Apple Juice and Hip Hop: The Appelsap Music Festival

A word of advice for Appelsap festivalgoers of average stature: it is advisable to situate yourself within the first row of any stage, lest you experience the entire festival staring up at the backs of 10,000 (mostly blonde) heads. The Dutch really are that tall.

For 12 hours on a sunny Saturday in August, people of all ages descend on Amsterdam’s charming Oosterpark, sipping beer, wine and the festival’s namesake drink, appelsap – apple juice – while listening to a line-up of mainly local hip-hop, electronic, soul and R&B artists.

Festivalgoers are constantly in transit among three small stages, stopping along the way at themed food stands and trucks situated in clusters around the festival grounds. Among the many offerings are fries (drenched in mayo, per the Dutch palate), gourmet grilled cheese (their love of kaas – and mine – knows no bounds) and “weedburgers” (100 percent grass fed). With delicious snacks, an almost entirely local crowd and a homegrown, mellow vibe, this is the ideal event for those willing to skip out on the more stereotypical Amsterdam sights for a unique and genuinely Dutch experience.

Throughout the day I saw only one flailing girl wheel-barrowed off by paramedics, an impressive feat for an event that attracts almost 10,000 people from the under-30 demographic. And even high-energy acts like Flatbush Zombies received a mild reaction from the crowd, a phenomenon that the artists later attributed to their time slot being in the middle of the day (their set in fact began at 5:30pm, but since the sun doesn’t set until well past 9pm, it feels deceptively early). They also disapproved of the distance between the barricades and the stage, as it inhibited them from interacting with the crowd; they told me after performing that they prefer being close enough to “grab someone’s ass from the stage or slap a [fan] a high-five.”

The lack of unruliness did not equate to a dull experience – au contraire, the energy and sensibility of the festival’s roots as a free block party still prevail. Even the performers could be spotted enjoying the laid-back atmosphere, taking the occasional picture with a fan but mostly just bobbing their heads to the music.

But it wouldn’t be a proper festival without a crazy moment or two. Within seconds of headliner Waka Flocka Flame taking the stage, the crowd surged forward to get a better look at the rapper, and the momentum triggered thousands of drinks to spill simultaneously as unprepared (and already unsteady) concertgoers lost their balance. A couple songs into his set, Waka jumped the barricade and joined the throngs, where some overeager admirers got a little handsy. Confusion and chaos ensued. Waka disappeared into the crowd, and when the performer did not (or could not) heed the security guards’ warnings to return to the stage, they pulled the plug on his performance.

Hell hath no fury like a crowd of concertgoers scorned, and just when I was sure that death by angry tulip-wielding mob was imminent, the crowd returned to its prior state of calm. The Flexican & Sef, a popular Dutch DJ/MC duo, took the stage post-Waka frenzy, and as local favorites and the final act of the night, everyone was excited to see their set – albeit still slightly damp and sticky from a witbier and appelsap shower. Award for crowd-pleasing moment of the day went to the pair of performers who brought their mothers onstage; even with no knowledge of Dutch, I could easily make sense of the universally understood and seemingly choreographed sigh of “aww” expressed by almost every female in the crowd.

Photos by Dennis Swiatkowski

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