harvey, Joy Orbison, Ben UFO, Seth Troxler, Crazy P and 200+ more this week. You can also see selected artists on the daily 4-hour boat parties that set sail from a dock on-site. http://thegardenfestival.eu

The set-up is already stress-free. FMO is not a thing at the Garden. But it’s the logistics that make this festival especially clever. The grounds are green with plenty of paths to play and rest including a sandy beach on the turquoise Adriatic Sea. (Not even Giles Peterson could accomplish stage, beach and grass in one locale for his Worldwide Festival in Sète France.) The food is both delicious and healthy – tuna steak sandwiches with wasabi mayo are a lunchtime staple. Grab a prosecco cocktail with fresh fruit or local beer and you are ready for the floating stage that literally hovers over the sea. When the festival stops at midnight, you still have the option to party until 6am or get this…sleep undisturbed until the next morning. How crazy is that? For the all-nighters, just hop on a 10-minute bus ride to Barbarella’s – the official after party.

The traditional ways of the tiny village just add to the remote summer-camp feel of the event as artists and festival goers intermingle with no fanfare. Backstage barely exists and for one stage is merely a matter of “behind the rocks” or “in front of the rocks.” It seems that more people than not, wear the “family” pass around their necks and this is why artists like Crazy P, The Sunset DJs Galen & Solar, Pyschemagik and more return each year to play here and party together– sing-alongs on boats, dance-offs and chillin’ by the sea. It’s an easy-going time for both DJ and festival-attendee alike.

Hopefully you can better understand now the sorrow that comes with the disappearance of this festival unicorn. I talked to one of the founders UK-born Eddie O’Callaghan, an acquaintance of mine in San Francisco, to learn a bit about Garden’s start, what it feels like to go out with a bang – and what’s next.


Photo credit: Robin Russell

Let’s talk about this boat fetish. You and Gail did the Bulletproof boat parties in San Francisco in the 90’s.

I think boat parties must be in our blood because every city in which we’ve lived we always brought the party afloat. The Bulletproof boats in San Francisco were an enormous privilege to be involved with and although it was hard work and took a while to catch on we hope we left some magical memories over those 10 years. What I’ve always loved about a boat party is the extra level of commitment from everyone, you cant just slope off or call a cab, so knowing this people tend to bring their A game and the party ignites from the minute the music drops. The views from the boat over here are another special treat as Croatia has 1200 islands and scenery is breathtaking.

How did you end up in Croatia? I think you may have started a trend…

Our partners Nick and Charlotte Colgan were the real pioneers. We are from the same city Birmingham and have been friends for years. They came out to San Fran when we were doing the Bulletproof parties and decided to get married there on Stinson Beach. After years of us both running clubs and parties in the dance music underground they came to Croatia on holiday and fell in love with the place and opened a lounge bar called the Garden in Zadar in 2004.

We were invited over and also fell immediately in love with the Dalmatian coast, so we found an ideal site on a peninsula next to the sea and together we began plotting to encourage all our DJ friends and promoters we had been working with in the UK to bring their nearest and dearest and the result was the first Garden Festival in 2006. The reaction from that first few hundred attendees was so amazing that word spread largely through word of mouth to the 3000 devoted music lovers we now have coming for a decade.

There are several other festivals on this land like Electric Elephant, Stop Making Sense and Soundwave. What do you think when people say that Croatia is a new Ibiza?

We know the media often like to make lazy comparisons and we certainly don’t associate ourselves with the rampant commercialism which has afflicted Ibiza over the years, but Ibiza was and still is a very special place and we are happy to invoke memories of how Ibiza was in more innocent and inspirational times back in the late 80s. Our club Barbarella’s has often been compared with Amnesia where you could dance outside until dawn, which is now a very rare and magical experience.

Do you have any stories that stand out as a real Garden Festival moment?

One story springs to mind…on one of the very first boat parties with Faith and Dave Beer we decided on an impromptu stop on one of the islands for a swim. Some of the guys ordered pizzas for everybody from a seafront restaurant but hadn’t told the captain of the boat to wait so as the ship started to sail, they panicked and jumped back on. A couple of miles off-shore the music halted because a police launch had pulled next to the boat with an irate restaurateur demanding his cash which we rightly paid up. Of course when your boarded by police we were all expecting that it was party over so you can imagine our surprise when the policemen came up from the lower deck all smiles with a huge stack of pizzas. The music comes back on and everyone was so relieved they were hugging the police and waving them off. I seem to remember that we then cracked on until every last drop of drink had gone! I think it says a lot about the place that while hunting down money the police still thought to bring the pizzas!

How did you manage to keep such a good crowd over the years and how does Garden compare with the other festivals?

To be honest our crowd has grown with us organically over the years and although there will be refinements and improvements where possible we will stick to the same formula of quality music and an intimate family feel that people have grown to love. The Garden is special to us because it’s the founding event over in Croatia but all the festivals have their own musical identities and devotees.

What is going to be the highlight of the week?

I think the last night at Barbarellas handover with DJ Harvey will be hugely emotional for us, I would urge anyone who can to stick around for that to do so. [It will be the closing event when Garden ends and Electric Elephant begins the following day.

Photo credit: Robin Russell

What is next for The Garden Festival team and is there anything I can do to stop it?

It’s been a wild and wonderful ride but we are happy to be handing over the baton to the next generation and have what we consider a perfect replacement to carry on the vibe of the Garden Festival. We have now confirmed that the ‘Team Love’ duo of Tom Paine and Dave Harvey of Bristol will be placing the wonderfully named all new event ‘Love International in place of The Garden Festival.

We really feel comfortable with this as it will be basically the same team as the Garden Festival, which has become one hell of a set up.

And personally?

Going out with a bang after 10 glorious years, gives Gail and I the opportunity to carry out an idea we have all been planning and discussing together at Garden HQ for years. We will be moving back to the UK Based in the City of Enchantment (Birmingham to you) to open a non profit shop selling recycled clothing by the kilo called Off the Scale, this is Gails first love and hopefully we can do a bit of good along the way. Of course we will be back in Tisno each summer to help with all the festivals, plus some new ones Nick and Charlotte are putting in to place.

It’s fair to say we are now veterans at the game and always wanted to ensure we go out on a high––and ten years is a good innings in our opinion.

*So see live updates, pics and videos from the very last Garden Festival, check out: