All aboard the festival express

  • 2007-07-25
  • By Joel Alas

WAGONLOADS OF MIRTH: Merry souls provide their own musical entertainment as the Viljandi-bound train carries them to Estonia's biggest annual folk event.

TALLINN - If you're planning to go to the legendary Viljandi Folk Festival in the coming days, take my advice 's go by train. It might just prove to be more entertaining than the festival itself. Here's an account of my journey to last year's festival.

The Baltic Train Station platform was alive with atmosphere. Hundreds of young people bustled about, their cargo piled in a mountain that stretched the length of the platform 's guitar cases, backpacks, tents and canvas sacks.
Estonia's most cherished music festival was about to begin in Viljandi, some three hours away from Tallinn, and fans were mobilizing en mass to get there.
For many people who attend the Viljandi Folk Festival the "Folgirong" (or "Folk Train") becomes the highlight of the entire four-day event 's at least, it certainly was for me.

We rushed to claim a bench when the train doors opened, and all the ten carriages were quickly swamped by the mass of brightly dressed young people. There was hardly a single person on the train over the age of 25, and everyone radiated jubilation. We bustled and bounced and chattered like kids on the way to summer camp.
As soon as the Folk Train pulled out from Tallinn, the beer and music began to flow. Everyone had smuggled a supply of alcohol on board, and we skulled it down like naughty school children.
It seemed every passenger on the train was a musician and had brought some form of instrument along. Guitars were drowned out by the rattle of the train, and had to be played with a fierce strum in order to be heard. Bongo drums beat in syncopation with the rhythm of the wheels. Loudest of all were the accordions, whose glorious bellows heaved out polkas and waltzes all the way to Viljandi. A choir made their way through the train, stopping in each carriage to deliver a repertoire of favorite Estonian folk tunes, sung in three-part harmonies.

When the train arrived in Viljandi some three hours later, we released a collective sigh of disappointment at the end of an amazing journey.
The return trip was, understandably, not so jubilant. We were all exhausted after four days of non-stop partying and music. The atmosphere of the campground kept everybody sleepless, the hearty Estonian food kept us full, and the beautiful Viljandi lake kept us refreshed. We dozed the entire journey home to Tallinn, instrument cases used as pillows. The instruments, I'm sure, were happy to rest. They must have been equally exhausted after days of abuse.
This year, unfortunately, there's no officially chartered train. However regular rail services will be in operation, and no doubt these will be equally colorful.

And as for the festival itself, it promises to be one of the biggest ever. More than 400 performers will stage over a hundred concerts between July 26 and July 29. Concerts are held in and around the ruins of Viljandi's ancient castle. The parkland springs to life with a carnival-like atmosphere, with food stalls, workshops and street performers.

The full four-day festival passes are already sold out, and only single day tickets are available.
Many of the dormitory places are also booked out, meaning a tent will be your only accommodation option. There's plenty of places to pitch your tent, but the most lively camp site is on the grounds of Viljandi's central school, where they also provide showers, toilets and a makeshift canteen. Organizers warn attendees to prepare for "drought or torrent" 's and forecasts indicate there might be some light rain.

Viljandi Folk Festival, July 26 - 29
More information:
Trains from Tallinn (Baltijaam) to Viljandi
July 26: 7:50 a.m., 6:15 p.m.
July 27 - 28: 7:50 a.m., 2:35 p.m., 6:15 p.m.
Return to Tallinn
July 29: 6:42 a.m., 2:27 p.m., 5:30 p.m.