In the past, I’ve been guilty of calling Latvia many things. Land of Misery, Land of Crappy Winters, and Land of Leopard Print spring to mind. However, this week, Latvia truly lived up to its reputation as the Land that Sings, with the 24th Latvian Song and Dance Festival taking place in various venues throughout the country.
I happened by a few small free concerts as I was walking around the city during the week and managed to take a few photos.
This festival only takes place every five years and as such, is hugely popular. Of course, with my limited interest in folk music, I didn’t fully realise how popular, so by the time I got around to looking for tickets, the only concert that was still available was the rehearsal for the grand finale – at 10am on a Saturday morning. With tickets priced at 1 or 3 lats, I decided to splash out and go for the latter. Of course, this being Latvia, it didn’t really matter as nobody checked the tickets once you were inside the grounds and you could sit pretty much anywhere you liked.
Getting into the grounds was the most difficult part of the day, with queues stretching for what seemed like miles. And of course, the concert took place in a forest so you had to walk through trees, trees and more trees to get to the entrance.
Once past the charming security guards, we found ourselves in a sort of Latvian wonderland, surrounded by people in traditional, regional costumes from all over the country.
Singers, dancers and musicians from all over Latvia took to the stage – thousands of voices filled the forest and the atmosphere was one of celebration. Some Latvians even smiled.
The Latvians, I must admit, put on a great show. A few singers fainting in the hot sun, and being carried off on stretchers, added a little drama to the proceedings. Līgo Līgo (thud), Līgo Līgo (thud).
Of course, there were still some slightly confusing aspects to the day. I had been told, by a student called Janis, that alcohol would not be sold at the concert. But there were beer stands everywhere. So we went and ordered a couple of pints. ‘Oh no, we’re not selling beer during the concert.’ Um, ok. So why are you here?
At 1.30, the time the concert was supposed to finish, they started selling beer. So we got a couple of pints. The day being so hot and having worked up a thirst by this stage, we polished them off fairly quickly and went back for two more. ‘We’re not serving anymore. You have to wait 15 minutes.’ Why, why, why? Nobody seemed to know. ‘Organisators” rules seemingly.
At around 4pm, things were winding down. Having just been served our long-awaited third beers, we were approached by a couple of burly security guards.
SG: Everyone who’s not a participant has to leave now.
Me: But they just served us these beers!
SG: You’ll have to finish them outside.
Me: But it’s illegal to drink on the street.
Me: Can I at least use the toilet? (Having had the blinding foresight to bring my own loo roll, I was determined to give it an outing)
SG: Sure, why not?
Me: Because you just told us we had to leave.
Still, it was a great day overall and the concert was definitely worth seeing. However, I’d like to make a slight amendment to Latvia’s moniker. I think it should be changed to ‘Latvia. The Land that Sings AND Home of Pointless Circular Conversations and Stupid Licensing Laws’. Who’s with me?