When you arrive in a new country at night, it’s hard to get a sense of the place. The sun was just setting as our plane touched down, 30 minutes late, in Bucharest. By the time we got our bags and cleared customs, only the city lights gave us glimpses of our new home. We saw large, grand stone buildings, wide avenues, a Ferrari dealership, and lots of trees. After a long day of packing and traveling, we happily settled into our new apartment.
During our initial wanderings the next day, we stumbled upon a fenced-off area. Massive flower archways led into a parking lot full of chairs set for a concert in front of a large stage. Banks of speakers rose up on either side, and several white tents sat behind the seats. After a little investigating and translating the banners flying all around the perimeter, we learned that the Bucharest Jazz Festival was in town. What great timing!
A little more digging around on the web revealed that the festival was free to attend – even better! – and that a percussionist who used to play with Miles Davis was on the schedule for that evening. Joe and I decided immediately that we had to go. How often are you in Romania at the same time as a major music fest?
I grew up listening to jazz – my parents switched between that and classic rock – so it’s always had a place in my musical heart. Not knowing what to expect or how well-attended this free festival would be, we wandered up to the event after a couple glasses of local wine at a lovely wine bar and a quick slice of pizza from a true Italian pizzeria on the way. Well, it was packed. All the seats were filled, and many people huddled behind the last row sipping their beers and watching the stage. The refreshment lines rivaled those of any other large event I’ve attended; once you’ve picked up your beers, better go get in line for the next round.
While in line the second time, I made friends with a young Romanian woman named Luiza who was attending the festival solo. She had just moved to Bucharest from a small town in the center of the country and was studying horticulture. Her English was perfect, and she insisted she learned from watching American cartoons on the one small TV in town. She hung with us for the rest of the evening and we quickly became buddies.
The music itself was a bit crazy, a bit bizarre, quite loud, but very interesting. The woman we’d come to see had an eclectic, somewhat mystical style that was a bit hard to follow even by typical jazz standards. But we embraced the experience and tried to soak it all in. The crowd’s energy was subtly electric, it was a warm summer night, and we were at a live concert in the middle of the city.
As we explored more of Bucharest in the coming days, we noticed huge posters advertising several other music festivals. One was taking place up north and boasted Deadmau5, Franz Ferdinand, Alt-J, and Paul Van Dyk, among others. Another was about to start here in the city. We realized – Romanians love live music! I’ve never visited a place that was hosting 4 large music festivals in the span of two weeks. Concert goers – take note!
Attending the jazz festival and meeting our new Romanian friend was a wonderful way to kick off our month-long stay in this lovely city. We’ll see what the next several weeks bring…