Thirty years ago, when my colleagues began organising a small “international festival” initiated by the Regös Folk Group, I did not think that now I will officially have to remember this. At that time I was rather sceptical when it came to judging the folk dance movement, because my own interests were devoted to other directions. I did not approve of the idea that culture in Vas County was guided by people with links to the folk dance movement. And it took more than one dance step to change my mind.
I was also rather sceptical in the first years, when I observed discussions in the director’s office, with Alexander Veigl, the Secretary General of the International Organisation of Folk Art (IOV), and his assistant, Edgar Niemeczek. In the culture centre, my friend, Feri Tóth, and I were considered to be “urbans”.
At the first times I was doing what had, and still has, to be done at the Nádasdy castle: carrying chairs and benches, ushering. I remember one of the first moments, when two Swiss musicians blew their mountain horns in the assembly hall of the castle because the rain had washed away the outdoor programmes. These horns could be heard at a distance of 20–25 km and we were curious how these historic walls could withstand this unusual attack. The Swiss performance was a success and convinced all of us that we must continue. In the next couple of years we sensed a kind of chaos around the flow of events, therefore Pista Kondora and I agreed to take over the task of organising. He was responsible for everything on stage and my task was to ensure that groups arrived on time. A year later we decided to assign a guide to each group. My first group, Towersey Morris, came from Oxfordshire. I was very excited because I had to demonstrate English skills acquired in the evening school. (On reading Delphine Blane’s memories you can see that I did not always manage it properly). The week we spent together provided the perfect opportunity to learn a lot about our guests. Even though one might have a positive pre-assumption about the Germans never being late and all they do runs smoothly, now I can say that the English are more accurate. If there is a time and date agreed they are sure to come at the exact moment. The following little story is one of my favourites: At the beginning of 1991 a youth group from Newcastle applied for the Festival. At that time we could only communicate via mail. In the spring I wrote them that they should arrive at 5p.m. on 15 August. The months passed by and we were busy organising the festival, then came 15 August. In a discussion with Pista Kondora we asked ourselves whether we could count on the English group. The arrival of the groups was always accompanied by an excitement, which made us even more nervous. All of a sudden there appeared a red-haired lady at the door of my office saying: “Good afternoon! We have arrived from England.” I looked at my watch and saw that it was 5p.m. sharp. Their group provided a good example that very often we are visited by outstanding professionals, even though the Festival is organised for lay groups. In a discussion with the red-haired lady, she told us that the leader of the young musicians, Alistair Anderson, performing in English Concertina and the Northumbrian Pipes, is one of the most prominent musicians in the misty Albion playing those instruments. I was thinking to myself that it would be good to see that with my own eyes. During their stay we became friends. I invited them to my house for a brunch – just like many colleagues did – and we talked about music. It turned out that Alistair had an adult group in England and one in the United States. He also appeared in several Sting and Kate Bush music videos. I was impressed by his professionalism at the Festival. Whenever he arrived at one of the locations he first had a look at the sound equipment to see what he had, then within a blink of the eye he drew a sketch on a piece of paper showing which microphone should be where. He never said a bad word about rather poor equipment, but he demanded that his wishes were fulfilled to the smallest detail. There was only one occasion when I saw him angry in the courtyard of the Batthyány castle. The beautiful scenery impresses everybody, but performing late into the night causes a little impatience. Alistair explained to the technicians what he wanted. When they began their show, I realised that nothing was working the way it should have. Alistair, angry as he was, sent the young musicians back to invisible parts of the stage and began playing his accordion unplugged. The audience did not see anything of all that but I was petrified. On the way home he calmed me down saying that he played his anger away. Weeks later I was surprised to see my friend, Alistair, on MTV playing in Kate Bush’s latest music video.
Such a brief recollection does not provide enough space to enumerate all outstanding musicians, however Luchio from Bolivia and his band, Tinkunaku, will always be in my memory. I am sure that I am not the only one to remember him playing “El Condor Pasa” on his panpipes in a trance. Every year there is somebody with a sense of hope in their eyes to ask “Is Tinkunaku coming this year?”
We had the pleasure of welcoming Steve Houben, the outstanding Belgian alto saxophone player to our festival. In Hungary there are only few people to know that Steve has records featuring several world-famous jazz musicians. I recently found his name in Chet Baker’s bibliography and the German author spoke in tones of praise about Houben.
Many remember last year’s hero, the eighty-two year old Cuban Mazacote. All were impressed by his zest for life and professional attitude that he acquired in eras before Castro. On watching him sing I realised that we are sometimes biased when we assume that living under dire political conditions would erase one’s sense for joy.
The mission of the Festival, just like the mission of any other IOV festival, is “to build bridges between peoples and cultures”. Even though one could list several negative aspects, I can speak of the numerous friendships between French and English, or remember how Slovenians, Croatians, Macedonian, Serbians and Macedonian Greeks performed together on a stage. It might be true that sometimes one is anxious about welcoming groups from countries with whom one shared a rather turbulent past. After thirty years of experience I can tell that on the stage of the Nádasdy castle Turkish, Austrian, German, Russian, Rumanian and Slovakian groups earned the biggest applause. And I am quite sure that they deserved every bit of it. We also invited several groups, which belong to a minority in a county. Inviting them was another sign of our solidarity with Hungarian minorities. In the past decades we paid special attention to enable Hungarians living abroad to present their rich folk art traditions and dances. This year we will have our friends from the small Transylvanian village of Méra. The 30th anniversary festival will feature guests from Basque Country and Cypriot Turks for the first time.
Alexander Veigl, the founding secretary of the International Organisation of Folk Art (IOV), and his colleagues played a crucial role in creating and assisting the International Folklore Days. It was the IOV under the guidance of Alexander, who provided the mental background and the relations, which helped us find and invite groups from all over the world.
A “side effect” of the Festival is a system of solid friendships, which resulted in dancers and musicians from Sárvár performing several times in England, Basque country, Belgium, Austria or other parts of Europe.
The success of the Festival required the cooperation and selfless efforts of many people. One must not forget the devotion of the families of the organisers, the members of the Néptánckör Cultural Association, the Regös Group, the indefatigable efforts made by interpreters and guides to present to the audience performances of a European level. Our thanks go out to our partners in the towns of Körmend, Bük, Zalaegerszeg, Szentgotthárd, Vasvár, and the villages of Velem, Zalaszentgrót and Zalalövő, who are ready and willing to provide an opportunity for guests from abroad to present their cultures, not only in Sárvár but also in the entire region.
The village of Ölbő, where the whole village joined forces to give the actors the time of their life, will always take a special place in our hearts. Many still remember the joint singing and making music, and the warm welcome, presented by Balázs Bárdosi and the members of the Pávakör dance group. Whenever Owlswick Morris comes to Sárvár they always visit the “pub” in Ölbő to have a pint of nostalgia.
All those volunteers work in the shadows because they are proud to contribute to the success of one of the most important cultural events in the region.
One of the biggest acknowledgements in the last three decades was the remark made by my friend, Hans Simon, from Bavaria “Peter, I admire you! Everything is so relaxed at this Festival, yet everything is running flawlessly.” I wish all organisers after us to have a Hans speaking about their efforts in a similarly respectful way.