Flying Guitars Festival: Overview of Varazdin’s Innovative New Festival

Total Croatia News

Varazdin held the inaugural Flying Guitars Festival in early October, an event which enjoyed considerable success in its first year, and which looks set to become a permanent and important part of the city’s already rich cultural programme. An overview of the first year of the festival. 

Guitars Fall 

A seller of roasted chestnuts near the main Varaždin square said to a customer while filling a cone with hot chestnuts:

– You know, guitars will rain tonight in town!

He may have misunderstood something on the poster, where guitars were flying above the city skyline.

The Flying Guitars Festival was first held in Varaždin from 6-9 October 2016. Naturally it as something generally new for the wider audience, maybe not understandable.

Just like it should be the first time, just like when something is completely new.

Speed of Light

The organiser knew every nuance on what was prepared, every wheel of what was prepared, and what went on for the first time had to show everyone else what it’s about. Insiders were left only with the anxiety of their ambitious idea growing roots in three days. Anxiety did not dissipate when a respected dignitary gave up on holding a speech at the opening of a photo exhibition “Speed of Light” by Grammy awarded witness and rock culture chronicler Alan Messer, the first event at the festival that had just begun to unravel. Naturally, the anecdote belongs in the same genre of comedy like the one with the chestnut seller. Daily obligations of both did not allow them to devote themselves to the content.

In fact, no one told them it was the beginning of another history. Alan Messer managed to be more instructed in his studio in Nashville on what was going on in Varaždin, and clearly said so in his video message to visitors and performers. Regretting he was not in Varaždin this year, but will make it next year.

Riff, in Word and Picture

Already the second exhibition of the day tied to FGF, titled “Riff, in Word and Picture,” brought an unexpected global connection. In the great hall of County Palace an exhibition was opened of paintings and drawings of famous people from the Beatnik generation. Shown were memorabilia of the hot years in California from 1965 to 1969 shared among friends by Vojo Šindolić. At the time when he was in the heart of turmoil of sensitivity of the 20th century, Vojo was the editor of the rock monthly Džuboks. Born in Dubrovnik, he worked on the project of publicist Dječje Novine from Gornji Milanovac, a small place in the heart of Serbia, with an office in Belgrade and with an editor-in-chief that rarely visited in person. It must be said this was, in 1966, the first publication that dealt with rock as a phenomenon on the entire globe west of Munich, a full year older than Rolling Stone.

Many visitors were surprised by the fact that writers like Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and others dealt in fine arts, just like Jerry Garcia, guitarist of Grateful Dead, especially talented singer Patti Smith and singer-songwriter Bob Dylan. The exhibition was devoted to the culture and era of the revival of the guitar as a folk instrument which made the instrument the world’s favourite in those years.

Nobel Winner Originals

After a few days visitors realized they had seen the originals of a Nobel prize winner. Along with drawings and paintings, the exhibition had a tangible priceless original, first ever two-necked guitar ordered in the 1840s in Vienna by Varaždin guitar virtuoso Ivan Padovec. Padovec’s need to be accompanied by himself on guitar was felt, centuries later, by superior guitarists who received from guitar manufacturers first such instruments. The technical feature of such guitars was the upper neck with four strings ordered A-H-C-D which could be, via a pedal during playing, increased or decreased by half a tone. Ivan Padovec and his guitar are the heart of the inspiration for the Flying Guitars Festival and everything that comes after it is held.

Small Secrets of Performance Skills

The true character of the festival appeared from noon the next day in the concert hall of the Croatian National Theatre in Varaždin. Jazz and classical guitar workshops attracted many who took part interactively in displaying small secrets of the performance skills of Darko Jurković Charlie and Jerko Novak. A wider cultural context of modern music communication was provided at a lecture on music videos by Igor Modrić, director and producer of over 450 videos based around music and guitar. Guitarists and guitar lovers just got a whiff of it and jumped on a specific vibration which could not be experienced anywhere else.

IP, Guitar Superstar

After Varaždin Mayor Goran Habuš in the main auditorium of the Croatian National Theatre formally opened the festival with a gag: “I am probably the only one here tonight that is required to wear a jacket and tie,” came a concert evening, the way every night will end at the festival. Honouring Ivan Padovec in the programme “IP, Guitar Superstar,” were classical guitarists Žarko Ignjatović and Jerko Novak. The musical high point of the evening was an audiovisual performance “Power of the Guitar” by the Croatian fingerstyle guitarist Damir Halilić Hal. His commendable performance explores expression possibilities of live music while accompanied by previously recorded guitar sections. The first alien experience of the festival!

Picture This

The evening was concluded in the theatre auditorium by Brian Branislav Rašić. Resident of London, native to Belgrade. He entered the world of rock as a photographer of Šindolić’s Džuboks, opening a thorny road to a star career of which he spoke, presenting images of his work title “Picture This,” on meeting the famous names of pop and rock scenes with the help of the moderator and animator Slavica Mrkić Modrić. He spoke of his experience with the audience. Not less important, after many decades he met with his first editor Vojo Šindolić.

Thrilled With the Atmosphere

Already on the first day even the biggest sceptics lost any worries on the success of the festival! Attendance and atmosphere were beyond expectations. The atmosphere especially thrilled members of the most current blues-rock band King King, who kept going from event to event, without being exposed to the aggressiveness of either journalists or fans they were accustomed to. Mutual understanding of the main topic, appreciation of everybody, both in audience and with performers, seemed to intoxicate Alan Nimmo and members of his band.

Music as Language

A very interesting meeting the second day was in workshops of the prominent jazz-fusion guitarist Rene Coner titled “Perception of Music as Language,” Aleksander Vešić who led a guitar jazz base workshop, Krešo Tomić Bonzo in the gipsy swing guitar workshop and lecture by Grammy-winner Ian Melrose on his perception of the modern acoustic guitar, Celtic music and music production. Such a privilege!

Unique Design and Sounds

Ahead of concerts on the main theatre stage by the Kelpie duo, made up of Ian Melrose and Kerstin Blodik, and King King, in the theatre lobby an exhibition of Varaždin guitar constructors was opened. It was a small sensation both for visitors and programme participants. Excellent unique designs and sounds of classic and electric guitars, especially futuristic base guitars, some of which were made of carbon composites, blended perfectly with a selection of retro designed amplifiers, many of which were portable.

An Hour of Celtic Magic

The Kelpie duo in the vocal and guitar interpretations brought an hour of Celtic magic which can be placed into the world music genre, if this expression wasn’t also the indigenous authored expression of their own compositions. For many the performance of Ian Melrose and Kerstin Blodig, with their undeniable vocal and performing virtuosity, was a pleasantly shocking discovery!

First Rate Experience

King King performed to a packed theatre, although the audience had got to know each other well in the meantime. The comfortable classic ambience of a lovely small theatre enabled intimate contact of musicians and audience which turned into a first rate experience, with the musicians offering a fierce performance of their greatest hits. Alan Nimmo, guitarist and vocal of King King, admitted he had a vocal chords problem ahead of the performance. It could not be felt at the event, as if a magic wand released him of all ailments, his voice being compared to a colour combination of Phil Collins and roughness of Joe Cocker. His guitar solo in the end, when the audience would not let them off without another song, may have been the event of the day, as there are not many guitarists who are able to articulate from pianissimo to fortissimo, without losing excitement! That night, like the one before and the next, the festival continued in hot and relaxed jam-sessions in the basement of the nearby bar.

Sound of Hendrix’s Stratocaster

Jura Geci and Toni Tkalec warmed up the audience the third day with a blues guitar workshop, while Vedran Božić, the only Croatian guitarist to share the stage with Jimi Hendrix, uncovered the secrets and finesse of his attempt to take a used guitar and refurbish it to sound like Hendrix’s Stratocaster. Is the acoustic guitar unfit for rock music? Not at all! This clear answer was provided by the workshop on various playing techniques of the acoustic guitar held by Branimir Bogunović Pif.

Pedal Steel Guitar and Cello

The main music event of the day was the performance of an unusual duo with Grammy-winner pedal steel guitarist BJ Cole combined with cellist Emily Burridge on an amplified version of the string instrument. It was evident this was a private research project of two exceptional musicians in which they convincingly presented all good reasons for this creative adventure with performances ranging from famous songs of the pop culture songbook, as an introduction to their musical language, to their own interpretations of complex art pieces of Claude Debussy and Eric Satie.

Something Big is Beginning

The focus of the entire festival was to declare a clear intent to upgrade FGF next year with a museum and House of Famous Guitarists and Innovators named Flight of Fame. The creative team which profiled this event, showed how general cultural and musical foundations of the Varaždin area make a solid basis for more guitars to fly even higher over Varaždin in the coming years. Not fall, as some saw it.

The presentation began with a fierce concert by Vedran Božić and Branko Bogunović with the Rock Masters, followed by a jam session in the nearby basement. Many saw this festival as a privilege to be present at a historical event where something big is beginning!

We Look Forward to October 2017!

Organisers of the Flying Guitar Festival have a very intense year ahead. Not only because FGF 2017 must in many ways surpass this year’s, but also because a strong promise was made to have the Flight of Fame museum opened next year, with first immortals inducted. These festivals and coming festivities simply cry out for television coverage, so after the lights were turned out on the first edition, the process of finding a partner television network was begun. Same goes for leading producers who surely see their interest in participating. It is a special diplomatic job to introduce cultural sections of embassies to the dimensions and significance of the festival and hall of fame, whose support can greatly contribute to the quality of all future events. And these are just some of the assignments whose necessity is visible from the outside. With hard work and some necessary luck, the team behind these events is already looking forward to October 2017. You are all invited!


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