Live Review: Fresh Island Festival

Boasting one of the longest coastlines in the Adriatic, Pag is an ancient Croatian island decorated by medieval relics and ramparts, making it a natural choice for R&B royalty and hip-hop’s reigning kings and queens to convert into a summer home; the annual Fresh Island Festival a sunny procession of music’s biggest and brightest. 

For many years, picturesque Pag has been more renowned for its lace, sheep’s milk and cheese, than it has for its party scene. With the success of the Fresh Island Festival, held yearly in one of the island’s two towns – Novalja – Pag is fast becoming one of the continent’s premier clubbing destinations.

Billed as Europe’s leading urban music festival, this year’s event – held from Tuesday 12 to Friday 15 July – marked Fresh Island’s fifth year of “hip-hop hedonism”. Backed by lead sponsor, LELO HEX™ – “the World’s First Re-Engineered Condom” – the festival certainly set about providing revelling hip-hop heads with the most pleasurable summer-loving experience possible, rolling out a host of aristocratic names and headliners to match Novalja’s stately mediterranean surroundings; delighting tourists, music lovers and festival-goers from all over the world with several lively and entertaining parties over the course of four eventful days. 

In Chris Brown and Wiz Khalifa, Kehlani and Ty Dolla $ign; not to mention DJ Premier, Statik Selektah, Chip and Skrillex, Fresh Island – staying true to its mission statement of catering to every “urban music need” – lit up what, for many, would have been the first week of summer, with a truly glittering array of R&B, Grime, hip-hop and electronic stars; putting together a bass-heavy spectacle of sun-soaked swimming, dancing and drinking.


The festival’s rousing shows held in Novalja’s best open-air clubs on the banks of Zrće beach, the event was a truly eye-catching one; its stunning settings making for a scenic and festive few days. Inviting adventurous sunseekers to acquaint themselves with popular local haunts like Aquarius, Kalypso and Papaya, Fresh Island 2016, as with previous years, offered partygoers a real and charming feel for Pag, its islanders and nightlife; opening their eyes to a different, more spirited side of Croatia.

In addition to its line-up of performers and shows, the festival was also enlivened by a range of get togethers and activities; Bonafide’s very own Purple Boat Party kicking off Day 1. Hosted by DJ Statik Selektah and Latin Prince, Bonafide made waves with the party on the Adriatic; Statik and co taking sail, soaking up the rays and juking it up along the Croatian coast. Held in honour of the late, great Purple One himself, the Prince-themed party set the tone for the rest of the festival; Statik and Latin Prince’s crowd-pleasing sets literally rocking the boat and compelling everyone on-board to turn up to the fullest.

Primed with his award-winning and chart-topping discography, Taylor Gang’s finest, Wiz Khalifa – the highlight of the festival’s first night – got even wavier, turning up the volume with a deafening array of bangers; and raising the roof off Papaya with an impressive, energetic performance. Reeling off anthem after anthem – including We Dem Boyz, James Bong and On My Level – the enigmatic Pittsburgher lived up to his status as one of rap’s biggest personalities with a truly electrifying performance. 

Not to be outdone, beautiful Oakland songstress, Kehlani, turned up the heat in her own inimitable, sultry way; adding some playful soul to the proceedings on Day 2. Flanked by two lithe dancers, the charming 21-year-old showed off some of the moves that once hinted at a promising dance career; confining all the tabloid tattle and social media pablum of the past few months to the wayside with fun, heartfelt renditions of The Way and You Should Be Here; her rapt audience – beaming and dancing – lapping up the rhythms and rays in equal measure. An engaging showcase of popular R&B, the young singer’s impressive turn was a preview of sorts for the festival’s final night; the mere mention of Chris Brown – arguably Fresh Island 2016’s biggest draw – raising the hairs on the back of excited concert-goers’ necks. 

That the Virginian superstar managed to leave fans satisfied at the end of Day 3 speaks to his popularity and prodigious gifts as a performer; the beloved crooner making amends for an inauspicious start to the night with an exhibition of showmanship. Having initially dismayed fans by showing up late and then briefly cancelling his show (due to inclement weather), the 27-year-old atoned for the delays and initial disappointment; switching venues to deliver a stellar box-office performance; saving the night and bringing the festival to a gratifying end. 

Marked by lively, dynamic shows, wet and wild pool parties, and amusing Grime karaoke, Fresh Island 2016, even with a few hiccups, proved a fun success. Still young, the festival is growing and coming into its own. Not quite the stuff of legends yet, this year’s event had more than enough going for it to be remembered in the best of lights – those four days drinking and dancing on the pebbles of Zrće beach a memorable start to a great, festive summer. One that might – just might, the festival calendar permitting – be recalled as fondly as Pag’s storied history; its medieval myths and lore; the shimmering silver of the Adriatic at night.

Should a few more festivals replicate the success of Fresh Island 2016, this summer might yet prove to be as memorable as the taste of Pag’s famous sheep’s milk. And that, as the endearing islanders of Novalja will attest, is no mean feat.

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