Zlatne Uste Golden Festival, Good Shepherd School, Inwood NY, January 13 2007

For the seventh straight year, I had the distinct pleasure of attending the Zlatne Uste Golden Festival, held once again at the Good Shepherd School in Inwood on the northern tip of Manhattan. I've already described the Festival in detail twice, first in 2003 and then again for this blog last year, so I'll refer you to those articles for a sense of what the show is like and what kind of performers play at it. The Festival has been and continues to be the best party in town, but most aspects of its presentation remain fairly constant year to year. Something was different about this year's Festival though, to a degree that was impossible for any regular attendee to overlook: it was really crowded. Granted, some of the increase in attendance may have resulted from the unusually warm January weather we've been experiencing in the New York area, but I get the feeling that there's a deeper explanation than that.

There's a real scene for Balkan folk music in New York City, and not just to listen to it. I go to the Nordic Roots Festival in Minneapolis every year because there are a lot of exciting young performers doing creative things with traditional Scandinavian music, but all those performers are based in Scandinavia. Golden Festival has largely become a showcase for a lot of exciting young performers doing creative things with traditional Balkan and Mediterranean music, but most of these performers live in the five boroughs and the surrounding area. Some of them, like the amazing percussionist Raquy Danziger and her band Raquy and the Cavemen, came to my attention specifically because of the festival. However, a lot of the local Balkan groups have steadily built a local base through word of mouth and making contacts. Romashka, a furiously upbeat party band specializing in gypsy music, first came to my attention when their singer Inna Barmash e-mailed me out of the blue because she had read my review of the sadly defunct club Satalla on Green Man Review and was looking for people to write about the band. I made a trek down to a bar in Brooklyn one night to see them play, and I was hooked. I found out about Luminescent Orchestrii (not present as a band at this year's festival, but represented by at least two of their members playing with other groups) because somebody at the Makor correctly thought they'd make a worthy opening act for the mighty Warsaw Village Band when they played there last year. Ljova's work has been heard by fans of performers as diverse as Yo-Yo Ma and Jay-Z. He's also very accessible personally. I saw him on the stairs heading up to the main floor, and he wished me a "Happy Golden Fest" like it was a major holiday. I hadn't realized, until speaking with him there, that I had written the first review of his debut CD for The Armchair Critic. I consider that an honor.

If the size and enthusiasm of the audience were any indication, the efforts of these performers to publicize their music are starting to pay dividends. As well as the Good Shepherd School has served as the host of the Golden Festival over the past few years, I'm a little bit concerned that it won't be big enough to handle further increases in attendance. Still, I can't imagine that host band Zlatne Uste are anything but thrilled at what the festival they started twenty-one years ago as a benefit for Balkan relief efforts has grown into. (By the way, you might have some trouble accessing the Zlatne Uste and Golden Festival websites for a while. They have exceeded their traffic allotment for the month.)

Golden Festival includes many non-Balkan styles as well, and here is the NY Spelmanslag playing Swedish music. (You only see half of me playing the 12-string guitar, but it was the best group shot I had.) We play Wednesday nights dowtown for Scandia NY. We're not quite at the same level of musicianship as a lot of the other Golden Fest bands, but we do more than all right for amateurs, and we generally please our target audience.

Inna Barmash fronts Romashka on the main stage.

The host band Zlatne Uste never fails to draw a large crowd to the main floor, but the crowd was especially large this year.

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