Interview: Bear Stone Festival

The concept of Bear Stone Festival revolves around showcasing a wide array of different subgenres that are in the realm of stoner and psychedelic rock music. That is why all bands on the lineup are hand-picked in order to create the best possible music experience.

A couple of years ago a brand new music festival appeared on the horizon, named Bear Stone Festival based in rural, remote Croatia. The line-up of the first two editions included a lot of Croatian stoner/psychedelic rock bands, and a few bigger international names, such as Monster Magnet, Orange Goblin, Conan, Mars Red Sky, Black Rainbows and many more. What’s perhaps the most striking about this festival is the location, clearly a big selling point when you look at the recap videos of the first two editions. You see lots of very chilled and relaxed looking people enjoying the Croatian outdoors, swimming in a beautiful blue looking river, whilst being surrounded by Croatian forests and mountains. This year the festival takes place in early July and has again a very exciting line-up, including headline sets by the might High On Fire and Kadavar, with Echeos and Dust favourites Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs also making an appearance. Sander van den Driesche will be present at this year’s edition for Echoes and Dust, and took the opportunity to ask festival organiser Marin Lalić some questions to find out more about the festival.

E&D: Let’s start off with a brief festival history. This year will be the 3rd edition of the festival if I’m not mistaken? How did it all start and come together?

Marin: This year will be our second official edition of the festival. In 2022 we did a “Year Zero” edition of the festival.The festival tickets were free, but the attendance was limited to 1.000 visitors. We decided to make it a free entry festival because we wanted to give our visitors a chance to try something new after everything we all went through in the Covid era and have them introduced to the concept of Bear Stone Festival. It turned out to be a great idea and the festival was “sold out” in a couple of days. We had 12 bands with the lineup consisting mostly of phenomenal Croatian bands that are in stoner and psychedelic rock genres such as She Loves Pablo Stonebride and Daliborovo Granje with foreign headliners such as Black Rainbows and Mars Red Sky. In 2023 we had our first official edition of the festival, meaning that you actually had to pay for a ticket and we had an even greater attendance than in the previous year which tells us that we’re onto something with this concept. We had Orange Goblin and Monster Magnet as the headliners with other gems such as Church of the Cosmic Skull, Mother’s Cake and Conan.

E&D: When I look at photos of previous festival editions, it all looks very chilled and relaxed, with people swimming in the river and generally being super happy. Was this the sort of festival experience you were aiming for?

Marin: Absolutely! From day 1 our policy is that there won’t be any day tickets, only the full festival tickets which include free parking and camping. We don’t want our visitors to come to the festival just for a single band. For us the line-up of the festival is only a part of the entire festival experience. It’s very important, but it’s not the only thing that our visitors think back on when leaving the festival. I always say that the unique location on which we are fortunate enough to organise this festival is the real headliner and everything else comes after it. The idea is to have a chilled part of the festival during the day when the music is secondary. There is our Sviraj!Jam band that improvises for 8 hours on the Jam Stage which is in the heart of the festival site and the idea is that our visitors can enjoy the background music while chilling next to the river. The main stage, aka the Stone Stage starts at 6 PM and this is when most of the visitors shift their focus towards the bands. During the previous edition I’ve noticed that even when the headliners are performing, there is still a fair number of people circulating the festival site, sitting on the banks of the river and enjoying the music with their backs turned to the stage. This is basically what the vision of the Bear Stone Festival experience comes down to: there are a bunch of different possibilities for you to enjoy, just savour the moments as they come to you.

E&D: The festival location seems to be quite remote in the Croatian “outback”. Does this complicate the logistics of the festival? I can imagine it could be quite difficult organising everyone travelling to and from the festival, including the bands?

Marin: Luckily for us, the site of the festival only seems remote when you are there. In reality it’s just a 15 minute drive from the nearest town Slunj. Bear Stone Festival is located in the canyon of the river Mrežnica, one of Croatia’s famous rivers. When you are there, it really seems like you are alone in the world as you literally only see the hills and the forest that surround you. This feeling is emphasised by the lack of signal as we are located in a canyon. It actually gives a great insight into how the festival experience used to be and all the feedback we had regarding the lack of signal was immensely positive. No one is looking at their phone, checking their socials or emails. Everyone is living in the moment and I truly believe that this emphasises the festival experience. Even the mundane situations like finding your friends can lead to some unexpected encounters and side quests. Our crew communicates through radios because otherwise it would simply be impossible to organise an event like this, but other than that, there are really no obstacles. We have a very DIY mindset and so far we managed to overcome all challenges posed by organising a festival in a remote location such as this one.

 

E&D: There are some great names on this year’s line-up already, with High On Fire standing out besides my personal favourites Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs. How do you decide on the line-up, is it personal favourites, or do you try to get a feel for what would go down well with the festival visitors?

Marin: I’m glad you like it! The concept of Bear Stone Festival revolves around showcasing a wide array of different subgenres that are in the realm of stoner and psychedelic rock music. That is why all bands on the lineup are hand-picked in order to create the best possible music experience. The challenge here is to create an optimal ratio of bands that people are already familiar with and are thrilled to see live and bands that most visitors haven’t heard of, but will melt their minds once they see them at the festival. Mother Vulture achieved this in our Year Zero edition when they completely stole the show even though no one heard of them before that and last year it was Church of the Cosmic Skull who earned that title.

E&D: I also noticed quite a lot of bands I’ve never heard of on the line-up, and also at previous editions, some of these are Croatian bands. It is great to see a festival giving space to local talents besides just booking international bands. Was this always one of the objectives of the festival?

Marin:Definitely. Our policy is that 1/3 of the main stage lineup will always come from Croatia or from the neighbouring countries, while the introduction of the second stage enables us to give young, lesser known bands the opportunity to show their goods to Bear Stone Festival audience. I’ll know that we have reached our goal when a local band that started off on the Mill Stage finds their way onto the Stone Stage.

E&D: A lot of our readers probably don’t know the Croatian music scene very well. Can you give us a brief overview of what’s been happening in the Croatian underground music scene, and are there any noticeable names we need to check out?

Marin: Croatia and the Balkan region have a tremendous number of emerging young bands that are experimenting with different genres, while at the same time having some truly legendary bands. I’m really proud that we already had some of these incredible bands as a part of our previous lineups and that they gladly took over the role of festival ambassadors that spread the word of Bear Stone Festival. They had a great time here and they are happy that there is a festival dedicated to this type of music which is almost always just a tiny part of more mainstream oriented festivals. This year we’ll have Muscle Tribe of Danger and Excellence who are truly a powerhouse of a specific style that could be interpreted as stoner metal. Their frontmen Domagoj Šimek is also the frontman of my favourite band from Croatia called She Loves Pablo who have graced our stage at the Year Zero edition of the festival. There are other legendary bands such as Stonebride, Krautrock legends Seven That Spells, Wizard of Stone Mountain and Cojones, but also fairly young bands such as Daliborovo Granje, Achachak, Pomelo Chess Society and Them Moose Rush. This year as a part of the festival lineup we’ll have Nemeček, a band that creates a wall of sound led by a traditional Croatian string instrument called “tambura” hooked up to a bunch of pedals. I highly encourage people to check them out.

E&D: You have just announced the second part of the line-up with Kadavar being the second headliner. Who are you looking forward to the most?

Marin: Of course, Kadavar is one of my favourite bands and 1000mods are absolute legends when it comes to the genre. Besides Nemeček that I’ve mentioned in the previous answer, I’m really looking forward to seeing Blitzpop. They are a fairly new band from Austria that have a very distinct sound and a phenomenal live performance. They are fronted by Pia Unterlechner with Yves Krismer from Mother’s Cake on the guitar. They have catchy sing-along choruses and songs that would almost sound like pop songs if not for the massive fuzz-oriented riffs that take it to a whole new level.

E&D: Where do you see Bear Stone Festival in 5 year’s time? Still at the same location and same size, or do you see scope to grow this into a much bigger Croatian heavy music festival?

Marin: In 5 years I’d like to limit the attendance of the festival to about 5.000 people. The site can accommodate almost double that, but the goal is to make everyone feel as comfortable as possible while also keeping in mind the ecological aspect and the footprint that we leave. Bear Stone Festival will always remain at this location, it’s simply a part of its DNA, but we do have some very ambitious plans when it comes to the new main stage which would be a massive upgrade to the entire festival experience. In order to achieve that, there is still a lot of work in front of us and hopefully the people will connect with our concept and help us achieve our vision.

E&D: For anyone travelling to Bear Stone Festival from abroad, do you have any general tips of advice?

Marin: If you are travelling by plane, I’d recommend travelling to the Zagreb airport and then taking the shuttle bus to the main Zagreb bus station. At the moment, if you check the internet it would seem like there are no available bus lines in July, but that is only because the transport companies haven’t yet updated their timetables for the tourist season. Slunj is very well connected with the rest of Croatia, especially with Zagreb and there are several bus lines active each day. We organise a special bus line that connects the festival site with the town Slunj. As far as public transportation is concerned, we got you covered. In case you are travelling by car or an RV, the festival site is located halfway between the towns Slunj and Ogulin. You just have to reach one of those towns and then take the road towards the other one. The entrance to the festival is just by the bridge that crosses the river Mrežnica with the gates being clearly visible from the road. You can’t miss us!

Bear Stone Festival takes place from July 4-7. Tickets for the festival are available through here.

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