It’s not easy to have a real conversation with Huang Liaoyuan, the organizer behind the three-day rock festival being dubbed, “China’s Woodstock.”
Within the space of five minutes, the easygoing Beijinger takes three calls on his cell phone, all connected to his ambitious brainchild: a live rock extravaganza in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.
The 39-year-old is fired with enthusiasm for the major undertaking, despite a previous festival flop overseen by China’s godfather of rock himself, Cui Jian.
“I guarantee this is going to be great fun. The location is at the foot of Helanshan Mountain in Ningxia and the terrain is like a desert. The huge stage, you know, about 300 square meters, is built at the lower end of a slope and surrounded by rows of anti-sandstorm trees. Far beyond is the clear star-studded sky that most of us urbanites have missed for long.”
And even more enchanting than the setting, he insists, is the star-studded line-up representing a who’s who of Chinese rock from past to present.
“The lineup of 18 rock bands is representative of the development of rock and roll in China over the past two decades,” he said.
With six bands playing on each of the three nights, the festival will showcase established acts like Cui Jian, Tang Dynasty, Black Panther, He Yong, Zhang Chu, Cobra and Ziyue.
More contemporary acts, such as Second Hand Roses, Thin Man, Tongue and Bu Yi, will also be appearing.
Despite the event’s sobriquet, Huang denies his idea has been inspired by the legendary 1969 festival. Also staged in August, the original Woodstock attracted 450,000 people to an open-air three-day show featuring some of the biggest stars of the era.
“It all came naturally,” he explained. “Two years ago, a friend of mine told me that a group of 12 artists had each built a self-designed house at the foot of Helanshan Mountain. And he said they wanted some publicity and asked if I could organize a small party. I thought it would be better to have a bigger event.”
Being an observer of Chinese rock and roll and a commentator on the alternative scene for the past 20 years, Huang says he had long hoped for the chance to organize an outdoor concert like this. After two years of preparation, he describes the event, titled Glorious Path of Chinese Rock and Roll, as a “retrospective of Chinese rock.”
He explained: “Rock and roll has developed in China over the last two decades. However, Chinese rock fans have few chances to get a full view of what has been achieved. The rock musicians themselves, who are soldiers fighting for the same cause, get few opportunities to perform on the same stage. This festival is an opportunity.”
In the summer of 2002, Cui Jian initiated a similar rock festival at Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, in southwest China’s Yunnan Province. The event also attracted a media buzz. However, partly due to a low budget that restricted appearances to new and upcoming rockers, high transportation costs and unexpectedly harsh weather, it was widely regarded as a flop.
Even so, this was the event that inspired Huang: “What the Lijiang festival taught me is that Chinese rock and roll can prosper only when it is grounded among the public. At present, its public base is just as loose and sparse as the air up in the snow mountain. But as there are still constant followers like those that showed up for the festival, we know that there is still hope.”
Huang’s rock retrospective is timed to coincide with the completion of the 12 buildings and the opening of the annual Yinchuan Motorcycle Festival being held only a few kilometers away.
About 30 kilometers from the town, the audience can easily find accommodation. Some 5,000 tents are prepared for either sale or rent. And a special “rock train” to transport festivalgoers from Beijing and other major cities rolls out on August 5, leaving Beijing at 12:45 pm.
“I hope this is an affordable event for ordinary people,” said Huang.
But he is hoping for more than that: “With the festival providing an opportunity for us to look back on how our rock and roll has developed, we hope we can also figure out where and how we are going.”
Time/date: August 6, 7 and 8, 2004.
Tickets: 380 yuan (US$45.6) inclusive of three days of activities; visits to the 12 buildings and the motorcycle festival. Tour packages are also available.
Tel: +86 (10) 6515 0488
(Beijing Weekend August 2, 2004)