June is the month when Budapest breaks out in in a spate of chronic festival events. Just about every weekend means some kind of crowded street fair featuring music, greasy street food, and in some cases, horsies. We had the National Horse Race in Hősök tere a few weeks ago, a celebration of Hungarian national symbolism without the Hungarian right wing nationalist embolism that usually accompanies such events.
It rained during the races, as it has for nearly every day this month, but at least the horses seemed to be having a good time. The Athe Sam Roma festival was going on at the Gödör Klub downtown. Each night there was a kicking lineup of great Roma bands, both amateur and pro, and for a few days the Gypsy community in Budapest could relax and enjoy themselves in the spring evening air downtown. Although this year has seen an upswing in anti-Roma sentiment fanned by Hungarian right wing extremists, the atmostphere at the Gödör was festive and open, with Roma, Hungarians, and the stray tourist all dancing the night away.
Last weekend my band had a gig at the castle in Tata, about an hour’s drive east of Budapest. This is one aspect of playing in Europe that I never get tired of: half of my gigs are in amazing spaces such as castles and villas. I once played in the villa belonging to Enrico Caruso in Florence, Italy and got to use his bathroom for our dressing room. A life of fiddling in dive bars around New England and now I play in twelfth century castles... can't argue with progress!Tata is actually about four small towns linked together without any real central downtown area, located on a lake. It's quite nice, if you have a car, and quite spread out if you don't. If anything in Hungary can be said to evoke Los Angeles freeway culture, it is Tata. The lake even has a fountain spouting in the middle of it, just in case too much unadulterated nature is not your cup of tea.The usual festival food was on offer… I am not actually a fan of this stuff, mainly because the local Mom and Pop food vendors have been edged out of the festival business by larger established catering firms, and the food is always the same and always rather mediocre and expensive. Why is it that eating at a festival in Hungary means hunks of the greasiest food possible? Ham knuckles, sausage, pork kebabs, bacon sautés…After we finished the gig the next band up was the amazing Django style Gypsy swing of Frankie Lató’s Jazz Band. Frankie Lató is one of the most creative young Gypsy violinists working in Hungary now, with a fluency in Jazz violin that puts him head and shoulders above the mob of great fiddlers this country produces. But like most musician Gypsies, Frankie loves greasy, old fashioned Hungarian kolbász.