What It's Like to Attend Ansan Valley Rock Festival As An American in Korea

This could be a festival review.

But it won't be.

This past weekend through the mud, rain, wet tents, and kebabs, the Ansan Valley Rock Festival became a sort of goodbye to my time here in Korea. It was a time I could spend watching the bands I knew from home in a uniquely foreign setting, across the world, a stranger in a foreign place watching people do the same thing they would do anywhere, lose it to the music they love.

I don't have any big take-away from the festival, just some musings on what it feels like to see the bands you love from home come over to meet you across the world in a new place you call home. So, I ramble on.

The line-up did not necessarily constitute my favorite bands, but I knew enough of each of them to want to go. Vampire Weekend, The Cure, Yellowcard, Coheed and Cambria, Cat Power, and Fun (not to mention Romantic Punch and Roy Kim of Korea). gave me enough reason to make the six-hour pilgrimage to a place off to the west of Seoul out on an island. Alas, I had to miss Nine Inch Nails (work on Monday called, my friends. You know what it's like out there). I walked into the festival on Friday to the opening song of Vampire Weekend and I walked out on Sunday listening to the closing song of Coheed and the whole time in between I was part of Korea. 

That's an interesting feeling.

To the band on stage, I was the Korea in the pre-last-song shout of "Thank you, Korea!." A stranger? Yes. But, for now, it is my home.

Here is an image for you, after his headlining slot on Saturday night (before My Bloody Valentine droned away in the after-midnight shows) Skrillex yelled out a final "Thank you!" to the crowd before he descended the steps from his space-ship sort of structure. Someone in his road-crew threw what looked like a white towel at him and I thought, alright! Set well done, my man.

But, then he came running around to the front of the crowd with a billowing South Korean flag. He ran around to a kind of sentimental, hopeful instrumental while people went crazy. It was a great moment for sure and even though I wasn't Korean, I looked over at my hyung next to me with the sunglasses at night. We connected and he gave me a pat on the shoulder. Right on. I might have a third grade vocabulary in your language, but we get it.

This is a kind of nationalism that doesn't exist in America. Sure a country band might fly the stars and stripes, but that's a given. That's American on American. And that's a very specific kind of patriotism not shared by all.

This was something that could only happen in places across the world. Maybe it is like the reverse conquistador or something. Skrillex with the Japanese flag in Japan or the Korean flag in Korea shows a deep appreciation for a whole group of people in a way that would not fly in America. It would not be the same. There is too much to unpack with the American flag. Too many conflicting meanings. But, the Korean flag? That speaks something very similar and specific for everyone.

A few Korean words spoken on stage or flying the flag goes a long way in showing humility for being here. It's at a moment like that when it seems like more than just a show, it's a recognition that across the world people showed up.

Even I felt a little sense of pride when I saw that flag.

This leads me into Sunday with Yellowcard, a band I liked for the Ocean Avenue album and then set aside. They played a great set, but they were visibly taken aback by the number of people that knew their songs, word for word, in Korea. It vaguely reminded me of Spinal Tap discovering they were big in Japan. They said it was their first time in Korea and their expectations were blown. Expect the unexpected my friends. The violinist was even taking pictures of the crowd.

This sentiment was repeated with Fun. who was also in Korea for the first time. They were floored by the energy of the crowd and, like Yellowcard, promised to cut a new record and come right back. I guess Korea kind of slips under the radar as a country. Before moving here, I had no real connection to the country and knew very little about it. But with the availability of music on the Internet, the geography of where the biggest concerts will be is completely changing. With Fun. and Yellowcard as indicators, it seems like bands as they get even moderately famous, are starting to realize that their music can be found, enjoyed and cultivated anywhere.

And it's time to take a moment to notice.

I would never consider myself Korean, but seeing a festival through the lens of a different country really hit home the broad spectrum that music has become and the way it feels to be perceived in a slightly different way as an audience. To hear "Thank you Korea!" made me feel just as much a part of this country as part of America. There was a sense of nationalism without the politics, a unified audience coming out in the summer to support artists that may (despite promises) never come around again, so everyone is giving the show everything they have. It was one of the best times I have had at a concert.

I'll miss this country.