Robbed of Viñarock, Villarrobledo hopes to beat Benicàssim at its own game. Yet rock fest followers are in a quandary…
Headbanging on the beach or vegging out in the vineyard listening to the impassioned cry of electric guitars and lyrics from bygone years. Now the rock fest war has been declared, partygoers will have to choose between the two. Villarrobledo and Benicàssim intend to battle it out with the bands this summer, and both are confident that Spain’s rockaholics will make a beeline for them.
Yet here is the dilemma. Viñarock, eastern Spain’s answer to Glastonbury’s annual mudbath festival, has always been in Villarrobledo in the province of Albacete and never failed to bring in music-lovers, students, hippies and grown-ups reliving their misspent youth from all over the country and often beyond its borders. Now, though, the organisers have decided to head north and hold the huge open-air party in the better-known coastal tourist magnet, Benicàssim.
After being Viñarock’s host for 11 years and believing they had signed up for another eight, Villarrobledo is understandably put out. Benicàssim is already the location for the festival of the year and every summer becomes the temporary home of thousands of stoned campers and internationally-renowned veteran rockstars. Why, therefore, is it also hijacking Viñarock, the one major event that is guaranteed to put the otherwise little-known Villarrobledo on the map?
Much to the disgust of the town council, Matarile, the company behind the rock festival, says the vine-growing locality that gave the event its name does not have the capacity. It is, in essence, a victim of its own popularity.
Reaching 80,000 followers last year, the Viñarock site simply is not large enough. Matarile had pledged to put up the 210,000-240,000 euros necessary to improve the grounds and provide better camping facilities and toilets, but if the festival is moved to Benicàssim, these facilities are there for the taking and the organisers do not have to stump up any cash.
Festival director José Gómez complains bitterly that the council of Villarrobledo has not done enough to improve the site that plays venue to the music fest. Yet his complaints have not changed Matarile’s stance, or made the local authority feel compelled to supply 80,000 brand spanking-new portaloos to keep Viñarock where it belongs.
Revenge for Villa Rockbledo
Villarrobledo is not prepared to go down without a fight. If it cannot keep Viñarock, it will stage its own event, designed to coincide with the now Benicàssim-based rock fest and which, they hope, will keep their faithful followers off the beach and in the vineyards.
Villa Rockbledo has a star-studded cast already, frantically drummed up by the festival organisers, featuring world-renowned household names that will sell tickets by the thousand in the blink of an eye.
Rocking the scorched, red plains of Castilla-La Mancha are the up-and-coming talented outfits Def Con Dos, Celtas Cortos, Ilegales, Violadores del Verso, Soziedad Alkohólika, Loquillo, Despistaos, Obús, El Koala, Ñú, Mojinos Escocíos, Porretas, Fe de ratas, Ars Amandi, Lujuria, El Combo Linga, Sinkope, A palo seko, Manolo Kabezabolo, Fuzz, Benito Kamelas and Siniestro Total. The exposure they will have at what used to be one of the musical calendar’s biggest dates is sure to give their careers a jump-start in the right direction.
Famous names guaranteed to pull in the crowds have also been signed up, including Latin-American Manu Chao, whose last album was described as ‘an office party in the Spanish Caribbean’, and La Mala Rodríguez, who currently sits in the singles chart top ten and is a regular fixture in the bestseller list, Los 40 Principales.
Between April 27 and 29, Villa Rockbledo will be ablaze. The organisers are quietly confident of a good turnout, but are prepared that the event will not rain money on them the way Viñarock always did – faithful followers of the latter are loyal to the festival but not the host town, and will head for Benicàssim instead.
Residents and employees in Villarrobledo are more confident of buoyant ticket sales, though. For the 24,000 inhabitants of the town, the historic festival – along with Metalmanía, a heavy metal show that is also marked in the diaries of musicl fest lovers all over Spain – was great for business, but there is no reason why fans should stop coming, says the manager of Villarrobledo’s branch of Caprabo. “I don’t think it will do us any harm – people still want to come to Villarrobledo,” he shrugs.
Viñarock did not really increase the profits of Villarrobledo’s supermarkets, Caprabo’s manager explained, but small shops, bars and hotels were always rushed off their feet. “Most had to take a holiday afterwards,” he adds.
The council expects to see around 35,000 spectators – quite an achievement, considering the town has only had a month to round up some 40 bands and deal with the necessary paperwork and negotiations. Villarrobledo has managed in four weeks what would normally take months or even a year or more – proof that the will and determination to succeed can bring extraordinary results. “Next year, we’ll put on an even better festival,” declares the councillor for culture.
Although the musical madness is still set to go ahead, Villarrobledo is not happy at losing the festival it considers very much its own property. Not only because the vineyard-covered landscape gave the event its name, but because for the first two years, the town’s local authority together with plenty of enthusiastic volunteers organised the entire show themselves. It was not until 1998 that they signed an agreement with Matarile so that the latter could take on the lion’s share of the dirty work. However, Villarrobledo itself continued to put up funds where Matarile could not cover the expenses of the festival – often paying for the labour when works were carried out whilst the company contracted forked out for the materials.
It’s not all rock and roll
Yet, in spite of the massive financial boost and the fame that Villarrobledo earns off the back of Viñarock, there are a significant minority who breathed a sigh of relief when the festival was moved to Benicàssim – although the smile was wiped off their faces when they heard about plans for Villa Rockbledo. Mercadona’s management says it is sick of the huge number of robberies that take place during the rock season.
The deluge of visitors can wear people out, and the extra 12,000 euros or so that supermarkets earn from the people travelling to the town to see the concerts does not really compensate them for the stress and mayhem. An employee in a bakery is not looking forward to Villa Rockbledo, saying he is fed up with the shop being full to the brim with customers. He also complains about the stench because of lack of proper hygiene facilities – smelly campers queuing for the portaloos is not a pretty sight, he says. Not to mention the drunken louts who answer the call of nature in the street. “I’m fed up with it,” moans the baker.
A date for the diary
Forget the empty beer cans, shoplifting, intoxicated rock fans lying in ditches and the whiff of marijuana and 35,000 unwashed spectators. Villa Rockbledo is not to be missed, and you can buy tickets for 40 euros from www.ticktackticket.com before March 31. After this date the price rises to 50 euros, or 55 euros at the gate.
The only excuse for missing Villa Rockbledo is if you are in Benicàssim on the same day moshing to the tunes of Viñarock. A little steeper at 65 euros a ticket – also available from www.ticktackticket.com and El Corte Inglés – rising to 70 euros on the door, this simply reflects the magnitude of the festival’s popularity. Die-hard fans of alternative music who do not mind roughing it for three days make the annual pilgrimage to Viñarock with the same devotion as the faithful on their trek to the Santiago de Compostela.
It remains to be seen, though, where rock-lovers will head this year. Will they follow Viñarock as they have done since 1996, no matter where in the country it takes place? Does the thought of sun, sea, sand and the scent of orange blossom seem a more attractive venue for the musical event of the year? Or do their loyalties lie with the close-knit little locality of Villarrobledo, and will the head-banging masses reward the town for its colossal efforts?
Benicàssim might have won the Viñarock battle, but Villarrobledo is determined to win the war.
The first photo was taken during the performance of Los Ángeles de Infierno (Hell's Angels) at the festival in 2005 while the second, taken the following year, is of the lead singer of Los Loccos (The Madmen).