An estimated 1,200 spectators watched more than 500 singers and dancers perform during the grand concert of the 13th Gaŗezers Songfest (Gaŗezera Dziesmu dienas). The three-day festival, held July 29-31, also marked the 40th anniversary of the Latvian Center Gaŗezers near Three Rivers, Mich.
First held in 1969, the festival serves as a smaller version of the grand song festivals held every four years in the United States and are part of the larger tradition of song festivals dating back to the late 19th century in Latvia.
This year’s festival brought together about 285 singers and 225 dancerssingers and dancers from the United States, Canada and Latvia, according to Gaŗezers Board Chairman Arnis Kākulis. Besides the grand concert on the afternoon of July 30, for which Kākulis estimated attendance at 1,200, other highlights included a children’s festival at the nearby Atbalsis, a Latvian-owned club just down the road from Gaŗezers, and the July 31 performance of the children’s musical “Gudrais padomiņš.”
The weekend began with a July 29 open-air dance, or zaļumballe, but the event drew few attendees and even fewer dancers to enjoy the music of the folk-rock band Laimas muzykanti.
The morning of July 30 included an arts and crafts fair featuring jewelers, booksellers, potters and other vendors. Also, an exhibit of the works of the late painter Jānis Siliņš opened in the Klinklāva gallery. The children’s festival at Atbalsis provided several hours of entertainment for families.
Although south-central Michigan had experienced high heat and humidity in the days before the festival, the weather turned just a bit milder and made conditions for the open-air concert bearable.
The concert program, directed by Vilnis Birnbaums, used the metaphor of the footbridge as its unifying theme and was divided into three main sections focusing on the sky, the earth and water. The concert concluded with a birthday salute to Gaŗezers, complete with kliņģeri (traditional Latvian birthday cake) and even a group of modern folk dancers dressed in black and performing while wearing inline skates.
The evening concluded with a dance party led by Laimas muzykanti, this time much better attended.
The highlight of the final day of the festival was the July 31 afternoon performance of “Gudrais padomiņš,” a musical originally staged during the 2003 West Coast Latvian Song Festival. Directed by Silvija Kļaviņa-Barshney, the musical tells the story of a modern Latvian girl from California, Linda, who runs away from home only to find herself drawn into a fantasy world where she meets Miķelis, a Latvian boy from long ago who is on a mission to restore his late parents’ homestead. Although the performance was marred by an inconsistent sound system, it nonetheless surprised an audience of several hundred with the talents of a number of the young actors.
The festival concluded with a picnic by Long Lake.
The Latvian Center Gaŗezers, located west of the south central Michigan community of Three Rivers, was founded in 1965. The 162-acre (70-hectare) property used to be Girl Scout camp. The center serves educational, cultural, religious and recreational purposes and perhaps is best known for its summer high school program. The center also operates a summer camp for children. In 2000, it added a summer Kindergarten program and, the following year, began a preparatory school for those students who plan to go on to the summer high school. Many Latvians from the region also spend summer weekends relaxing by Long Lake.
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