Garden Festival: Croatian Cool

Eddie O’Callaghan together with his wife Gail and Nick and Charlotte Colgan is a founder of the Garden Festival held in Zadar every summer. Just Dubrovnik spoke to Eddie about the festival’s history and what visitors can expect this year.

How did you discover Zadar and what were your first impressions of Croatia?
– Nick and Charlotte Colgan first came to Zadar on holiday with friends in 2003.We were initially stunned by the natural beauty of the region and were excited to find a beautiful unused venue high on the ancient city walls, which in 2004 we developed into the open air lounge bar, The Garden Zadar.

What was the process of creating the first festival like?
– By 2005 The Garden Zadar had already established itself as one of the best loved and most musically adventurous additions to Croatian nightlife and culture. So much so that the owners of a hotel in the nearby village of Petrcane approached us about taking on an event space which lain dormant for some years. When we were shown around this fabulous 70s designed complex, we knew it would be the perfect location for an intimate boutique festival. So, we set about renovating the site, called on our contacts from years working in the dance music underground, and started to put together the first Garden Festival in 2006. Although some unseasonable weather kept the numbers down in the first year, the music and atmosphere were amazing. It was promoted almost totally by word of mouth and we knew that those that came and instantly fell in love with Dalmatia would spread the word to other like-minded music lovers, and thankfully the numbers have grown every year.

Highlights from last year?
– The Garden Festival 2012 was the first to be held in our fabulous new home at The Garden Tisno. When we discovered our new location it was love at first sight and it was so wonderful to witness thousands of delighted festival goers sharing that same feeling as they arrived from all over the world. All the elements that have made the festival such a magical experience have now been enhanced. The Main Stage is set in a tree lined area of parkland just a stroll away from the ocean and we now have our very own private sandy beach for lazing with a cocktail or swimming while listening to fabulous tunes from the nearby Dance Terrace. Of course the infamous Argonaughty Boat Parties continue to be a much loved highlight and the all new open air Barbarella’s Discotheque provided some memorable moments with the dance floor still packed when the sun came up every morning. It’s a fully open air club, it really is a stunning space at night and then as the sky gradually gets lighter.

What is the ethos of Garden? How do you achieve it?
Now in its eighth year we really have worked hard to nurture an intimate family feel. Having pretty much reached what we consider a comfortable capacity we can put the emphasis on quality over quantity. We try and avoid the trap of putting on big name artists solely for their commercial potential and concentrate on those who are hugely respected or are breaking new ground. This tends to ensure that festival goers are genuine music lovers and are coming for all the right reasons.

What sets the Garden Festival apart from other festivals being held in Croatia this summer?
– Over the years we have found that almost everybody now considers Garden Festival to be a holiday with a great soundtrack rather than just a weekend of music and we now run the event over a full 7 days. The Tisno area is stunning and with so many wonderful places close by like the Krka waterfalls and the Kornati islands it only makes sense to us that visitors can take a break from the festivities and explore. Also with onsite apartments, luxury Shikar tents, boutique camping with Podpads at The Garden Tisno site for the first time this year, a restaurant and even a shop the site transforms into a uniquely funky self contained village where like minded partygoers come together to create their own little musical paradise.

Which acts are you most exited about this summer?
– Personally Greg Wilson is always a highlight for me, the word legend is wildly overused but in his case totally deserved. Also I am really looking forward to Paqua on the main stage and Theo Parrish playing till dawn at the new outdoor club Barbarella’s Discotheque will be something special.
What are your hopes and plans for Garden over the next few years?
– The new Festival site in Tisno has so much potential so we will be working hard to enrich and refine the experience for those coming back and hopefully continue to watch the Garden family grow. Every year we reach out to promoters from all over the world who we think share our ethos and passion for music. This season we have crews who will be bringing their friends and family from Berlin, Dublin, Stockholm, Budapest and San Francisco and of course we plan to spread the word even further in the future.

For more information on the Garden Festival visit their website.