As the summer draws to a close, you could be forgiven for thinking that Fukuoka had given all it had to offer with August`s jazz and salsa festivals. However, as it turned out, the biggest and best festival in Kyushu was still to come. The annual Sunset Live music festival is a fantastic gathering of brilliant native bands and local music, with a gorgeous selection of traditional local food and exotic dishes, on offer and an absolutely jaw-dropping backdrop to the festivities. Most importantly, though, Sunset Live boasts an incredibly eclectic mix of fun-loving, friendly, colorful and beautiful people – probably the warmest and nicest festival-goers you could meet anywhere on the planet. The festival is always a fantastic experience, but this year it outdid itself in absolutely every respect.
Comprising of three main stages with two smaller, more intimate stages, Sunset Live is a compact mini-village that exudes a laid-back tropical island vibe, with the hustle and bustle of the always-busy food stalls creating a fun and friendly atmosphere. The location is simply exquisite – lush tree-covered mountains bookend the site, and the beautiful blue sea and soft sand stretch from one mountain to the other.
The festival kicked off on Friday 3 September with Riddim Saunter, their flavor of sun-drenched ska – complete with rotating drummer – really setting the tone for the weekend. From that moment on, all you could see as you looked around were smiling faces, eager to drink in as much of the Sunset experience as they possibly could.
But this festival is not just for the hardcore music fan. As you would expect from such an exotic location and event, festival-goers came from all walks of life. They arrived in their thousands; heavily tattooed hippies with dreadlocks down to their ankles; bronzed surfers in long swim shorts; stylishly alternative ladies and gentlemen with braided hair and long, flowing, baggy garments; sexy girls in bikinis and hot pants, and city fashionistas in high heels and tight miniskirts, miraculously negotiating the sand and the pot holes.
Despite the searing heat, no matter where you looked everybody was dancing. From the fantastic Black Bottom Brass Band on the smaller Bamboo Stage to the Palm Stage where The Bawdies were rocking the house, everyone was moving and jiving, sweating deliriously in unison without a care in the world. And while the bands on the Palm Stage were performing, there were talented local artists creating an enormous mural on a twenty meter wall, encapsulating what the festival is about: namely, color, love, fun and music.
With the evening came an absolutely beautiful sunset out to sea on the horizon, and it suddenly became clear how apt the name of the festival really was. Sitting on the beach, drinking a cold beer and listening to Dad Mom Gold in the background on the Beach Stage felt like a slice of heaven. The only downside to the entire event was having to get on a bus to go back to Fukuoka at nine o`clock; it was obvious that everyone wanted to party throughout the night, but unlike most other music festivals, camping was strictly off-limits.
It is hard to believe but Saturday and Sunday, if anything, were even better. The temperature cooled over the weekend slightly, so the main stages were completely packed with grooving and dancing people, and the music continued to motivate everyone into feeling the festival love. Fantastic Plastic Machine was on hand to provide some dance music straight out of Shibuya and the tight funk of Mountain Mocha Kilimanjaro was immense. It was great to see so many people of all ages having such a good time in one place, and it was a great feeling to be a part of it.
The food and drink deserves a special mention too, as there is quite simply an astounding mix of food on offer. The Natty Dread jerk chicken stall is a revelation if you have never visited the local restaurant of the same name, the enormous burgers easily filling hungry danced-out bellies at a very reasonable price. There was a myriad of food stalls, and it almost felt impossible to decide what to eat next as people shuffled past with plates of noodles, ramen, chicken, omu-rice and ice cream, to name but a few of the culinary treats on offer. The outdoor massage parlor was also on hand to give any tired bodies relief, and the temporary tattoo and hair-braiding booths were very tempting for those who wanted to achieve the quintessential festival look.
Sunday was maybe the best day of all, though, as it drew in the biggest crowds, so the place was literally vibrating with dancing feet by mid-afternoon when DaishiDance hit the stage. The Sunset girl pageant immediately followed, much to the delight of many a red-blooded gentleman.
As the last band finished and fireworks brought the festival to a colorful close, I sat on the beach with the fantastic friends I had made that day and I realized that this was a perfect moment. Beautiful, colorful, fun, friendly, musical, tasty; there are not enough adjectives to describe how truly great the Sunset Live festival really is, and without a doubt you should definitely go next year – I know I will.
Text by Martin Saint for Fukuoka Now