Europeade Day 1 (blog post, part I)

I've decided that I have to do today's blog post in two parts - the first being the highlights of the day's festivities, and the second focusing on the Europeade Official Opening Ceremonies.  So much has happened today, I just hope I don't leave anything out (part II will post later)! To begin with, I am in Tartu, Estonia attending the 48th Europeade Festival, the largest European folk dance and music festival.  The day began with various groups performing throughout the little Eastern European town (Baltic region) in different squares.  There were so many groups and such beautiful dances, I couldn't believe it was only the first day  (just as a reminder, you can click on all photos to see a larger version):

Early morning, various Estonian folk groups danced together in Kuuni Square, right by the Emajogi River (the older part of Tartu lines the river itself).  With similar style and form, the groups seamlessly performed one after another, switching band mates while changing dancers.  I've found out that folk tradition in this part of Europe is an everyday activity, with traditional song and dance included in school, the household, and in entertainment.  There is no distinction between old and new tradition, it is all one.  As a side note, when leaving the Estonian dancers to go wander the town, I ran into this art piece of a grown man and a baby, both the same size - it is apparently a self portrait of the artist!

Then it was off to Town Hall Square where the historic part of Tartu is still perfectly preserved.  Unfortunately, just down the road is a mega mall and other various shopping centers, but all things must evolve at some point.  Town Hall Square is immaculate with pink-ish and light yellow colored cement buildings and a beautiful fountain in the middle portraying a couple kissing in the rain.  Very sweet.

I then headed to a side street that had another stage featuring Sardinian singers (a form of throat singing), and the lead singer's voice, to me, was like an angel's with such juxtaposition from the other singers.  It's amazing what the group did and also how they modulated keys mid piece.  I decided to pick three videos out of the seven that I took earlier in the day to feature, and this group definitely is on the list - Tenores Santu Franziscu.  Just listen for yourself.

Video number two - dance group Dona Urrace from Spain.  I was so enthralled by them, that I decided to buy a pair of castanets from the leader of the group who was watching in the audience.  The group not only had amazing feet work, they danced with a sense of regal-ness, ironic since their costume resembles that of country folk.  And come on, castanets are really cool!

Mid-day, I headed to the press conference held at the Song Festival Museum - the Song Festival has great significance to the Estonian people, as it helped ignite the movement for indpendence in 1869.  For more information on the Song Festival, be sure to check out the documentary The Singing Revolution, quite an inspiring story.

Present at the press conference was the mayor of Tartu, Mayor Urmas Kruuse, Cristina Toso, representative for Europeade 2012's host city Padua, Italy (I happened to be sitting next to her on my plane ride over to Estonia as well!), and the President of Europeade, Mr. Bruno Peeters from Flanders.  Mr. Peeters was very kind, and he was extremely excited to hear that an American had come over just for the festival - he loved the idea of Bare Feet. Thank you, Mr. Peeters, for your support!  His message to everyone at the conference was, "The upcoming days will be full of smiles, full of joy - be happy, don't worry, enjoy every minute!"  Very warm man.

After the conference, it was back to the center of town to see more dancers!  There was the French group Tiocanie Folklore that wore wooden shoes and unique costumes.  The dance seemed very comical, and I don't want to say that the costumes are silly, but they do have a clown-like style to them.  The dancers also looked as though they were imitating characters, which was very entertaining.

I then grabbed a kali, the local drink in Estonia.  When I asked the girl who served me the drink what exactly it was, she said it was hard to describe what's in kali...and I quote, she said, "Look on Google and you will see!" (oh the power of the internet)  So here is what Google says - it is basically fermented bread-water drink with juniper berries (huh?).  This is what I say:  it was delicious and refreshing sweet goodness on such a hot day, and it almost reminded me of a mix between framboise (raspberry beer) and orzo, the Italian "kids coffee" made from wheat but cold (makes sense since both or made from wheat - kali is considered to be a non-alcoholic drink).

Then of course seeing more dancers, including groups from Belgium, Portugal (crazy outfits!), Lithuania (cute kids!), and Scotland (this photo deserved to be a little bigger than the rest - the older gentleman was having the time of his life!).

And last but not least, the top video for the day was of Lootos, the junior dance group from the original Russian school.  Come on, put a bunch of kids in traditional folk costumes, and you can never go wrong.  However, these kids could dance, and they were so much fun to watch - they definitely stole the show!

Overall, an amazing day - and this was only the first half of day one in Tartu, part II to come shortly!