Mapping the World, One Concert at a Time

For some, cruising cities, countries and continents for the love of live music is the true essence of travel.  
Crew cut 1
Photo courtesy: Sonal Manohare/Fleck Media

Behind me, EBB (Excited Burly Boy) is threatening to land on my back with the finality of a late-’90s Shawn Michaels. To my right, a girl only slightly taller than me is wrangling for a better view of guitarists Niels and Torsten Kinsella. The person to my left, tuned out of the din, has tuned into the opening chords of ‘Forever Lost,’ one of the dozen post-rock pieces this oddball crowd will inhale together tonight. I take one last look at God is an Astronaut—the Irish instrumental band I’d taken a red-eye flight from Delhi to catch—follow Zen Boy’s lead, and close my eyes. Well haunted by melody, everything that has preceded or will follow this moment adds up. The dead-of-the-night arrival in Pune hours before NH7 Weekender 2018 kicked off, dust-fresh from a three day trip in Uttarakhand; the 7 (+7)-hour car journeys between Delhi and Corbett National Park (where I was)—at the brush of music, the miles willed to melt away.

Over the years, I’ve discovered people who walk/drive/hitchhike that extra mile to catch their favourite artistes live. If we must travel, and travel unprotestingly for work, food, love and sex—all our wonky sustenance—can travelling for music be anything less than euphoric?

Ask Archana Singh, a Delhi-based travel blogger who started clocking up music miles during college, kicking off with a trip to the capital from Haryana for the love of Palash Sen. The early 2000s ritual recently found continuum in a month-long tour to the Czech Republic—Renaissance castles, vineyards, carriage rides and brewery museums waltzing into her itinerary to the beats of the Colours of Ostrava music festival. She flew to Prague and then drove to the grungy mining centre of Ostrava to catch Pharrell Williams’ funk rock group N.E.R.D., summoning greedy pit stops across Czechia to squeeze out the korunas. “Travelling for concerts is never just musical, and it’s never just travel either,” Singh contemplates. For the 38-year-old, it meant a whole lot of planning—and unplanning.

Having designed the big escape six months in advance to ensure early-bird perks, Singh surrendered her plans to the thrills of ‘winging it’ when she followed local intelligence to a second music festival. Unlike Ostrava, the International Music Festival Český Krumlov, in the South Bohemian region of Czech Republic, did not promise Ziggy Marley’s reggae rhythms or the woozy warmth of Cigarettes After Sex. But it drew her into a whole new world of philharmonic music—soaring symphonies magicked into the air of medieval castles, apparently no big deal in Český Krumlov, a UNESCO site. By the end of it, the music part of her tour was no longer distinguishable from the slow tunes of the central European sun, her days a tumble of raging concerts doused in surprise showers, and excursions to the fairytale towns of Brno, Mikulov, Valtice, Lednice and Plzeň. If in Ostrava, stories from a stranger-turned-gig-hopping-friend caused Singh’s heart to quake, submarine silences between Český Krumlov’s Western Classical performances did no less. At the cost of (un)planning well, Singh brought home the best of music and travel.

At 28, Daksh Bahuguna has travelled from Guwahati to Tallinn, Estonia, to catch his childhood favourite Iron Maiden on The Legacy of the Beast tour in 2018. Like Singh, the rush of this dream-come- true did not stop the metalhead from structuring a month of sight-foraging around it—a warm-up frisk of Finland, the odd beer festival in Latvia, a solo drive through Iceland flavouring the rich strains of “Hallowed Be Thy Name.” A mix of teenage nostalgia and alien landscapes overcame him, as he hostel-hopped, stopping only to “catch some sleep and tank up the car.” He’d researched Iceland because it’s expensive, but for everything else, a lot of the fun was sketched out on the go. From stopping by Finland’s stunning art galleries to coaxing his rented hatchback to ply mean Icelandic trails, he romanced roads less travelled. And the people on the road too. “A frail, 70-something man singing along to each song; a pair of childhood friends from Netherlands on tourer bikes; some roadie couples, soaking in the remotest of Earth’s wonders together, come to mind,” says Bahuguna. “And it all started with Maiden.”

For some travellers, the road and the moshpit converges. “Imagine a town full of people, walking around in Maiden T-shirts, days before the concert,” laughs Bahuguna. Maybe that’s the lure of travelling for music—running into kindred souls that light up together, before going their own ways.

  • Sohini Das Gupta travels with her headphones plugged-in and eyes open. While this doesn't stall the many accidents that tend to punctuate her journeys, it adds some meme-worthy comic relief. She is Assistant Editor at National Geographic Traveller India.

Psst. Want a weekly dose of travel inspiration in your inbox?