You Only Live Once: Guca festival lures trumpet afficionados

GUCA, Suzana Markovic- Hundreds of thousands of people have flocked to the small central Serbian town of Guca to join its famous trumpet festival, a delirious street party fueled by non-stop live brass bands.
Thick smoke from dozens of barbecues engulfed Guca, which is shaken up every August by hundreds of thousands of visitors to its famous 10-day-trumpet festival.

People from all over the world come to see the festival, which is more like a crazy street party with everybody dancing to the infectious Balkan beats of the brass bands that make their way through town.
"We love the music of course, but we were surprised and amazed by the people and the atmosphere. It's crazy!" a young Italian couple, Ricardo and Clementina, who did not give their last names, shouted over the music.
The atmosphere in Guca is really unique. The streets of this small hilly town literally become a big open-air club where everything goes.
Enormous quantities of beer or 'rakija', local strong brandy, usually homemade, can be bought anywhere during the festival.
"I've drunk all of these," proudly shows a young Serb party-goer, showing a strange sculpture made of some 40 empty beer bottles.
The festival, which was originally started to honour the art of playing the trumpet, is also a competition of the best brass bands in the region.
It soon acquired a reputation as one of the wildest parties in the Balkans. This year's slogan: You only live once.
During the day piglets and lambs roast slowly on old-fashioned coal barbecues. Lured by the smell, foreign visitors, who according to first estimates make about one third of crowd, take the opportunity to try the local specialities: svadbarski kupus -- cabbage traditionally made for wedding celebrations-- or fresh lamb roast.
In the restaurants and on the streets people of all nationalities dance together to the trumpet sounds, tipping the musicians by putting bills on their sweaty foreheads.
In front of the monument to a trumpet player on Guca's central square, some hundred people danced deliriously as Serbs try to teach the foreigners the steps to the traditional 'kolo'.
"Unlike other festivals, here, musicians are close to you: you are in the middle of the band, you can talk to them," explains Markus, a young German fan of the Balkan beat sound, dance beats fused with the sounds of Balkan brass bands and gypsy music.
"I love the Balkan beat, we have many clubs in Berlin that play it. The beat is almost like in electro-music," he says, joining musicians dancing.
Markus, who did not give his last name, is staying on a camp site on a hill overlooking the town. The tents stretch to the banks of a small river and for the campers the party lasts from dawn till late night.
Members of the brass band of the faculty of medicine in Bordeaux, "Los Teoporos", came to feel the mood in Guca and play with the local musicians.
However they did not enter the competition for foreign bands, introduced for the first time this year.
"We cannot compete, the bands here play too fast, it is unbelievable." explained Xavier.
Delighted with the atmosphere, Los Teoporos are equally satisfied with how the festival-goers welcomed their music.
"The only bad thing is that no one can play after three in the morning, the police halt it," complains saxophone player Marion, rushing to be in time for a concert by famous Balkan composer and musician Goran Bregovic.
Policemen and security agents keep a low profile to ensure the festival's pace stays frantic but under control. Not an easy job at the festival which expects to welcome more than 800,000 visitors this year.

Friday, August 20th 2010
Suzana Markovic

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