Music. Summer. Latvia 2020

Music. Summer. Latvia 2020

Note: I am writing this out of total appreciation for my existence in this place at this time and the opportunities that I have, none of which have been earned or deserved.

I tell people that a Latvian day sometimes feels like 3 or 4 stuffed into one. This is both true from a work standpoint when you are busy and occupied, but it is also true from a leisure perspective on how much one can do in a single day. This weekend has been about two weeks long, in my estimation.

Thursday: Jazz at Tallinas Kvartāls

Riga never seems to sleep in the summer. Every day of the week, there are things happening, and outside my window, I hear young people living it up well into the early morning hours. One reason for this is that we are just a few blocks away from Tallinas Kvartāls which is, as Rita describes it, a Hipster haven.

A “kvartāls” as I understand it is this yard between several buildings on various corners around the city with multiple entrances. No one seems to really own the space, but people start to use it for various things, and it becomes a sort of community center. Sometimes these kvartāls house markets or cultural events. In this case, the Tallinas Kvartāls has become an entertainment destination.

It houses an Ezītis Miglā (Hedgehog in the Fog… an ubiquitous restaurant chain found throughout Riga). There is also a food court, and at night there is almost always some musical performance.

On Thursday, Rita said there was a jazz concert, and I was totally up for that. It cost all of 1 euro to get in. We had great seats and saw this super experimental trio with Deniss Paškevičs & Sig & Artis Orubs. SIG played the cello and keyboard, Artis was on the drums, and Deniss played saxophone, flute, and some medieval looking woodwind. You can get a sense of their stuff here.

I already wrote about the drummer on Facebook because I am still in awe of how he was playing seemingly asynchronous beats with such an incredible pace and rhythm that I was just lost in it all.

I think they played a total of 4 “songs” which lasted for about 2 hours. Someone came to the stage at 11:00 and told them they had to wrap it up, so they did.

I left with this feeling of meditative awe at the whole experience. The music wasn’t really something I would listen to casually, but it is definitely something to experience live and just feel the energy and motion of the sound as it kind of transports you. That is about as well as I can explain what was going on.

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Saturday: Festival Komēta


This seems like it is worthy of a post of its own, but I will try to keep it brief.

I took the train in the morning to visit my friend Joe in Jelgava. We had a terrific time as he showed me some of the sites of that beautiful city. We had lunch in the tower at Tornis, a restaurant that I said could rival any I have been to anywhere. The restaurant is on one of the upper floors of this old church tower that has been beautifully preserved. The top of the tower is an observation deck, but the views from the restaurant were also spectacular.

It was a lovely visit, and Joe’s family is incredible!

Then, I took the train back to Riga and met Rita at the station. We took Bus 3 forever until we got to Daugavgrīvas Fortress. Actually, you don’t quite get to fortress by bus, you have to walk quite a way from the station through a secret path in the woods, by an old garbage dump and past a secret military base.

The fortress itself was build in the 17th century on the Daugava River. It protected the entrance to Riga via river from attack, and was used by many occupying forces throughout the years, including the Soviets all the way into the 20th century. It has seen some things.

Now, it is mostly ruins, but the shape and structure still stands, and you can see it in satellite images, this 7-pointed star surrounded by a shallow moat.

We went to a festival called Komēta (Comet) which was lightly attended this weekend, but I guess there were lots of people last weekend and there will be more next weekend. It was worth it just to walk around this incredible landmark. We walked on top of the walls, and through the stables where there are makeshift art expeditions. Oh, and it is totally free of charge!

We walked into a hippie clearing with a random chair and a braided wooden circle. The whole time I felt like we were again in a magical, spiritual place surrounded by history and humanity wrapped in the beauty of nature. And in the distance we could hear the refrains of reggae music from the main stage.

I also listened to a Russian poet, Semjons Haņins, recite over this echoing saxophone and lay on these prayer rugs just meditating. This was exactly what I needed.

We only caught the last couple of songs of the Reggae band, Reggae Riga, that was playing, and then took the bus back to Riga.

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Sunday: Viegli

Rita received an invitation to see a concert celebrating the 10th anniversary of a fund established in honor of one of Latvian’s greatest poets, Imants Ziedonis. The fund name is Viegli which means “gently.” Forgive me, but everything about this story makes me really emo.

Earlier in the week, Rita had sent me a song that might be sung at the festival called “Ceļi” which means “roads.” And it was one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard. (Listening to it now, of course).

But I had no idea what was going on, I was just excited because the concert was going to be at Rundale Palace, and that was enough reason for me to want to go.

We rented a car, and the concert wasn’t until 9:00 p.m. (because Latvia does not sleep in the summer), and we spent part of the day finding a secret spot on a lake and went swimming after a waffle brunch.

Then, after I finished watching the British Grand Prix (fantastic job Verstappen!!!), we drove to Rundale.

This was a special event for people involved with the fund, and so there was a special parking space, and we got purple wristbands to let people know that we were in the club.

We got there early enough to be able to wander through the Rundale Rose Garden, which is truly one of the wonders of the Latvian world.

But this post is about the concert. This video kind of captures it... (but 9 years ago) the singer here is Renārs Kaupers who is the lead singer of Latvia’s super band, Prāta Vētra joined by several other amazing musicians like Goran Gora, DJ Monsta (Uldis Cīrulis), and Jānis Strapcāns along with several other and a chorus of singing and dancing women including the former minister of culture Žanete Jaunzeme-Grende. This is one of Rita’s favorite songs, “Mazā bilžu rāmītī” (“In a small picture frame”).

We sat in the open-air amphitheater just as the sun was setting surrounded by beautiful people all doing their best to social distance. The garden was absolutely gorgeous, and the stage was set with hanging lights, and a teddy bear seated right in the center. The teddy bear, I am told, represents the late poet, Ziedonis and fills the seats where he used to sit. We saw him at the opera once.

The band came out and opened up with this banger (LISTEN to get a sense of the music)Gods Dievam augstībā” (“Honor to God in Highness”). And I was just blown away by each and every song. Imagine, a group of the best musicians have joined together to put the words of a great poet to music… and here we were just listening to these words of beauty and grace on a perfect summer evening in one of the most gorgeous settings imaginable. It was splendid magic.

Luckily, I had Rita there to translate. She would lean over and whisper the meaning of the words, and I would just start to cry every time. One of the most beautiful was “Ceļi“, and the chorus which is “nav nekas dārgāks par ceļiem šiem, kas aiziet uz rītiem un vakariem” and loosely means that he will no longer cry and go from house to house telling everyone about the roads which lead to the east and to the west (sunrise and sunset). I have no idea why this is so moving to me, but it is.

They sang for just over an hour, and then came back for an encore. One of the encore songs was one normally sung by Māra Upmane-Holšteine who couldn’t be there because she just had a new baby, so they sang her song “Desmit pāri kedu” (“Ten Pairs of Sneakers”) and sent her a live video as they were singing. It was so sweet.

The final performance was more of a mystical chant than a song with Renārs speaking the words, and all the people on stage and in the audience echoing in refrain. I felt that I was among a spiritual moment beyond my understanding. It was deeply moving and powerful. This is a video of what this looks like (not our concert)… “Mīl katrs baltu maizes riku” (“Everyone loves white bread”) is the literal title, but the feeling is much deeper than that!

In the end, we clapped for about ten minutes, and they bowed ten times in honor of the tenth anniversary of the Viegli fund.

Rita and I then walked through the garden in almost total darkness, looking at the stars, and hearing the voices of other happy observers making their way to their cars.

Even the drive home was magical with a blood-red half moon rising up on the horizon as it guided our way back to Riga, back to Miera where the week would start all over again at exactly midnight.

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Side Note: Here is just a taste of his poetry translated to English: (Rita gave me a book of his Epiphanies as a gift which is just beautiful!)


Spring this year arrived as clean

as if in its Sunday best, and we were embarrassed

it found us in our work clothes,

our hands unwashed, the dog in the farmyard

still mangy and shedding.

And we didn’t know whom to blame, spring

or ourselves, for being out of step.

Beauty, says the old schoolteacher,

should arrive unexpected,

and cause a little discomfort.

—By Imants Ziedonis & Translated by Bitite Vinklers



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