VILNIUS - At the end of March, about 3,000 "pilgrims" will come to Birstonas, a small town on the banks of the Nemunas River surrounded by green forests, and, for a period of three days, transform it into a jazz Mecca. The tradition has been alive for more than 20 years.
When the Birstonas Jazz Festival, a biennial event, began in 1980, the forbidden music was considered a way to liberate the soul. "Only in a small town hidden within the forest was it possible to organize such a festival," says the event's founder, Zigmas Vileikis.
The Birstonas Jazz Festival was the first of five such international festivals in Lithuania. There are almost no jazz musicians in Lithuania who have not played at the festival. The festival's Grand Prix is one of the most coveted awards for a Lithuanian jazz impresario.
"Birstonas Jazz Festival is not only the oldest, but also the most democratic jazz forum in Lithuania presenting various aspects of Lithuanian jazz," says Vileikis. The genres range "from Dixieland to contemporary jazz experimental."
About 200 musicians will attend this year's event. Most of the music will be Lithuanian jazz, but this year, for the first time, Lithuanian musicians will collaborate with some foreigners. South Africa, South Korea, Indonesia, the United Kingdom, Switzerland and Norway will all be represented. Among the more notable guests: New York singer and composer Philip Hamilton, and the British crooner Helen McDonald.
There will also be a few notable debuts, among them, Cappella A and Indre Dirgelaite. The Arturas Anusauskas Quartet, the Lithuanian Jazz Trio, LRT and Vladimiras Cekasinas have all prepared special programs for the festival.
Some have been attending the festival ever since it began and has a habit of linking generations.
Festival tickets are often sold six months before it begins, but organizers also take care of the "late birds." For those who will not have a chance to attend Birstonas, Hamilton will be giving another concert at The State Small Theater of Vilnius on March 23. If you can attend the festival, good for you. It's the sort of thing you'll tell your grandchildren about and hopefully take them to someday.
Birstonas Jazz Festival
More info: http://jazz.birstonas.lt/en/