Meadows in the Mountains

A photo documentary by Lyubomir Ignatov and Boyana Djikova. Mountains of Bulgaria. Freedom in every form: – of expression, of movement, of dance, of fashion, of drugs, of sex, of spirit, of love, of any norms imposed by society. High in the Bulgarian Rhodope Mountains, the music festival “Meadows in the Mountains” has been taking place for eight years, each year getting bigger, more international and more glitzy and full of bling. Тext by Boyana Djikova. Photos by Lyubomir Ignatov.

This unique festival experience is highly intensified by electronic music, yoga, workshops, quite decent food (some of it organic), and a lot of ecstasy, ketamine and whatever else you can think of. Despite the incongruity of modern heathenism meeting old-fashioned village life, the festival has been a little miracle for the economy of the depopulated village.

We arrive at midnight in the highs of the forest where a friend, working as an “eco warrior” takes us to the camp and then around the festival grounds, the scale of which was difficult to perceive fully at the time. Endless alleys of lights, music bars, and art installations grace the mountain scenery and create the impression that Alice slipped out of her pages and took her universe along for the ride and any moment now someone would give hand you a card monogrammed with “Eat Me” or “Drink Me”. But first, in true festival form, if you haven’t brought your own from home you have to buy a metal mug to use for drinks for the duration of the festival as no plastic is allowed at Meadows.

Wandering through the stages we come across our first drag party and are overwhelmed by disco-balls strung in trees, carnival atmospherics and pink feathery clothing (and occasionally no clothing at all). Drag queens and performers mingle and dance in celebration throughout the euphoric audience, the whole scene lit by the lights of life, liberty, sex, and decadence in the middle of nowhere, that is the Bulgarian mountains. It is hard to believe that such a peaceful place as the forest hosts such vices as liberation and happiness.

As the electronic music continues its hypnotic time lapse (the festival relies on a diversified palette of world-class DJs, artists, and performers) we gather to see the sunrise peeking through the tops of the mountains. In an unearthly mixture of fog, forest, anticipation, and catharsis we are all together and nothing else is important.

Something “Meadows” gives is this strong sense of community based on the desire to be free – jobs, names, origins are insignificant.

It’s daytime now and night survivors are slowly thawing in the warm weather outside.

Daylight helps you see how much thought and effort is actually put into the design of the various art platforms, installations, tree houses, terraces and wooden fire-breathing dragons inhabited by the hung-over “Meadowers”. Many of the installations and temporary places of abode are connected by the idea of sustainability and the conservation of nature. In fact, a key part of the festival revolves around nature and ecology. Recycling is a must, reusing is a fact and strong regulations apply. Gathering rainwater, then heating it with compost energy is well-established practice on the campgrounds and all of the incomes of the festival’s merchandise are used for the reforestation of the region. The local municipality of Smolyan also actively cooperates with the festival and its eco-friendly policies.

Half naked girls seemingly devoid of any body image issues and wearing flamboyant costumes, with magnificent jewelry and tons of sequins, add to the festive and unapologetic vibe as they float around the festival. Ironically their extravagance is the social norm here. Yet, as commercialization creeps in will this norm survive or be watered down? As the festival gets bigger, will Meadows in the Mountains still feel as authentic as it was eight years ago when there were only a few visitors embarking on this hedonistic adventure?

The scale has changed but the infinite desire to celebrate life is here to stay. The choice of celebrating that desire through fashion, sexuality, religion (or lack of), physical activity, music, food, love, is here by virtue of opportunity. That is everything and all there is to it.”

Тext by Boyana Djikova

Photos by Lyubomir Ignatov