United Islands festival moves to Prague’s Ladronka on 10th birthday

Please the Trees & Elpida, photo: Official website of Elpida

The three-day United Islands music festival, which gets underway in Prague on Thursday night, is being held this year for the 10th time. Performers will include visiting acts such as U.S. soul artist Aloe Blacc and Irish singer-songwriter Cathy Davey, as well as local outfits like Midi Lidi and the Plastic People of the Universe. However, the free event isn’t actually taking place on an island this year. As final preparations were underway, I spoke to United Islands organizer David Gaydečka.

Please the Trees & Elpida,  photo: Official website of Elpida
“Tonight we are starting with the traditional club night. Ten places, 10 clubs in Prague, will present the Czech contemporary scene. We have chosen bands that are new on the scene and are fresh, original and might be something really inspiring.

“The first concert will start at the Nostický palace [Nostitz Palace], which is on Maltézské náměstí. Actually, it’s a Ministry of Culture building but they’ve opened it for us. We start there with Please the Trees, a guitar band, playing with the Elpida vocal choir, and Never Sol, a new project.”

And it’s all free?

“Yes, the festival is all free. Access to all clubs and festival venues, including the open air part, is for free. No tickets, no limitations, you can take your dogs or kids and come and have a musical picnic.”

In recent years, the festival has taken place on [the island] Střelecký ostrov, near the National Theatre, but this year you’ve had to move it?

“Yes. We already moved part of the festival in the autumn to the hills of Petřín and to Kinského zahrada [Kinsky Gardens], because we knew that Střelecký ostrov was under reconstruction and it wasn’t supposed to be done before our festival was supposed to start.

Ladronka,  photo: Official website of Ladronka
“But actually after the floods the situation became so bad with all the parks… I think today Kinského zahrada is still closed to the public. We received information from the mayor’s office that the city wouldn’t allow people into the parts of the park where we were supposed to hold the festival.

“So we had to move it and we were very happy to hear that the city council of Prague 6 had welcomed us to Ladronka. They gave us all the permits we needed very quickly, so the festival will happen in Prague 6 at the park Ladronka, which is a beautiful, compact kind of place.”

How many stages will you have at Ladronka?

“Actually, Ladronka is twice as large as the islands and parks where we were supposed to have the festival, so it was pretty easy to move it. We will have all six stages. The line-ups didn’t change, so all bands will play at the allotted times and Ladronka, from its beginning at Vypich to Strahov, will be one big festival place.”

Who are the artists performing that visitors should particularly watch out for this year, do you think?

“Well, this year, because the festival has its 10th anniversary, we’ve tried to make the line-up really special. We have many themes in the programme.

United Islands in 2011,  photo: archive of Radio Prague
“There is a tribute to Olga Havlová, the late president Václav Havel’s wife and the first lady of the Czech Republic, who would have been 80 this year. We have a Jerusalem infusion with a club from Jerusalem called Yellow Submarine; we’ve brought eight bands from Israel.

“We also have a Portuguese stage, a Polish stage and a kind of Eastern Carpathian stage.”