Viljandi Folk Festival Reviews
An abundance of folk musics from around the world Apr 19, 2008
If you are, by any chance, visiting Estonia in late July (or if you are trying to decide when to visit Estonia) - this is a good time to go check out the small town of Viljandi right in the center of the country. Since 1994, around the fourth weekend of July, the town hosts one of the largest folk music festivals in north/east Europe. While for the rest of the year Viljandi is a pretty quiet and slow town, the 5-day festival turns the place upside down. (The town population almost doubles for that period).
The festival features 9 stages (maybe more....I can think of 9 off the top of my head), a series of workshops, a dozen performers from more distant parts of the world, a couple of dozen from neighboring countries, and over a hundred from Estonia itself. The festival pass tends to run around $100, day passes about $15-30, individual concerts $2-$15, and at least one stage is always entirely free. Each year the festival also has a theme (for instance, in 2008 it's plucked string instruments from around the world).
The usual tourist accommodations in the town cannot handle even a fraction of the visitors, so most festival guests go the good old hippie way and bring a tent. Some local schools, parks and even private citizens open their grounds for camping. The best thing about the entire event (besides the abundance of music) is the relaxed attitude and sheer creativity in every direction you look at. Local students decorate the city with their folk-inspired artwork, new musical projects kick off at different scenes, almost no violence takes place, everybody is friendly and eager to make new friendships.
So... if you are in the area around the right time of the year, you can simply catch the bus to Viljandi and ask around for the festival grounds (right in the center of the town). Prior planning is not even necessary - if you don't have a tent, at least one local school gym is also open to sleepers for a modest fee (maybe $5).
If you cannot afford a day pass, or even any o the individual concert tickets, there is plenty to do anyway:
you can check out the free stage,
go see the free workshops and exhibitions,
hang out with other festival guests in parks,
make friends everywhere,
check out the lake and hear music from distance,
taste some of the best street food in the country,
skip beer and have a sip of 'kali' (local drink),
take a nap on a park bench without getting in trouble,
check out the mini-fair of books and music...
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