Estonia’s Viljandi hosts the country’s largest folk festival

The southern Estonian town of Viljandi is hosting the country’s largest folk festival; the annual event, running since 1993, brings a lot of buzz to the country’s sixth largest municipality.

This year’s festival runs from 28 to 31 July and the line-up features 18 foreign and more than 40 Estonian musicians and bands, performing as usual in the historical setting by the town’s castle ruins.

The festival’s theme this year is “Roots and Treetops”, and alongside a varied line-up of foreign performers and well-known Estonian musicians, the audiences can enjoy numerous fresh and new collaborations, including some that have been put together especially for the festival. For the first time, there will be a separate programme of author’s songs.

According to Ando Kiviberg, the head of the festival, the primary purpose of this year’s festival is to “value the authors’ work in the Estonian language”. 

“In fact, every traditional story has an author. Some stories will remain with us for decades or even for centuries, or they will become a tradition,” Kiviberg said in a statement.

“We discovered the impetus for creating such an authors’ programme last year thanks to Jaak Johanson’s (an Estonian music and actor) memorial concert. Jaak has been one of the brightest and most influential representatives of the Estonian authors’ song culture and a true friend to the Viljandi Folk Music Festival. That is why we considered it very important to start a special programme dedicated to the songs of the festival in honour of Jaak.”

Viljandi Folk Festival 2021. Photo by Thom Brown.

Due to the theme of the festival, “Roots and Treetops”, young talents of traditional music are highlighted to celebrate the musical roots and to emphasise the role of a young talent as a promoter of tradition, returning to their roots in their repertoire, yet always bringing much-needed young energy, the festival’s team said.

There is a special programme put together in honour of the 140th birthday of the violinist Jaan Palu, who lived in the Estonian island of Kihnu. Runo songs from South Estonia and Saaremaa island will be sung at the concert dedicated to the relationship between mothers and daughters – Celia Roose, Piret Päär and Ene Salumäe created a programme intertwined with organ, bagpipe, songs and stories.  

Foreign performers include Góbé from Hungary, the dance trio Hecki from Austria, the mandolin virtuoso Radim Zenki and singer and songwriter Rosa Cruz from Cuba.

Viljandi Folk Festival in 2017. Photo by Kris Süld.

In addition to music performances, there are activities for sports enthusiasts, nature lovers and storytellers. There’s a morning dance class where one can dance to live folk music on the beach of Lake Viljandi, while sportier festival visitors can compete in petanque, running and rowing. For kids, there are activities in baby singing classes and playrooms.

The music performances are followed by a night DJ programme on Friday and Saturday.

Read also: Thom Brown: Lessons from the Viljandi Folk Festival

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