After the festival: Hangover or withdrawal?

The trip home from a Latvian song festival and the proceeding days are typically filled with exhaustion and a combination of both relief and regret that an event one had long been waiting for is suddenly over.

The festival guide or vadonis will now join a collection of other guides from past festivals on the bookshelf, and the memories will begin to meld with those of other Latvian mega-events. This is particularly true for the hearty individuals who participated at the festival—as singers, dancers, actors, musicians or organizing committee members. These dedicated Latvians spent months or even years preparing for the intense extravaganza of Latvian culture that comes around only every few years. 

As an individual who is very actively involved in the Latvian-American community and who has been a dancer or singer in a number of song festivals, after participating in the most recent Latvian song festival in Hamilton, Canada, for only two days (plus eight hours of driving each way), I found myself struggling to describe my post-festival state. Initially I wanted to use the word “hangover,” but decided that it gave the wrong (negative) connotation. It is not possible for me to experience too much Latvian culture and friendship in just two days. 

The other term that came to mind was “withdrawal,” but this too has a less-than-positive connotation. At home in an average week, I participate in at least two Latvian activities—teaching Latvian school and singing in a Latvian folk ensemble—plus I still communicate only in Latvian with my extended family. In other words, “being Latvian” is a daily part of my life, not something done occasionally. (As Juris Kronbergs wrote in his aptly named poem “Reālisms Rīgā,” for some of us being Latvian isn’t a hobby, but as essential as our lungs and breathing.)  Thus, for me attending a song festival isn’t like drinking water after a long walk through a desert, as may be for some other Latvians. 

However, spending two full days living and breathing Latvian-ness—speaking Latvian all day, hearing Latvian all around me, meeting dozens of Latvian friends and acquaintances, wearing my folk costume and performing folk songs three separate times in addition to watching other performers—is rather different than my everyday existence doing paperwork in a windowless government office, running errands and cursing the traffic and high cost of living in Washington, D.C. (During a song festival every participant, silently or aloud, does curse the cost of attending one, and it now seems to be tradition to complain about the hotel elevators that are never able to effectively handle the song festival foot traffic.)

So, was it withdrawal or a hangover that I suffered from after the festival? It was neither. The state I was in is a syndrome that has not yet been given a name, and one that cannot be described in a word or two. I was physically exhausted, possibly socially over-stimulated, glad about how well my ensemble’s performances were received. I was also grateful that a few industrious Latvians in North America are still willing and able to organize such large-scale events.

Moreover, I was happy to see that there are Latvian-Canadians and Latvian-Americans 10 and 20 years younger than myself who dance, sing and are carrying on our traditions. At the opening concert, “Sitiet bungas!,” one of the little girls in the choir sang with the kind of gusto typically seen only on Broadway. She could not have been more than 6 years old, but she knew all of the lyrics perfectly and occasionally spread out her arms in an enthusiastic gesture rarely seen in a Latvian choir performance. If only we all went about participating in Latvian activities with such energy, enthusiasm and expertise, our community would be set for a good while longer.

One thought on “After the festival: Hangover or withdrawal?

  1. As I drove away from Hamilton Sunday evening, I felt exhilarated and envigorated. Sound and sight bites of the massed choir and dance extravaganza kept swirling in my brain and made the six hour drive back to Ottawa bearable. I found myself humming or singing some of the songs I had heard for the entire trip. I also came away with a strong feeling that “Latvia abroad” was still alive and well. Despite the economic crisis, as far as I could see, the seats for both the massed chorus and folk dance extravaganza were completely filled and there was no lack of singers or dancers. But what really stuck in my mind were the big smiles on the faces of the singers and dancers. This was not a job for them, it was a joy. It was also wonderful to see so many young dancers and also singers. If this trend continues, and I hope it will, Latvia abroad will continue to thrive. My hearty thanks to all the festival organizers and participants. I’m already looking forward to the next Latvian Song Festival!

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