The Koprivstica Festival
The National Rally of Folk Art, as it was called in the beginning, was held for the first time in August 1965 in Koprivstica. Koprivstica was chosen for a couple of reasons. It is a town full of buildings from the time of what in Bulgaria is called V'zraždane (Възраждане), “The Awakening”. This is the period of the mid 18th century till the liberation of Bulgaria from the Turks in 1878. This can be seen in the magnificent architecture of the houses built in that period. It is a real museum town. A number of insurgents against the Turks were born or had worked in Koprivstica. It is very nice situated against slopes of the Sredna Gora and has not been spoiled by the ugly communist style apartment buildings. Vojvodonets is a pasture ground at a walking distance from the town and is an excellent place for a festival of this size.
The idea of organizing such a festival originated in the beginning of the sixties and had a lot of enthusiasts, among them important supporters like the musicologist Rajna Kacarova and the composer Petko Stajnov. From the start the idea was to bring together amateur singers, instrumentalists, dancers, story-tellers. The participants of the festival were chosen on qualification on regional festivals and auditions. The organizing committee was and is still headed by the Ministry of Culture and the Township of Koprivstica. The first edition took place in the first weekend in August 1965. Following editions were held in 1971, 1976, 1981 and 1986. The festival survived the political changes of 1989/1990 and is still organized every five year. The festival is now under patronage of the UNESCO. The number of performing participants has grown from a couple of thousand in 1965 till eighteen thousand in the last edition in August 2015. Of course there have been some changes. A small entrance fee, payment for the permission for taking pictures. Before 1990 everything was for free.
We visited the festival in 1976, 1981 and 1986. There were six stages, a main stage and the last two visits there was a special children stage in the centre of the town. Each stage had a program of half a day dedicated to a specific folklore region, sometimes concluded with a presentation of folk dresses. There was a jury for each stage which awarded prices for the best performances.
In fifty years the festival has given a very good survey of the local traditions in the country. Be it that some political influences could be observed until the nineties. The Turkish and Gypsy minorities were not represented and the Pomak minority became smaller every year. Zurla trios participated till 1976 but disappeared in later editions. A positive exception was the ban on Western musical instruments. In 1986 there was a Gypsy group, but they were not part of the festival and they only tried to earn some money.
We have added under "Audio" the records Balkanton issued until 1989. A 10” record from the festival in 1965, a 12” record from 1971 and 1976. The last two editions of the festival, 1981 and 1986, were even honored by three records: a double record from the festival and one from the children participants. You can find the recordings here.