My friends Gabriella and Chris offered that I join them last night at this event:
Golden Festival, January 14 & 15, 2011
New York’s only music and dance festival of its kind celebrates 26 years of live Balkan, Roma (“Gypsy”) music and beyond. The Festival is hosted by Zlatne Uste Brass Band and features dozens of live bands playing on FOUR(!) stages.
It was formerly held at a Catholic high school auditorium in Inwood (the northern tip of Manhattan), but now it’s at this splendid hall in Brooklyn, which seems to specialize in weddings—The Grand Prospect Hall.
Here is a clip they made of stuff from previous festivals:
Here is the entrance to the hall off Prospect Ave.
And here is the Grand Ballroom. People were still arriving at this point—soon the floor was packed.
Off to the right was a long room where you could buy drinks and get tasty Balkan food for free—though the lines were pretty long for the free food. People were wandering to and fro, going from one room to another. Beyond the food room was another room with performers—The Atrium—that sadly looked like the breakfast zone at a Holiday Inn. This room featured quieter music—I heard some beautiful Bulgarian type singing from a trio called Black Sea Hotel.
Behind where I took the picture of the Grand Ballroom above, were some merch tables with ceramics, henna dying, jewelry and CDs for sale. Behind that, there was another banquet room with large paintings and a Polish Masonic armoire shoved against one wall.
At that moment a Turkish Band (Wind of Anatolia, I think) was rocking out.
But there’s more! Upstairs—stairs that wound around a very old elevator in a cage—was an even larger banquet hall where there was some subdued music (Fishtank Ensemble?) and some dancing. Then Rakiya, a Roma band from Romania, kicked in. The guys wore cowboy hats and one guy’s shirt had flames up the side. The time signatures in some of their music were beyond complicated, but it grooved at the same time.
Back down in the Grand Ballroom the act that pulled this whole festival together—the Zlatne Uste Brass Band—was playing in the middle of the floor, as the dancers circled around them, like a massive swarm of bees.
The audience was incredibly mixed—young, old, hip, not very hip. A few folks dressed in costume, most of the younger audience members in dresses (girls) and narrow brim fedoras (guys). All very relaxed. A few helpers here and there holding signs that said “ask me” (I did).
I headed back to Manhattan around midnight on the N train—which was only 2 blocks away.