Goran Bregović: 14 June 2009 - Ravinia, Highland Park, IL

Karen Zarker & Sarah Zupko

Words by Karen Zarker and Pictures by Sarah Zupko

PopMatters attends a Balkan wedding – and funeral...

It’s a perfect summer evening for a Balkan wedding -- breezy, a light coolness to the air floating just above the silky warmth of summer brushing lightly against our bare skin. Ideal weather, too, for a funeral. Either occasion is fine with us, as both call for plenty of ‘Alkohol’ and the communal feeling it evokes.

In the company of Serbian, Russian, and Polish-speaking people we stroll the meticulous grounds and enjoy the polished staff at Ravinia, anticipating the arrival of Goran Bregović & His Wedding and Funeral Orchestra. We see three, perhaps even four generations enjoying picnics in their familial clusters. It’s a good-looking crowd, dressy even in casual attire -- some dolled up just short of formal.

Everything’s looking good tonight. Ravinia’s gardens are lovely, as we make our way to the Pavilion -- a covered space open on the sides to the gardens. Soon, a trio of horns march down the aisle behind us toward the stage and we can’t help but grin and hoot. Happiness blasts from those horns, and all our cares and worries dissipate into the summer night.

Artist: Goran Bregović & His Wedding and Funeral Orchestra

Album: Alkohol

Label: Wrasse

US Release Date: 2009-03-02

UK Release Date: Import

Image: count 19 musicians on that stage, including the horn and string players. Two women singers wear traditional dress. Six men in black suits form the exquisite choir. Their voices prevail during the funeral pieces, and add a velvety texture to parts of the more raucous songs.

Goran Bregović stands out among his natty orchestra in a shiny white suit. Only the perpetual smile on the face of his talented and enthusiastic drummer, Alen Ademovic, matches Goran’s look. Bregović and Ademovic’s voices combined rang from piercingly soulful to hard core rockin’ -- or rather, ‘Raï-ing’, as the Balkan beat often sounds like a close cousin to Raï.

And what a beat! What a primal, vital sound!

Nary a butt muscle can sit through such a show peacefully. Most propel their bodies out of the seats and into the aisles. These muscles are directly wired to the hands that must, simply must clap -- and the voice, which sings along with every ‘wedding’ song. A quick trip to the washroom sends me meandering around a line of dancers on the lawn, arm over shoulder, dancing side-to-side in joyful unison.

If only, like a real Balkan wedding, it could have gone on all night.

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