A giant peace symbol rises on a wide field of grass between the calm shores of Ubol Ratana Reservoir and the rolling hills of Nam Phong National Park in Khon Kaen Province. Praijit “Dear” Srimuang-on, a thirty-year-old Khon Kaen native, and his team are preparing the grounds for tomorrow’s “E-San Music Festival” that is expected to draw a crowd of over 5000 people. The Isaan Record talks to Dear about why the festival is about more than music and hippie culture.
IR: You have been organizing the “E-San Music Festival” for five years, how did it all begin?
It all started with our love for music, movies and backpacking and we’re all into the youth culture of the 1960s and 70s. We wanted to create something that we enjoy ourselves so we came up with the idea of a music festival. We always went to concerts in other places like in Pai (Mae Hong Son Province) or in Khao Yai (Nakon Ratchasima Province) so we wanted to do something similar here for people to get to know Khon Kaen.
Our slogan is “Water, Mountains, Sky, and Fields of Grass” and our team is called Isaan Kiau [Green Isaan]. Other music events [in Thailand] often try to copy foreign music festivals. But we want to add some Isaan flavor so our guests can experiences the Isaan way of live with all their senses. Most of our guests are young professionals who also love listening to music just like we do.
IR: Who is the Isaan Kiau team and have you organized other events before?
We are a team of about 30 people but our members live in different places like Dan Sai in Loei Province, Khorat or even in the South. Some of us have experience in organizing events like this. I‘ve organized concerts and other events before, I also play music myself. A first we organized the festival just for fun and we figured out many things by trial and error. No one thought we would do this for five years but now we all really into it with our hearts.
IR: What kind of bands play at the festival and how do you choose the line up?
For the first four years we used the name “E-San Reggae” but this year we changed it to “E-San Music Festival” because we have more music styles like Rock ‘n’ Roll, Funk, Bossa nova and others. There will be musicians from six countries like Malaysia, Japan and the USA who come to play with Thai musicians.
Usually, bands contact us and ask if they can play at the event. So we let them audition first and then choose the ones we like best. We don’t pay bands but we offer to help with their traveling expenses and we offer accommodation to those who come from far. Many bands don’t ask for anything, they are just happy to play here.
IR: Isaan Kiau is more than just the music festival, right?
We really want people to experience more than just the music and fun. That’s why we organize activities for social engagement in the nearby communities, for example we’ve been working with local kids. The Green Isaan School is an alternative education project based on the Waldorf model. We have a network of friends all across Thailand and in other countries who volunteer to teach painting, soap making, tie dying and other forms of handicrafting. We also collect donations like clothes, and teaching materials to give them to children around here.
We started the Green Isaan School last year. First we thought we could build a school in one of the villages but the locals didn’t want us to build anything. Instead we organized sport activities for the village kids. This way we were able to build a good relationship with the community.
IR: What do the locals think about the festival?
The villagers who live around here told us the festival is the new strange part of their community and they are not really used to this sort of event yet. Something that they are worried about is that there will be drunken brawls. But we told them that we will do everything avoid this sort of thing. After the event we will be cleaning up the area and collect any trash that’s left behind.
We also offer to the locals to sell their products like pla som (sour fish) and pla heang (dried fish) at the festival without having to pay a fee. And we invite all villagers to attend the festival for free too.
IR: The festival grounds are close to Nam Phong National Park how do you deal with the issue of garbage?
Before we started organizing the event we asked for permission from the Head of the Subdistrict of Ban Phue and the Nam Phong National Park Office. They had concerns that our event would be like that of a group of classic car fans that once caused problems with trash in this area.
This year we will be handing out garbage bags at the entrance and will encourage everyone not to leave anything behind. We also let scavengers from nearby villages collect plastic and glass bottles and a group of villagers will be taking care of the parking grounds so they can make some money.
We have always been paying attention to the issue of garbage and recycling. For example, we invite people to bring reusable stuff in good conditions to donate [to the nearby communities]. During the two months preparation period before the event we try to use environmentally friendly materials and none of our signs are printed on vinyls. Even though some of our sponsors are private companies we encourage them to follow our lead and use only recyclable materials.
Another reason for this is that we want to create a certain atmosphere and everything should be handmade. The only vehicles that are allowed on the festival are classic cars and motorbikes, all other cars have to park outside the festival grounds.
IR: What did you improve on the festival grounds this year?
Last year we had some problems with the restrooms because we couldn’t build permanent toilets on the grounds so we had to set up makeshift ones, some of which became unusable quickly. There also weren’t enough restrooms for the about 5000 people that attended.
About the issue of drugs, we have set up signs that inform people that drug abuse won’t be tolerated. We also want everyone to feel safe that’s why we have police officers and civic defense volunteers on the grounds all night. We are sure that everything will be okay.
IR: What are your hopes for this year’s event and the future?
We want people to be impressed by our festival but we also want to make them feel connected to this project. Maybe some of them will come back and help organizing next year. We get a lot of comments on our Facebook page from people who are surprised to find out there there is an event like this in Khon Kaen.
We always tell our sponsors both from the state and private sector that our team and this event has to grow by itself. Right now, we are like a five-year-old kid that just learned how to stand on its own feet. We want to find our own way and in the future our event might become another tourism promotion event for Khon Kaen Province
E-San Music Festival, Saturday 28 January 2017, 12.00 p.m. – Sunday 29 January 2017 9:30 a.m. at Ubol Ratana Dam, Khon Kaen Province. Tickets are 300 baht at the doors.
How to get in: The festival is located at Ubol Ratana Dam Reservoir, about 40 km from Khon Kaen City. There is a free shuttle bus from the bus station in Ubol Ratana to the festival grounds from 7:30 a.m. – 4.00 p.m. If you are driving yourself, follow Maliwan Road westwards and take the second right after Ban Sok Muang Don Du School to Road 4064. Drive up north until you reach Ubol Ratana Dam Reservoir. The festival grounds are located passed Wat Sawang Choeng Khao.