A song festival diary: Third day

CHICAGO—Already some song festival participants were dragging their feet when morning came, especially those who had stayed up and out the night before, perhaps forgetting that dance and choir rehearsals began early.

While they prepared for the first big show later in the day, festivalgoers had more opportunity to peruse the arts and crafts fair or take in other events. Among the first was a program focusing on prose and poetry, with readings by a number of well-known Latvian authors. The master of ceremonies was Oļģert Cakars, himself a poet and cofounder of the Latvian Writers Association (Latviešu Rakstnieku apvienība, or LaRA). He introduced the writers and spent a few minutes with each in a mini-interview. Among those presenting were Māra Zālīte, one of modern Latvia’s best known poets and playwrights, and Ingrīda Vīksna, and poet and editor of the Toronto-based weekly Latvian newspaper, Latvija Amerikā.

The sparsely attended Baltic NATO conference nonetheless provided an opportunity to hear a pan-Baltic perspective on the effort to expand the defense alliance.

Although Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania are sure to be invited to join NATO during the upcoming Prague summit, speakers warned that much work will remain. Confirmation by the U.S. Senate won’t come easy, said Jānis Kukainis, chair of the World Federation of Free Latvians. “Russia will continue dumping on us,” he said. The government of President Vladimir Putin has set aside funds to challenge NATO expansion, according to Saulius Kuprys, president of the Lithuanian-American Council.

Several speakers’ comments were focused on lobbying efforts, both within the Baltic communities as well as among state and federal lawmakers. One effort mentioned by Dace Copeland, president of the American Latvian Association, focuses on state legislatures adopting resolutions in support of NATO. To date, only six states have done so.

Valdis Pavlovskis, head of the Baltic American Freedom League, addressed various issues that face Latvia in its bid for NATO membership. Baltic organizations, he said, need to develop a strategy for confronting concerns such as perceptions of anti-Semitism and government corruption in Latvia, sticking points that could damage the nation’s NATO bid.

The morning was capped off with a program of spiritual music performed at the 4th Presbyterian Church.

However, the big event of the day was the festival folk dance performance in the UIC Pavilion. Technology and tradition merged as a large screen displayed various video feeds of dancers in action (including one bird’s eye view looking straight down) while the folk groups Jūrmalnieki and Lini provided live music for the three-hour program.

With a theme titled “Deju laika solī” (Steps In Time), the performance showcased 29 folk dances. Among them was “Dodamies uz Rīgu,” the all-around winner of the new choreography competition held July 19 (see sidebar). Other dances included favorites such as “Ačkups,” “Jūŗa, jūŗa” and “Vidzemes polka,” which saw an encore.

A total of 30 groups with more than 600 folk dancers participated in the show. Ilmārs Bergmanis, chair of the song festival organizing committee, later estimated that 9,500 people attended the performance.

While some rushed back to downtown Chicago for the second performance of the musical “Lolitas brīnumputns”—perhaps spurred by glowing word-of-mouth reviews—others trudged back to their hotel rooms to cool off before the evening’s two balls.

The two balls were held on two different floors of the Marriott Hotel, connected by escalators. On the fifth floor was the official festival ball, with music provided by Los Pintos. The ball, which started at 9 p.m., was heavy on polkas and slow dances.

Meanwhile, the youth dance on the seventh floor had to wait until 11 p.m. to get started as the Latvian rock group Prāta vētra (BrainStorm) dealt with sound checks and other technical issues. Even then, it was clear that the ballroom was no place for a rock band. BrainStorm seemed quiet and reserved, compared to the band’s performance the night before in The Metro.

Despite the heat in the room, young fans who had never seen the band play live appeared happy to be there.

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

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