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!
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Then we were off to see The National, who 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.
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 me 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.
“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.
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.
Looking for that free, eco-friendly festival packing list? It’s right here!
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