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A Mad Cool Festival Review: A Sustainable Festival

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You know you’ve been to the Mad Cool Festival when you wake up in your Madrid hotel room at 2:00 in the afternoon with your pillow covered in glitter and sparkles.

In fairness, this particular festival in Madrid doesn’t even start until 6:00 in the evening at the earliest, and it doesn’t wrap up until close to dawn.

The idea is you sleep all day and then dance the night away!

Eco-Friendly Festival Packing List for Sustainable Travel

While this idea sounded daunting to me, the Mad Cool Festival line-up inspired me to shrug off my old-lady concerns and hop a flight to Madrid – with dancing shoes in tow.

UPDATED: Mad Cool 2022 is ON!

The fest is on! Mad Cool is scheduled for July 6-10 with an extra day of music planned for this year. Tickets for the 2022 Mad Cool Fest are selling fast. Last I checked, Ticketmaster had some fest tickets left.

I hope to see you there!

Mad Cool Festival 2022 Schedule
The Mad Cool 2022 Lineup

A Mad Cool Festival Review (2019)

The last Mad Cool Fest was in 2019 believe it or not. So this review remains relevant as we get ready for the 2022 festivities!

I was not alone for my festival adventure in Madrid. The story of the Mad Cool festival stars my friend Sarah, a schoolteacher from Chicago, who knows how to rock – and knows how to rock sparkles like a champ.

Let’s Get this Mad Cool Festival Party Started

Mad Cool Festival Thursday Line-Up
This was the Mad Cool Festival Line-up: Thursday, July 11, 2019

We arrived on Thursday afternoon with just enough time to wash the travel day off of us before we set out to catch Lewis Capaldi’s set. The Scottish-born singer writes heart-wrenching songs that are also, somehow, dance-y. He even pointed this out, saying something like: “this song is going to sound happy, but believe me, it’s f*cking sad like the rest of them.”

“Someone You Loved”

True, the song is sad, but it got everyone dancing and, between the dancing interspersed with laughter at Capaldi’s hilariously raunchy commentary, we almost forgot about the 95-degree Madrid heat. Almost.

We listened to Tash Sultana from a distance while sprawled out in a shady spot. We scarfed down delicious food bought from a huge selection of street-food carts and stands, including vegan and vegetarian options. I was relieved to find that most of the food stands opted for paper instead of plastic and I was able to maintain my plastic-free status throughout the festival. I would rate this a sustainable festival!

I was relieved because the 2018 festival received some pretty harsh reviews. There was, apparently, limited shade during (yet another) heatwave, technology failures that left people standing in line for ages to get inside, and most terrifying for me, no ability to bring in reusable water bottles (gasp!)

This year there was an abundance of shade, fake grass that staved off the standard festival mud, smooth lines, and no issue with my water bottle or the readily available refill stations with potable water.

Whew! Because you know I was going to throw down if forced to buy a plastic, single-use water bottle.

Beyonce doesn't like plastic at the Mad Cool Festival

Thoroughly refueled, we caught DJ Molina who had the place jamming before Ms. Lauryn Hill took the stage in some kind of winter-white frock that made me sweat just looking at her.

Ms. Lauryn Hill at the Mad Cool Festival in Madrid
Even with the sun setting, it was too hot for that outfit.

Honestly, the high-octane atmosphere took a tumble as we all hoped she would take off that space suit and pick up the tempo, so we headed for Iggy Pop. BUT…we got distracted by the free sparkles offered by Sephora. So, we listened to Iggy Pop while we got sufficiently glitter bombed.  

Getting sparkles in Madrid
Sarah gets her sparkles on.

After that, it was time to chill in the grass and listen to Bon Iver. This is one of the bands that brought me to Madrid.

My late fiancé, Jeff, listened to Bon Iver regularly and, once, during those beautiful pre-cancer days of dating, he gave me a “homework assignment” of listening to two full albums in their entirety “For Emma, Forever Ago” and “Bon Iver” in order.

Cooling off at the Mad Cool Festival
Mad Cool-ing Off

We stayed in our chill position on the fake grass to listen to Noel Gallagher, wandered a little to hear a bit of the Rews, and then made sure our dancing shoes were strapped on tight for the band Vampire Weekend.

Good thing too, because Vampire Weekend crushed it.

Vampire Weekend at the Mad Cool Festival in Madrid
Vampire Weekend playing Sunflower

This is another band that Jeff turned me on to. He once sent me the song “Unbelievers” in a playlist and, in turn, we added it to the playlist for his celebration of life.

Girl, you and I will die unbelievers

Bound to the tracks of the train

I’m not excited, but should I be?

            Is this the fate that half of the world has planned for me?

They played “Unbelievers” as their third song and just never let the tempo drop from there. It was the highlight of the festival for me.

We really wanted to see Chemical Brothers, but it was 3:00 in the morning and, well, we had danced our glitter off. We opted for an “early” night instead.

Nighttime at the Mad Cool Festival in Madrid
We’re nearing sunrise in this picture!

Festival Day Two: Round Two

Mad Cool Friday 2019 Line-Up
Mad Cool Festival Line-up: Friday, July 12, 2019

With a bit more time to get ready for Day Two, we applied our own color-coordinated sparkles and decals and set out with a fresh coat of sunscreen. Luckily on Day Two, the sun stayed tucked behind a hazy cloud cover and dancing came a little easier to all.

Day 2 Mad Cool in Madrid
Sarah and I were fully prepared with our own sparkles on Day 2!

Sharon Van Etten is the perfect act to jump-start day two of a festival. The tired, sunburned, three-day bracelet wearers stretched out on the fake grass, listening to the soothing melodies. We did the same before stopping by Miles Kane.

Then Sarah said, “you know, I’d really like to see Marina,” which turned out to be some of the best eight words ever said to me.

Marina at Mad Cool Festival 2019
Marina will be my next Spotify binge, for sure.

Some of Marina’s lyrics (“I’m not afraid of God / I am afraid of Man”) intrigued me almost as much as the Greek Barbi Doll strutting across the stage in a lime-green swimsuit circa 1950. Unlike Ms. Lauryn Hill, Marina couldn’t be bothered with the heat, ditching her pink jean jacket even though she knew her bra would show every time she turned around.

You go girl.

Drinking festival beer at Mad Cool festival in Madrid
(We used the same beer cups for the entire festival.)

Then we were off to see The National, which was just plain disappointing. At first, it was cool that the lead singer Matt Berninger kept plunging into the crowd while he sang but, as he would lose his microphone, or fall off a divider, or even get mauled by the crowd to the point that security had to intervene, it just got old.

The National at the Mad Cool Festival in Madrid 2019
He just couldn’t get enough of that Mad Cool crowd!

I stuck it out (until the band abruptly left the stage for good after the above-mentioned security incident) because this was another of Jeff’s bands. I shouldn’t have because they didn’t play either of the songs that had meaning for me (“I Need my Girl” and “Fireproof”), but you can’t win them all.

We did win with Smashing Pumpkins, though.

It seemed the whole festival turned out to see the Pumpkins rock Madrid and the crowd swayed peacefully beneath a shimmering cloud of marijuana.

Smashing Pumpkins play at the Mad Cool Festival in Madrid 2019
Hard to see in this picture, but there are a TON of people here.

Today is the greatest

Day I’ve ever known

Can’t wait for tomorrow

I might not have that long

-Smashing Pumpkins “Today”

We did catch one of the late-night bands on Friday, staying for Wolf Mother until that 3:00 in the morning witching hour approached. We skipped out on Empire of the Sun and headed for home.

Blowing a kiss from the Mad Cool Festival in Madrid
Until next time Mad Cool Fest!

We wanted a day to explore Madrid, so we did not attend the festival on Day Three, missing out on, among others, The Cure. But as far as I can tell, the Mad Cool Festival has worked out the beginner kinks and now provides an expertly run festival experience with a stellar lineup.

Fest Quick Tips:

Festival Tips

  • Riding Uber to the festival gets you an automatic “fast-lane” Uber bracelet for an easier and faster departure in the wee hours.
  • There is also a free shuttle home from the festival.
  • Wear sunscreen. Lots of it.
  • Bring a reusable water bottle and use the refill stations.
  • Re-use the same beer cup for the whole festival.
  • Fuel up to soak up all the beer. The food trucks are pretty cheap and (mostly) eco-friendly. (I did see one booth using (gasp) styrofoam.
  • Don’t forget your sustainable sparkles! (But stop by the Sephora booth if you do.)
  • Dance the night away!

Planning to attend? Save this Mad Cool Festival Review for later!

Mad Cool Festival Guide


If you enjoyed the sustainable fest tips in this article, be sure to check out my comprehensive list of travel products to help you travel sustainably.

About the Author

Hi! I’m Jen!

I’m a freelance writer and travel blogger who quit my nine-to-five after my fiancé, Jeff, died of cancer at the age of 40. When he died, I realized that life is just too short to delay our dreams. Since my dream was to travel and write, I now travel and write full-time. Today I wear hiking boots instead of heels and collect experiences instead of things.

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  1. Susan Elko says:

    I loved reading the detailed description. Had no idea that the line up was so amazing. I’m thrilled that you and Sarah had this sparkling experience!

    1. Sparkles. For. Days. Thanks for reading, Susan!

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