Sunlight filters through upper leaves, smooth acoustic music floating gently through the air. Varying onlookers laugh and smile, cold beer in hand and friends at their side. A man reclines in a hammock, reading a novel. He periodically pauses, glancing at the stage, a contemplative look on his face. The music bounces mellowly around, caressing the eardrums and filling up the soul. I sit quietly in the back, silently observing the people ambling in. They stroll into the cafe, with what seems like not a care in the world, eyes twinkling and heads nodding. The only thing that matters is the music. Everyone listens happily, sitting in small circles, their voices occasionally reaching above the collective murmur. The music suddenly changes pace, and people turn to see what is going on. The kick drum booms loudly, a deep resonating timbre splitting through the audience, as the electric guitar whines piercingly through the air. I smile to myself, taking in the moment. The night has just begun at the Pai Jazz and Blues Festival, one of the best music festivals in Thailand.
The Pai Jazz and Blues Festival recently took place in the small northern town of Pai, in Mae Hong Son Province. This large festival has been going on for three years, and first began in 2017. This year it was held from July 5th to July 7th. A large lineup of musicians and bands played for expatriates and locals alike. The festival was put on by HIP Magazine, in conjunction with the Tourism Authority of Thailand. Air Asia also played a small role in the event, flying artists in from other places.
The musicians played at different spots throughout Pai, including local cafes, pubs and restaurants. “The music is played at the coffee shops during the daytime. The music is played at hotels, restaurants and bars during the nighttime,” explains Nong, the organiser for the event. Nong came up with the idea for the festival to take place at multiple locations after visiting Europe. “I saw some of the same festivals in Australia and other places. Some cities have jazz everywhere; in the coffee shops, bars and pubs.” The live music was played at 6 different places in total; including Pai My Way Cafe Garden, Jazz House Pai, Silhouette by Reverie Siam, Belle Villa Resort, Khaotha Cafe and Mojo Cafe. Each spot is unique, with its own distinctive atmosphere and location. The Khaotha Cafe, for example, is a relaxing street side coffeehouse, with outdoor seating and a chill vibe. This presents a stark contrast to the Belle Villa Resort, a beautiful quiet resort with views of the distant mountains and farm fields. Butch, a Chiang Mai local, really enjoyed the Belle Villa Resort, saying that it was an improvement from the previous year. “Everywhere else is too crowded. This venue is awesome!” Jazz house Pai is similar to a beer garden. It sits in a beautiful outdoor setting, with a large tree sprawling directly over the seating. The atmosphere is very relaxed, with hammocks and mats to sit and lie on, and a small stage under a wooden eve in the front.
The lineup for The Pai Jazz and Blues Festival was quite large. “This year 29 artists are playing at the event, over the course of three days,” explains Nong. The bands hailed from Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Japan. The music played at the festival ranged from acoustic guitar and traditional thai country music to even electronica and trip-hop. A small sampling of the artists that played at the festival are Meguru (Free Jazz and Traditional Folk), Boy Blues Band (Blues), Banglumpoo Blues Band (Blues), Chart Bebop Blues Band (Blues) and The Funkster (R&B / Funk / Soul). Even though most of the artists played sub-genres of jazz and blues, there was still a nice range in musical style. The acoustic songs were great, the blues groovy and the vocalists amazing.
The Pai Jazz and Blues Festival is free of entry. But it’s definitely worth buying a drink or getting some food though, as this helps support local business. Many of the venues offer Singha beer and other drinks. The Silhouette at Reverie Siam and the Belle Villa Resort serve dinner, with the Reverie Siam offering a five-star Italian meal.
The Pai Jazz and Blues Festival was truly a memorable event, offering a unique variety in venues and a wide array in musical talent. Don’t miss out on this event, especially if you love live music, as it’s definitely one of the best music festivals in Thailand.