The City Festival (Stadsfesten) is one of the best music festivals in Swedish Lapland. Every year, the event attracts about 90,000 visitors to Skellefteå. Here is the story of Skelleftefestivalen, the festival that turned into stadsfesten and one of the most important summer happenings in Skellefteå.
it all began back in 1994, the city of Skellefteå was celebrating its 150th anniversary and as part of the jubilee the city was going to organise its very own music festival — Skelleftefestivalen. Around that time, musician Gunnar Karlsson was 28 years old. In between tours he suddenly found himself in the inner circle of the event — where he has remained for the last 24 years.
— At that time, Skellefteå wasn’t much of an ‘event city’. Sure, we had Trästockfestivalen, but in the mid-1990’s it was a pretty niche affair. Skelleftefestivalen was supposed to be for everyone, both young and old alike.
The first Skellefte festival was an ambitious project. It was to be held for nine days, with a packed programme.
— We managed to hold a test run in the previous year. It was lucky that we did because there were many small details that didn’t quite work as intended. Amongst other things, we had failed to enclose the festival grounds, which led to about a thousand people getting in without paying, Gunnar says with a laugh.
With lessons learned from the previous year, the festival the year after was nothing short of a crowd favourite.
— It was a popular festival, Gunnar reminisces. Amongst other things, we managed the feat of booking the American punk band, The Ramones. Imagine that, international stars coming to the unknown Skellefteå. The same year we were also lucky enough to have the British band, Suede, who scored their big international break just months after standing on the stage in our city square.
The 1994 Skellefte Festival was a success but financially burdensome for the organisers.
— I think many saw it as a one-off. At the same time, we felt that there was a lot we could do better. Colleagues in the music business also stressed that it takes three years for a festival to get off the ground.
Said and done. The festival was downsized, fine-tuned and between 1996 and 2002 there was tremendous growth. The festival was shortened from nine to five days, hilst the number of visitors increased from 30,000 to a staggering 100,000.
— We attracted people from all over the country and Skellefteå started garnering attention as a real ‘event city’. We knew we were doing things right as it became steadily easier to book big names — the festival was now well renowned in the music business.
Whilst the Skellefte Festival flourished, many other festivals were established throughout Sweden.
— I don’t know if there was a music festival glut in the mid-2000’s but many festivals had a tough time, not just us. Many big festivals closed down or scaled back drastically.
2005 would have spelled the end of the Skellefte Festival but a couple of enthusiasts connected to local enterprise wanted otherwise.
— To cut a long story short, new organisers took over, I remained, the Skellefte Festival turned into the City Festival and that’s the way it is, says Gunnar with a smile.
During the 24 years that Gunnar has been around, many artists have passed through Skellefteå.
— At least 600 acts, I’d say. We’ve only ever had two cancelled gigs, touch wood. But it has been close, sometimes. Gunnar tells the story of how British band, Skunk Anansie, only hours before the show, realised that all of their equipment had been left at Heathrow in London.
— I think we went to every local youth club on a hunt for cables, microphones, pedals and everything else that was missing. But it all ended well.
Another lasting memory is Robyn’s performance in 2011.
— We’ve never had so many people in Möjligheternas torg (The Square of Opportunity) at the same time. We estimate that there were about 11,000 people there.
For the summer of 2017, the ever popular Magnus Uggla, Australian hard rockers Airbourne and the king of the dancefloor, Ingrosso, are amongst the artists visiting the City Festival.
— We are really pleased with this year’s roster. Our ambition still is to have a festival that is as broad as possible, with music, market stalls and an amusement park. We feel that we have succeeded in doing this — for the 24th year in a row.
In 2017 the City Festival will be held 28/6–2/7 and you can find all the information you need at www.stadsfesten.nu >>