In my few weeks of Vilnius exploration, I had gotten to know the capital quite well. Being able to roam a day without getting lost, having shot pictures left and right, befriending a homeless singer and overstaying my welcome. At least, that is how I felt. Thus time had arrived to continue my journey onwards. Time indeed, as today, Iron Maiden would be rocking in Kaunas. Iron Maiden, mere one of many heavy metal bands, this one had become somewhat sentiment to me. It being from another generation, bearing love from my parents, yet I had the chance to stand where they stood. My previous stepfather who had made me listen to some of their songs, opened my ears to music I grew fond of. At this time my heart was only occupied with metal. This was at a period when I still sought the music that would be mine, thinking one genre would suffice. Of all, music was one of the greatest gifts he left me before he turned to cinders. Finally, what made this simple concert so symbolic, was it being the only determined destination my friend and I had set – although he was not there with me. It had been a goal, another milestone. So eager I departed the capital.
Finding the bus to enter was not difficult; follow the people dressed accordingly. I say bus, but one could call it a sauna for tuna and I would see no difference. With bus full, and the sun of a fierce summer shining down at us, we awaited the bus driver. Watching the chauffeurs argue, I can’t help but mumble a curse under my breath. I shifted my hat and rested my eyes, in hope of speeding up the process.
Gio, the crazy lad confirming Columbian’s stereotype with his one-time experience of a powdered nose, was a great accompaniment. Kind, he gave more than he took. The guy was a talker, excited about everything and all, open to new things. He was me, yet filled with more expressions and guts. The extrovert of my introvert. A concert that I had been thrilled about could not have been spent better than with someone jumping with the enthusiasm and energy of a sugar-induced child. Jumping, dancing, banging hair we don’t even have through the air on the loud, rocking sounds beaming with high decibels from the boxes. Shouts and cheers, flames and floating, giant heads, costumes and flying spectrums. A crowd gone wild and a stage on fire. Although all of it had been an experience memorable, amazing and worthy, a shared opinion goes that it had been too short. One moment they rocked and the other they were leaving the stage. With a smile, yet a hanging sadness of the duration, all poured out the main door. Many into town, a few to the bus. A long, slightly uncomfortable ride was ahead.
Back in the bus, we would be seated for the coming hours, as the driver took us to Varniai. The hours were spent swapping tales and drinking warm, pissbeer. Gio was already sweet-talking a girl, alas with little luck. Neringa was her name. Every year she comes to Kilkim Zaibu. Shy and quiet she sat in her chair, but a surprise awaited us. I took off my sweater. Even in the night, the air was warm. Sharing a bus with many, all excited, did not give much comfort with this warmth. We could have been there sooner, had the driver not lost its way. Once arrived, music had died and my eyes yearned for sleep. My tent was pitched next to a car beaming music. To me it was no bother as I enjoyed his taste of music and I slept grand to on the morrow wake early.
On one side stood a wall of trees edging far back, on the other lay a massive lake. The nearest civilization was a tiny village with one shop about 4 kilometres away. The path I took from my tent to the stage was mainly made of sand, a path baking in the the hot sun burning the bare feet. A few meters off was already a booth with a tap for beer. Passed it followed a small dining area and the toilets. Pitched tents with merchandise of all kinds; hangers and patches, shirts and horns to be filled with beer, made a path to the medieval ring. While bands practised and tuned, men fought wearing suits of armor and long mail coats. They held a shield in one hand and a sword in the other. Seemingly easy, the mail coat alone is a burden to carry. Behind the ring were the camps where one could have a wander. On the opposite side of the field, that was the spectators area for the grand stage that stood before it, were tables and tents selling festival merchandise and food and beer.
A paradise, where hours seem days, the weather is ever giving and music is the sole purpose. Around noon music begins with different bands playing til far after the darkness takes over. Bands from the Baltics, from Scandinavia, a few from Ukraine and one from Romania and Austria. All gathered to bring joy through music on a festival affordable for many. Of all sorts had gathered. Not being able to tell the difference between the metals, I merely can say that fitting the surrounding I relished them all. When not joined with the crowd,- going wild or touched by the strangely heavy and deep voice of the small lady- plenty was left to enjoy. Such as the tiny, hot grains of sand crawling in between your toes. Laying on the grass with the fierce sun gracing your skin, or cooled by the shades enjoying the distasteful aroma of skunk. Watching the trained men, tough and armed, fight brutally but respectfully. I watched tall, strong men hit the ground. Furthermore, there’s not much better than dipping a toe in the freshening cool lake on such warm days. Gio and I had found ourselves dancing with the water as a band Joryj Kloc performed. A band of folk metal I still listen to this day. Even the evenings were fun, together enjoying a cold Alus as the flames of the bonfire warm us.
I had grown quite fond of Neringa and Konstantin. The girl I met on the bus and a friend made at the festival. Konstantin looked rough, but had a heart soft and carried a smile broad. He spit in disgust when the crew of Dirty Shirt talked about alcohol as if to be more important than the oxygen we breathe. Both he and Neringa were reticent, all up to the moment when the sound of metal began. Wild they jump, dance and swing their hair round and round. I never got around asking Konstantin’s occupation. Neringa had told me she was a librarian in Vilnius. Not what she wanted, she confessed as she showed me some of her drawings. One was of me, wearing my famous, defeated hat in the bus. Then off she was again, as the next band finished tuning.
At the tryouts for the wannabe warriors, I met up with Gio again. He had been “hangry” he had told me. Not sure whether he wanted to punch a man or feed a growling stomach, my question was answered when I saw his smile again as he munched on a sandwich. On the field before us and in the camp were some exercises to prove one’s manhood at a chance to become the knight of the festival. Many loud mouths had been silenced once gravity pulled down the heavy mail coat during the push-ups, or holding the heavy equipment during squats. Done that, all that was left was “defeat” one of the actually trained men. With spite referees gave men rushing the course – thereby lacking to perform at pushups and squats – the victory.
Then when the light of a grand fire was introduced to the darkness, people gathered like ants to syrup. With many eyes watching, the fire went up, taking over and destroying everything where its flaming tails could reach. Growing and glowing. The heat became stronger, reached further. One man tried to light his cigarette using the fire, but repeatedly failed to resist the strength this blaze held. A second walked through the arched form that stood weak on the blackened wooden poles. Unscathed he returned. Fire, a destructive element, had been interesting to me as child and still it has a lure. Embers spreaded over the ground while the flames continued to dance up and down, sideways, ever moving with the wind. But when Venom was near to finished with tuning and the sounds became louder, many left the performance of the dancing flames, excited to watch the highlight of the festival. Thus we followed, to go crazy one more last time. Once Venom’s music faded, although still deep in my deafened eardrums, it was the chapter of the Baltics coming to an end.