Summer has kicked in and so does the festival season. While mega international music festivals are turning up the heat in the West, Quest stands out as Vietnam’s most sought-after underground music and arts festival. Since its debut in November 2013, Quest’s audience has grown from 50 to a sheer number of 1000, the majority of whom are foreigners.
Unlike other well-established festivals here with a crowded list of sponsors, Quest is a truly independent music and arts extravaganza for indie souls. With its open-air setting, overnight camping, non-stop music and performances, Quest appeals to city folks who crave a weekend getaway close to nature, especially expats who have been so familiar with this type of celebration back in their home countries. In fact, a good 80% of the festival goers are non-locals. Expats from all over Vietnam travel here for a weekend that is now being regarded as the best camping festival experience in the country. Looking at the crowd alone, it is hard to believe Quest actually takes place in Vietnam for the presence of local audience is minimal. Either spotted with groups of foreigners or by their own nationality, Vietnamese attendees are all very young, Western-oriented and first-timers at the festival. For them, it is an entirely new experience: the camping, indie music and even the almost overwhelming presence of foreigners. It is noticeably different from other local music events backed by aggressive marketing strategies and line-ups packed with A-List entertainers. Nevertheless, if a Vietnamese is open enough to give Quest a try, they will find that there is something for everyone here.
Mystery Quest was an ambitious experiment that echoed Quest’s daring and free spirit. After the success of the last three festivals, the team decided to embark on a new adventure in the wilderness. After a 90-minute bus-ride, the mystery was unfolded at a discreet valley in Hoa Binh province, a property owned by prominent Vietnamese artist Dao Anh Khanh. While this location could not sound more ideal for such an underground celebration, logistics difficulties kept the team up all night for months. The muddy, undeveloped path from the main road to the camping site took no less than 30 minutes by foot and there was not even electricity on the site. But come hell or high water, the team was determined give their audience a brand new experience on the weekend of April 10.
Compared to the previous Quests, this 4th edition presented a much better mix of DJs, experimental sounds and acoustic acts. There were all sorts of activities from lantern making to yoga and meditation classes, poetry and even adventure tours. However, the geography of the site turned out to be a challenge, worsened by the unfavourable weather condition. As the organisers kept burning the candles at both ends to minimise disruptions, everyone did have a good time in the end and the sun even came out on Sunday morning.
With its popularity and pioneering position in organising camping festival like this, Quest is only going to get bigger. With plans to turn it into a national phenomenon, Quest needs to rethink its promotional strategy to draw more attention and support from the Vietnamese community. As the wave of summer festivals continues to heat up the country, Vietnam will embrace this Western model of festival in less than no time. The question then is how to make it more appealing to local folks without compromising any of it authenticity.