Big Mountain Fest Rocks Thailand's Cow Country With Scarecrow, Jagwar Ma

 Rob Schwartz

The Ferris Wheel stage at the Big Mountain Music Festival (BMMF) in Thailand.

The Big Mountain Music Festival (BMMF) continues its run as one of the leading, and largest, music festivals in Southeast Asia with its 6th edition. BMMF took place this past weekend (Dec. 6-7) at the Bonanza Racetrack in Khao Yai, about two hours northeast of Bangkok, with about 70,000 attending each day. The fest put on over 200 acts, mainly Thai with some international standouts, on nine stages -- four for live acts, five for DJs.

The headliners this year were Thai acts Jetsetter, Potato, Boy Peacemaker and Slot Machine, while Scarecrow (France), Jagwar Ma (Australia/UK) and Buffalo Daughter (Japan) led the international contingent. 

Pepsi was the title sponsor with others including Chang Beer and Uniqlo.

BMMF plays up its mountainside locale, a region called Pakchong in Thailand, and its ranch history for the fest's theme, which revolves around cows and dairy. Managing director and event creator Yuthana "Ted" Boonorm told Billboard he took inspiration from the area in the planning. "The theme is the history of Pakchong, which started about 40 years ago. Some farmers started making cow ranches so this became a cow area -- then some theme parks opened up. When we looked into this area we ate at a steak restaurant, and saw a picture showing how to cut the cow into different steaks, and our logo concept popped up from that!"

BMMF is an arm of GMM Grammy, the leading Thai music corporation, with about 70-80 percent market share of the country's music industry. The corporation produces most hit Thai pop acts and is involved of all aspects of recorded music. GMM Grammy also has an interest in terrestrial radio, satellite TV and the film industry in Thailand.

Billboard estimates that with the event GMM Grammy generated roughly $2.22 million (73.5 million baht) in ticket sales, $639,000 (21 million baht) in sponsorship revenue and $320,000 (10.5 million baht) in merchandise and drinks sales for a total of approximately $3.2 million (roughly 105 million baht) in revenue. 

The main stage is adorned with ferris wheels the attendees can actually ride and the second stage is know as the Cow stage, with a huge decoration of a cow's face. The Ferris Wheel stage can accommodate about 20,000 revelers and this year was redesigned to make access easier. Says Ted, "we re-oriented the stage because last year people had to walk by the backstage area. The flipping of the main stage made the traffic flow a lot better."

He notes, "Each year we try to do some experimental thing. This year we added two more stages, an EDM stage and Letung Thai folk dance stage… If they work, they stay."

Undoubtedly the standout of BMMF 2014 was the blues and hip-hop mash-up band Scarecrow, from Toulouse. Ted explains the booking. "Two months ago the French government invited me to an event called MaMa, a conference and music festival. They invite promoters from around the world to introduce indie French bands. I saw many bands, but Scarecrow really stood out. They're amazing."

Rob Schwartz
 Scarecrow guitarist/vocalist Slim Paul performs at the Big Mountain Music Festival.

Scarecrow, unknown in Thailand, started up playing to a sparse crowd. But as guitarist/vocalist Slim Paul's licks reverberated the onlookers grew. Switching between blues flavors and a slide guitar straight from the 1930s, accompanied by the scratching/rapping of Antibiotik, the band raised the audience to frenzied level. They closed with their standout track "Ain't Got No Choice (But Buying You)."

The event is looking to stimulate the Thai music scene in more ways than one. This year for the first time they held a free workshop the day before opening for invited Thai sound engineers. Zak, a well-known Japanese sound engineer and husband of Buffalo Daughter bassist Yumiko Ohno,  offered his expertise for the training.

GMM Grammy obviously has a vested interest in advancing the Thai industry and plans to keep BMMF locally focused. But the company has its sights set on international repertoire as well. Ted relates, "We're going to try to bring more international acts, but we want to keep Big Mountain focused on the Thai scene. So we're going to create another music festival for international acts. Bringing them to Big Mountain is kind of research for us. To create an international music festival we need a big budget."