Balkan Bacchanalia: The Guca Trumpet Festival
When we told Serbians we were going to the Guca (Goo-cha) trumpet festival last Saturday, they replied, “That’s great. Guca is so Serbian,” or “You’re going to Guca?!!? It’s a mess!” Either way, we figured it was a worthwhile trip.
The Guča trumpet festival is a weeklong celebration and competition of Balkan brass music. The festival started in 1960, when musicians gathered in the sleepy and picturesque town of Guča, Serbia for a friendly competition. Over the next 51 years the competition, visitors and the consumption of alcohol increased. This year it was estimated that Guča’s
population of 3,000 increased to 400,000 over the weeklong event.
Which explains why the water supply ran out on Saturday. Sigh.
Guča’s two hotels can’t contain the masses, so most visitors rent rooms in nearby houses or camp along the outskirts of town. Regular readers will know that this city girl/Housewife opted for a solid roof over her head and running trickling water. We rented bedrooms from wonderful people who promptly plied us with Turkish coffee and rakjia. It was a sign of things to come.
People come to Guča to hear music, dance wildly, and drink. A lot. Beer cans and rakija bottles littered the streets. Even when we couldn’t get a bottle of water, the liquor cases were fully stocked. Though it’s a little crazy, the only danger is turning deaf from hearing hordes of trumpets or falling off a table while dancing.
Guca isn’t just a trumpet festival; it’s a Serbian festival. The music is quintessentially Balkan: no “Misty” or jazz riffs here. (However, “Hava Negila” has mysteriously become a local tune.) People walk around in traditional costume and Serbia shirts are worn with pride. There is a small nationalist contingent at Guča but overall it’s a place to celebrate Serbian music and culture.
The core of the festival is a music competition. However, we missed the finals on Saturday night. I thought the schedule was on “Serbian time,” but the musicians, unlike RHOB, were punctual. We consoled ourselves with carnival rides, eating svadbarski kupus (wedding cabbage), and watching the Miss Guča pageant.
As the night wore on, the music and people became a bit disheveled. We turned back around midnight and were woken at 6 am by children playing toy trumpets in the street. Muz and I walked downtown at 9 am. We thought Guča would look post-apocolyptic but the streets were full, the beer was flowing, and people were dancing. God may have rested on the seventh day, but the Serbians did not.
As hard as we try to adopt the Balkan way of life, we knew couldn’t hack another 24 hours of nonstop horns and bacchanalian dancing. Our friends were right about Guča: it was Serbian, it was a mess, and it was great.