In a forested park high above the city of Pristina, the annual Sunny Hill Festival is a major cultural event of the Kosovo summer season. Organized by Dua Lipa and her father, Dukagjin Lipa, Sunny Hill featured four days of major international artists along with the best musical acts of the region.
Sunny Hill is my 16th music festival in the Balkans since 2015 and our first ever recap from Kosovo! I’m always excited to check out the festival scene in a new spot, especially in Pristina, a city I have never been to before. Let’s see how they festival in Kosovo!
Table Of Contents
Running the Numbers
Dates: August 4-7, 2022
MFW Beer Index: €4.64
MFW Fry Index: €3.00
Highest/Lowest Temperature: 34C/14C (93F/57F)
Reusable Cups? No
Free Water Stations? No
Situated in a long narrow valley in a dense forest, the Germia Park venue is quite cozy. The lower section of the field hosts the second stage along with food, drinks, and activities. It functions mainly as a chill-out space early in the day and then an all-night rave late at night. The main stage is just a few minutes away with two massive VIP towers flanking either side. It was a tight squeeze to get to the front, but plenty of room towards the back.
Sunny Hill has an interesting take on their musical lineup with each day dedicated to a specific genre. Thursday found us checking out the best in Balkan pop with Dua Lipa finishing off the night. J Balvin headed up a Friday of reggaeton while Saturday was hip-hop night featuring AJ Tracey and Skepta. The festival closed out Sunday with electronic music and Diplo. Most of the acts were heavily skewed towards Albanian artists, but there was representation from all across the continent.
This is a very young and excited crowd – the average age here in Kosovo is only 29 – and Sunny Hill seems to to be event of the season. Like most fests in the Balkans, be prepared to get very close to your neighbors and don’t worry about pushing your way ahead in a line. English is widely spoken here, and in a weird twist, they seem to like Americans. The Sunny Hill Festival easily had the friendliest festies of the summer with lots of smiles, conversations, and good times.
I was surprised at how much tickets and drinks cost at Sunny Hill, particularly since one of the hallmarks of Balkan festivals is that they are quite affordable. This turned out to be a common complaint from young people I met in the city center, with my front desk clerk calling the festival “only for rich people.” Ounce for ounce, a pint’s worth of beer here almost cost as much as Spain, and nearly a euro more than Portugal. The food was a bit better when it came to value with fries and crepes a bit lower than a normal festival.
Acts I Caught and the Unofficial Order in Which I Enjoyed Them
- J. Balvin
- AJ Tracey
- Emir Taha
- Ghetto Geasy
J. Balvin: The King of Reggaeton
Colombian reggaeton powerhouse, J. Balvin, brought the beats to the Balkans with a wave of endless energy and a heavy-stepping crew of back-up dancers. He also brought out the most age-diverse crowd of the weekend with parents and kids all jamming out to J. Balvin.
Skepta: The King of Grime
Each night was headlined by a representative that’s at the top of their genre, and it’s hard to deny that in the European hip-hop festival scene, there’s almost nobody that can top UK grime artist Skepta. Pulling out AJ Tracey for their hit single, Skepta had the entire crowd bouncing throughout his set.
The Zen of Schedules
Sunny Hill made a bold move to not post a schedule of when artists were playing, and let me tell you, it was extremely confusing. I knew who was playing each day, but not the order or the time. After the second day, I stopped trying and embraced the randomness.
Welcome to the Balkans
When I bring up things like a missing schedule or lack of bus transportation, I’m met with a familiar phrase: “Welcome to the Balkans”. I have heard at this at every country here, not only for music festivals, but transportation, the weather, and police corruption. It roughly translates to: “Yeah, we know things are messed up. Roll with it.”
Why I Live in Europe: Reason #19
So we just had a US festival cancelled because – and I can not believe I’m writing this – we have laws that let people legally bring a handgun to a crowded event. Sunny Hill, like every other festival in every other country in the world, doesn’t allow handguns at their festival.
What’s the weather like? The Balkans this summer has been like standing in front of an open oven so be prepared for some brutal heat. Thankfully, most of the major action takes place at night when temperatures drop significantly. I almost needed a hoodie on Friday night.
What are the prime hours for music? While there are a few artists during the afternoon, the main stage grounds don’t open until 6:30-7:00 pm and typically runs until about 2 am. There is, as always, a late night rave after the headliners finish, and depending on your state of mind, one of the highlights of the festival.
Where did you sleep? When my hostel unexpectedly cancelled my confirmed reservation less than 24 hours before check-in, I had to scramble to make alternative arrangements. I spent the weekend bouncing around some of the lesser well reviewed establishments about town.
How do you get there? Unless you leave before 5:00 pm, this festival is a mess to reach from the city center. There are city buses (€0.40), but they were so stuffed, I was never able to squeeze onto one. Walking is the best option (35 minutes), but keep in mind that it is uphill, it is very hot out, and you still have another 15 minutes of walking after the gate. I did get a ride up one evening in an unlicensed and unairconditioned taxi (€1.00). A standard one should run anywhere from €20-25, but settle on the price before you take off as you might be sitting in traffic quite a long time.
What’s the security like? On my first day to the festival, my bag was checked no less than five times. There’s a main entrance where they do a thorough search, but without any communication, you may find yourself getting searched again. Then, when you actually reach the main gate, they have a second completely unnecessary checkpoint. Police presence was high at Sunny Hill, although they weren’t doing checks and rarely interacted with festies.
Since the forced hiatus of COVID-19, nearly every festival I’ve been to this summer has had a bit of a struggle with logistics, so I’m taking it all in stride. I’m just happy to see that the burgeoning festival scene in the Balkans continues to grow each summer. Sunny Hill Festival will be holding their next edition in Tirana, Albania from August 26-28, 2022.