Bearstone Festival grounds.

FESTIVAL REPORT: Bearstone Festival

When: 4th – 7th July 2024

Where: Slunj, Croatia

Taking place in the pit of a canyon in Slunj (pronounced “Sloon”), Croatia, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more idyllic setting for a festival. Anyone who has previously seen the aftermovie from last year will know what I’m talking about: the festival is centred in a canyon surrounded by lush forestry, shimmering blue water and clear sunny skies. It’s here in this location that Bearstone Festival allows stoner-rock to reign supreme.

As Brits, we’re predisposed to guarded reservation about things that look too good to be true. We’re a cautious bunch who are often waiting for the moment when we can excitedly exclaim about something that confirms our expected misery. Well, what if I told you that it can be that good. That it can be that idyllic, dreamy and goddamn instagrammable (if you must). There’s no catch, at 76 euros for four days of music, including camping, you don’t even need a trust fund to be able to afford a ticket. With an undeniably free-spirited energy, Bearstone Festival brings the spirit of Woodstock ‘69 to life.


Artists include: Jantar, Entropist, Slowtorch

Arrival day means soaking up the atmosphere and as mentioned, there is quite an atmosphere to soak up. On entrance to the site, you’re met by a food court area and a twee little bridge that takes you to the Mill Stage and the Jam Stage. The latter of which, is as the name suggests a stage purely devoted to the art of improvised music. As such, the entire weekend is accompanied by a backdrop of various guitar and electronic meanderings, which at times sound so incredible that you’re unsure whether you’re missing out on one of the official artists playing at another stage.

The area is decked out with Chinese-style pagodas, the centrepiece being a giant head holding its face outside of itself, inside of which plants are growing. 28-year-old festival organiser, Marin Lalić, reveals that there was supposed to be one for each side of the stage, however, due to delays the second one won’t be arriving until Monday – the day the festival ends. He seems relaxed about this, laughing it off with a parodic eye roll, as he shows myself and a group of British writers around the site. At the tender end of 28, there are certainly comparisons to be made in terms of infamous Woodstock organiser Michael Lang who was a mere 24 when he first organised Woodstock ‘69.

There are only four bands on today, allowing people time to settle into the campsite without a gruelling musical itinerary to follow. I manage to catch three of them; Jantar, Entropist and Slowtorch, all of whom are playing at the smallest stage at the festival, the Mill Stage. Jantar are a three-piece from Zagreb (the local region) and they play a blend of mathy rock/metal that manages to burst through my flight-induced tinnitus. Entropist are also from Croatia and they’re heavier, sounding a little bit like the US instrumental post-metal/rock band Pelican. Their set breaks out into expansive guitar solos before erupting into thunderous bursts of moody “f**k you” style riffs.

The evening ends with elaborate Italian rockers, Slowtorch, who draw the largest crowd of the day, possibly due to the majority of the campers having arrived by then. Their combination of stoner and heavy rock was amplified by the charismatic energy of their lead singer Matteo, who gave a standout performance, serving as a fitting headliner for the festival’s first night.

As I leave the festival arena, I catch waves of sound coming from the resident jam band Svirajijam! who are now playing a lingering, psych-saturated improv set that journeys across the night air accompanying festival goers on their way back to the campsite.


Artists include: Quiet Confusion, Baron Crâne, Gnome, Pigs x7, High on Fire, Mother Vulture

Friday marks the opening night of the largest stage the festival currently has for their headlining acts this year. However, this is set to change in a year or two, depending on the progress made on another area of the site where crew members are working on building an intricately-designed majestic, wooden stage structure featuring powered cogs that move in time to music. Based at the top of a hill, the area will feature food stalls, merch stands and all the other things festival-goers need if they’re spending an evening in one location. The best thing about it is that it’s situated within a forested area where the natural wooded enclave has been transformed into a Greek amphitheatre. Fully aware of its magical potential, plans for glow-in-the-dark cobwebs and live projectionists have also been made.

But it’s not quite ready yet, so for now, the Stone Stage is where half of today’s line-up takes place. Before that though, we’re back over to the smaller Mill Stage to see Quiet Confusion. Hailing from Verona, they’re a three-piece playing bluesy, psych, rock n roll. At times there’s almost a Strokes-like New York drawl and swagger about them but then they’ll release a bluesy breakdown and you’re suddenly transported to a smoky, dive bar on the outskirts of Vegas where no one looks up at you as you walk in.

French instrumental trio, Baron Crâne are the highlight on this stage today. They play an impeccable set of absurdly tight, effortless and endlessly perfect chunky psychedelic guitar soloing amidst a range of jazz, noise and post-rock variations. The set is high energy and being able to maintain that level for 30 minutes in the peak heat of the day is an impressive feat. As the guitarist’s hands flutter across his guitar neck like a sprightly Hendrix devotee it’s hard not to resent them just a little bit for showing off.

There’s one guy I’ve been seeing around all afternoon, stood alone, proudly sporting a red pointy hat. He’s a Gnome fan and there are more of them. As the band begins a small stream of red pointy hatted people trickle across the small wooden bridge into the arena and promptly take position towards the front of the stage. Gnome are, of course, wearing the hats themselves and it’s only a matter of time before they fall off during the show, leaving only the vocalist/guitarist to represent the band’s trademark merch. It’s nice to see something a bit silly and the audience agrees as there’s a large turnout. At one point a mariachi backing track plays the opening to a new song that hasn’t been released yet, before they erupt into ever-more power-crunching riffs.

After Gnome, the sun slinks off and the Stone Stage takes on a more decadent and buoyant spirit. The nearby food court is still bustling, as wood-fired pizzas are delivered to hungry mouths, the staff swooping to grab handfuls of fresh basil hanging from nearby potted plants – sprinkled as seasoning before doling them out to customers. There is also a veggie/vegan option that serves me the tastiest onion bhajis coated in pea puree with cous cous and a big salad. And, no festival would be complete without a classic grill serving every festival goer’s standard diet of chips, hot dogs and burgers. They also have the foresight to bring a bunch of cigarettes and tobacco to sell.

After this quick break, Pigs x7 storm the stage with an electrifying presence that has the crowd buzzing from the first riff. The Newcastle-based band, known for their heavy, hypnotic sound, deliver a performance that certainly jolts awake the sleepy, sun-drenched and beer-soaked audience of the afternoon. Wearing short sports shorts and a white vest, frontman Matt Baty jokes that they are the UK’s worst Queen tribute act and promises a cover of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ later on (which, sadly, turns out to be another joke).

From the opening notes, the audience is engulfed in a wall of sound—thick, sludgy guitars and thunderous drums that reverberate through the arena. Baty strews across the stage leaning out into the audience and power posing in full Freddie Mercury mode. The guitarist has to stop between songs to figure out whether his instrument will withstand any more punishment, as the rest of the band gathers around to see what the problem is. It seems like some of the guitar’s inner wiring may have come loose but it’s quickly fixed without delay. The set is charged, like plugging your phone into a power socket and suddenly finding out it’s a high-voltage power line. There’s way more power than expected, and now we’re all left scrambling to handle it.

There’s A LOT of High on Fire t-shirts tonight, along with a sense of expectation. But we know they’ll deliver the goods, and they do. Jeff Matz wields a double-neck bass guitar which he occasionally swaps out for a singular four-string. You can see the beads of sweat dripping from sometimes Melvins drummer, Coady Williams, as he pummels and I mean, pummels the drum kit. They play several tracks from their latest album Cometh the Storm as well as crowd pleasers like ‘Fury Whip’. It’s an unpretentious and relentless set that doesn’t allow much time for conversational banter. The band know better than that, they know it’s all about driving us into a mythic firepit and back. The set ends with Williams throwing his heavily abused crash cymbal out into the sea of fans.

Taking the stage after HOF was never going to be a desirable position to be in but presumably Bristol quartet Mother Vulture wouldn’t have accepted the gig if they didn’t think they could handle it. They bring a change in pace from the more metal-influenced acts that have preceded them this evening, playing something closer to alt-punk and stadium rock. There’s something a bit early noughties about them…a little bit Test Icicles, a little Electric Six – not so much in sound (although there are plenty of catchy hooks) but in presence. The guitarist and vocalist tear around the stage giving Pigs x7 a run for their money, commanding our attention. At one point a man lifts his young son onto the stage who lets loose, handbanging with aplomb. Whilst, no doubt, most of the songs are new to this audience, it is by no means an awkward or dampening way to end the evening but instead a triumphant and uplifting one. Well done Mother Vulture for taking those reigns and riding it well.

As we leave the grounds this evening, I notice a large projected silver bear outlined in the clear night sky, Due to the festival being in a canyon, the sky is as clear as a desert night and on a visit to the campsite I lie on the grass listening to some Deftones being blasted by a neighbouring tent who have brought a generator and a stereo with them, trying to spot big dippers in the stars. So… I lied. There is one catch to this festival, maybe, depending on your perspective. There’s no signal unless you walk up to the top of a hill, roughly about 3km from the campsite, which means you essentially get to enjoy a digital retreat too, hence the generator and stereo. In the meantime, you get to talk to people just like we did in the old days and the site isn’t so big that you can’t bump into people you’re with.

Bearstone is more like a small friendly village rather than a sprawling, chaotic metropolis like Glastonbury. It’s worth noting that the composting toilets are the cleanest festival toilets I’ve ever experienced, and are frequently cleaned in between use by staff. And for saying this is a “stoner rock” festival there are a minimal amount of cigarette butts littering the ground, due to everyone being handed a personal test-tube ashtray on arrival and actually using it. The land is beautiful and it’s clear that the majority of people treat it with the respect it deserves. This attitude alongside a healthy number of bins which are strategically placed around the festival grounds all serve to help maintain the site over the course of the four days.


Artists include: Azutmaga, Rifftree, Acidsitter, Nemeček, 1000Mods, Colour Haze, Kadavar

Today is a scorcher; Thursday and Friday were hot but not like today. Within a few minutes of arrival at the site I’m forced to seek shade and rest momentarily, meaning that I miss the first half of Hungarian duo, Azutmaga but I manage to catch the second half of their set in time to see the abundance of pedals laid out before the guitarist. They’re the most post-rock sounding band on the festival’s line-up and there’s lots of slow, heavy reverb and distorted experimental stuff going on. It’s good and I wish I could have caught the full set; maybe next year?

Rifftree are chunkier with nods to Sleep and Electric Wizard. Also a duo, they rocked a bass and drums set up and ran guitar and bass tones through separate amps which served to add crunch and super-thickness to their sound.

I’ve seen Acidsitter’s merch floating around, their brightly coloured t-shirts amongst a sea of black, sporting the slogan “Make acid great again” are hard to miss. If you feel like pranking people you can purchase one of their red baseball caps which look like MAGA hats until you get close and are forced to chuckle away your initial alarm. They seem stoked to be here and reveal that they feared they wouldn’t be able to make it due to the bassist having twisted (or broken?) his ankle before the festival, but he manages a full set sitting on his amp to play, whilst the other two guitarists handle the stage presence. They definitely win the award for most wah wah pedal of the festival and their joyous psychedelic guitar meanderings and brightly coloured costumes embody a sense of rapturous ecstasy befitting of the sun-drenched afternoon.

Local band Nemeček are the first band I see at the Stone Stage today and boy, is it time for something completely different. They are a blend of Balkan-inspired folk, noise rock and progressive rock. Sounding deceptively traditional, their songs encompass soaring synths, a chiming tambura and powerfully delivered vocals that somehow transcend flat traditionalism into the realm of experimental rock.

Greek stoner rock quartet 1000 Mods have built up a solid fan base in the desert rock scene over the last decade. Aside from High on Fire, they’re probably the second most t-shirted band at the festival. Their catchy hooks, grooves, bluesy riffs and gruff vocals are classic in every sense and it’s a pleasure to watch these European legends doing what they do so well.

It’s the second time this year that I’ve gotten to see Colour Haze, the first being at London’s Desertfest. They are much higher up on the line-up than they were at Desertfest and it’s great to see them claim a slot that allows them to play a much fuller array of their extensive back catalogue. Some of the photographers complain about the lack of on-stage action; as always there’s not much movement but equally, it’s hardly music to be running about to. Intricate, mellow, fuzzy and textured has always been the name of the game with Colour Haze. They are the rose-tinted, nostalgia-inducing Lana Del Ray of psych rock. Head bowed focused on his instrument for the most part, the guitarist allows himself the smallest, imperceptible smile before stifling it and getting back to the work at hand, as the audience showers applause and love for this band’s consistently perfect melodies, build-ups, break downs and just beautiful f**king songs.

Last up on the Stone Stage tonight is German psych-rock trio Kadavar. Decked in the most seventies rock-star outfits of the weekend, some might consider it cheesy but they’re wrong. What could be better than showing up to a festival in the middle of a Croatian canyon, taking a Saturday headline slot and walking out to play your brand of psych-rock under a starlit night sky wearing cowboy hats and the tightest fitting shirts tucked into seventies flares. I mean, if you’re going to live the rock n’ roll life, then live it!

It’s not just through their outfits that they do this, their entire set is essentially endless guitar solos, crunching chords and euphoric vocals. Towards the end, the guitarist climbs off the stage and takes his guitar out into the audience, a circle forms around him whilst he plays a ridiculous solo before clambering back onto the stage. At this point, it doesn’t matter if you think they’re just clichéd seventies wannabes, Kadavar are living it and it’s now in this moment, that’s all that counts.


Artists include: Vukojarac, Rens Argoa, ZOLLE

After yesterday’s super blast of heat, today the weather has decided to calm down quite a bit. Today is the last day and many of the campers have already packed up and begun their journeys home. There’s no Jam Band on today either. Most remaining people are lounging near the water, reading books or chatting with friends. The slower pace is quite welcome as is the cooler weather, although a few brave souls are still swimming. The first band is on later today at 4.15pm instead of 2pm and the last one is scheduled to finish at 9pm. All bands today are on at the Mill Stage. Campers can stay another night and leave Monday if they choose; I’m invited to join a group of Italians for some midnight carbonara but sadly, I’ll be gone by then.

Vukojarac are a metal-influenced three-piece, the bassist plays an acoustic-electric bass which permeates their darker, more doomy tone. As clouds hover over the canopied tent, it’s a fitting mood for the weather. Rens Argoa are another local band from the Zagreb region. It’s good to see the festival supporting local artists like this as there have been a number of new discoveries for me over the course of the weekend and there’s clearly a lot of local talent which hasn’t been overlooked. The trio play a driven, well-journeyed, mostly instrumental set. Their technical prowess is acknowledged by the audience as they amass big cheers and rounds of applause. In between songs, they speak in their native language, fair enough seeing as we’re in Croatia but demands from other Europeans for “English please!” are met with a coy look of embarrassment. All the same, they’re a treat to watch live and I should really learn some Croatian if I intend to return next year.

It’s not just local bands that the festival supports but also various tourism endeavours around the local area. The festival programme includes recommendations and a 10% discount for other activities available in the area, such as ziplining, quad biking, kayaking, cave exploring and visits to a nearby deer valley (super cute!). So, it’s also possible that many of the Sunday leavers have left early to take advantage of this.

ZOLLE are the secret best band that have been saved until last for the special few of us who have remained the full duration of the festival. It’s our reward and we earned it. An Italian two-piece, containing guitar and drums, they are an absolutely insane blend of melodic noise-rock. It’s like Hella meets Andrew W.K. meets They Might Be Giants. The stage is littered with bubblegum pink balloons and there is a small tray of plastic pint glasses tied to the drum kit which they take a break to drink mid-set. The drummer sits on a chair instead of a stool so he can jump onto it after songs, manically grinning and cheering, at other times he simply rests his head on the snare drum until they start up the next song.

The guitarist occasionally intersperses the noise-rock-meets-power-pop with melodic lyrical “wahs and oohs”, creating a warm, punky sense of unity. At the end of the set, they played some sampled fanfare as fans stuck around to hug and shake hands. I rushed straight off to the merch stand (ZOLLE, if you’re reading this some CDs would be nice).

As I make my way out of the festival grounds for the last time, I take one last look at the ethereal mist that’s been hovering over the water most of the afternoon. It’s as if the environment is somehow in tune with each breath of the festival. There’s no doubt there’s something special and a little bit magical going on here… really, you’d have to see it to believe it.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.