The 23th annual celebration of international folk music in Estonia embraced more than forty artists during the last weekend in Viljandi. The town was filled up with visitors and bands from all over the world from 23th to 26th of July, 2015.

Under the theme “Freedom”, the popular music was just an excuse to collect all the good-vibe people in the same place. This was evidenced by the wide age range of the audience; not only the youngsters felt attracted by this trendy Estonian celebration, but also families, couples and grannies wanted to take part of an event created by the people and for the people. The connection was the fusion of various rhythm styles from different continents but with their own roots.

There were gorgeous sights of the castle and lake, where the main activities were dancing, singing, and playing the most extravagant instruments handmade by Estonians or brought from somewhere else on the planet. This was the standard fare of this small nation for the four days of concerts.

Two Finnish guys with their fiddles, Frigg, kicked off the convention with their crazy sounds on Thursday. It was a day when making a choice between the various options was hard: Rüüt or Duo Malva/Kirsipu from Estonia and Veseli Vujky (Ukraine) or Levack/Stewart/Irving (Scotland). All of them spectacular in their own folky field.

Winding the day down, the Polish Warsaw Village Band and their mystic music with reggae rhythms were played to relax the participants before going to sleep. The weekend had just begun, and saving some energy for the remaining days was the key.

The highlights of Friday were Casey Driessen, a solo fiddle player from the United States who is good enough to be the whole band at the same time. Using a recording pedal effect, he is able to do the percussions, the bass, the riffs and the melodies of his compositions. The African continent was also represented by the hand of Alhousseini Anivolla. His unique guitar technique from Libya called ichumar and the talented and personal violin chords performed by Marja Nuut, took the town to another dimension.

The French band Lo Cor de la Plana opened the gigs on Saturday with an explosive combination of percussions and voices. They got their proposals: to dislocate belly-fan dancers’ hips and to get all the audience together dancing with their Mediterranean beats and tunes.

German Díaz, the Spanish band who collapsed the AIT stage, could have been the most peculiar instrument player of the whole event. He played his hurdy-gurdy, a stringed instrument that produces sound by a crank-turned, rosined wheel rubbing against the strings. He brought some unknown folk from Spain, Northern chords with sad feelings that can turn into theatrical melodies.

The perfect three headline acts followed each other in a row on Saturday night: Curly Strings, Svjata Vatra and Trad Attack. As moments of pure festival brilliance go, Curly Strings are right up there. One of the most anticipated bands, already well-known all over the Estonia and also the Baltic States (they graced the stage in Positivus Festival in Latvia the weekend before). Not letting the side down, the locals and adoptive local Svjatra Vatra (Estonia/Ukraine) performed before the always cheerful Trad Attack. A blast of energy during the evening to keep the flow for the next party.

Lennukitehas, where the old school instruments met the new technology for electro music. Bagpipes, harmonics and different folk-blowing instruments were played at the same time that a DJ was setting the music. Bases and rhythm in perfect harmony to make all the late night people dance until the new sunrise. Many options in the same building. It was all about Folk Factory, the limits were off when it came to their music.

At the same time that the electro-folk rave was held, classical dances were performed by the attendants throughout the night. A party in the purest and deepest popular sense, like our ancestors used to have in taverns. Ready? Hold someone’s hand and start jumping, clap your hands and switch your partner. Fun combined with exercise.

What about the food? Of course you need to get some energy and be relaxed enough to hit the next gig. Veinid ja Vein from Tartu, the nuts by Hansa from Tallinn, food summer nomads from Elva and so on. Traditional and contemporary, ecological and organic food from all over the country. Handmade pies for 1.5€ and soups around 3€, boiled potatoes with delicious wild mushrooms for 6€. A le Coq beer and Kali for 2.5€ – 1.5€, natural juices, smoothies, etc. Whatever you could think of, it was there and for all budgets.

However you’d better save some time for the savage Estonian sauna. An immersion in the most popular eesti tradition, only for 3€, the bravest ones could enjoy the hot steam for 30 minutes with the optional massage for four more euros.

The conclusion of this festival is that this is an event more about a lifestyle, way of thinking and philosophy. There was a diverse sea of faces wherever you looked, with a hurricane of sounds wherever you went and drops of flavor for all tastes. An island universe of uniqueness in the middle of the East Land where all individuals of the community had their own preferences and ideas about what ‘folk’ meant to them. The best thing about Viljandi pärimusmuusika is: once you are there, all you have to do is just wander around and before long, you will find your thing.