Summer music festivals tend to evoke images of tent-studded fields, giant stages and swarms of muddy, disheveled spectators. This doesn't quite apply to the Boskovice Festival. Instead, imagine winding narrow streets, crumbling castle ruins and a centuries-old Jewish ghetto.
Now in its 13th year, the festival is inseparably linked to the historical Moravian town of Boskovice. After all, it was born out of an effort to save the then-decrepit Jewish quarter, which was once threatened with demolition. "This event really helped spark interest in the preservation of the historical buildings of our town," says Boskovice Mayor František Sivera.
No longer under threat, the picturesque town continues to exert its magnetic pull on festival visitors. "The young people that come aren't there just for the music and the exhibitions they're also there because they're interested in the history," says Čestmír Huňát, the chairman of Unijazz and organizer of the festival.
Which is not to say that the theater and music performances, which range from folk to rock to reggae and blues, are any less spectacular. Along with popular Czech bands such as Tata Bojs, Swordfishtrombones and Umakart, there will also be several bands from abroad, most notably Erzsi Kiss Music from Hungary and Charming Hostess, a female vocal trio from the United States.
Tata Bojs, the popular indie band that recently celebrated its 17th birthday, has been performing in Boskovice since the earliest days of the festival. "We have a special relationship with this festival because it was the first one that we played at, back in 1993," says Mardoša, aka Marek Huňát, the band's frontman and bass player. He fondly remembers performing for a handful of people in Boskovice before there was even a proper stage. "The festival had a very family atmosphere then and in many ways it still does now," he says. Mardoša, who likes to come out to the festival even when he isn't performing just to enjoy the atmosphere and check out the bands, says this year he is especially looking forward to hearing Charming Hostess.
Jewlia Eisenberg, front woman for the American girl group, describes her band as "nerdy, sexy, commie, girly," adding that they try to bring "the sexy, soulful sound of '60s girl groups to the 21st century avant-garde." The band, which released a new album this year titled Sarajevo Blues, incorporates Jewish, African and Balkan musical influences, using vocals along with vocal percussion.
Eisenberg, who has studied musical ethnology and traveled extensively throughout Eastern and Central Europe, says she's really looking forward to visiting Boskovice. "I'm inspired and moved by the fact that Jewish cultural preservation in Boskovice was sustained by both Jewish and non-Jewish people," she says. Along with that, Eisenberg is looking forward to another, rather more prosaic regional speciality: smažený sýr, or fried cheese, the popular Czech pub food.
This would surely delight Tomáš Trumpeš, a native of Boskovice and the director of Divadlo Naboso. Trumpeš, who remembers going to the festival as a teenager, says it's become an event the whole town looks forward to every year. "We're pleased that it brings so many people to our town," he says, adding that although the festival is organized by Unijazz from Prague, locals play a big part putting it together.
This year Divadlo Naboso will be putting on the play Slavík k večeři by Josef Topol. "It's obviously quite a challenging piece, so we hope that it will be received well at the festival," says Trumpeš. He isn't too worried, though. "The people who come to Boskovice aren't your average festival visitors. This event has always been outside the mainstream."