Sunday, June 5, 2016

the festival and the tramp

Loket, By Rejectwater,
Lying in the grass, looking up at the dwindling light of the Sun as pinpoints of light slowly turn on like their lights from a skyline, with music blazing out from one direction and the next, some girls laughing over near a grove of trees, dancing in a circle, some guys commenting about the girls while they sip drinks and nod their heads to the pulsing of the bass from the nearby stage – these are parts of the image of summer that I love, the festival life, the life of being outside, slightly so inebriated, feeling the earth pulse through me as it rocks and shakes with the footsteps of passing people. When I lived in the United States, I always enjoyed the idea of a festival, but in general the complexity and price of getting a beer makes it only mildly worth it. Here in Europe, especially in the Czech Republic, where the beer is cheaper than water and finer than champagne, festivals are fodder for fun. And it’s hard to go anywhere in Prague where you don’t run into a festival, in some park or some street corner, there is something that’s going to be going on with beer, sausages, potato pancakes, or all three.

But also getting out of town is fun, since the festivals ravage the countryside, moving from town to town like the ranging tramps of old that they seem to have been inspired by.

The Tramp

The only time I had heard of “tramps” before was from the Lady and the Tramp, after which I still didn’t know what one was, and also just before I beat some kid up in second grade when he called my mother a tramp. I beat him so good, I was crying for afterwards about it. Nobody calls my mom a tramp, even though I didn’t have the slightest clue what a tramp actually was – nor, apparently, did the other kid.

But then I moved to Czech Republic and started reading the Good Soldier Svejk, and I started meeting folks on the street with nothing but a knapsack over their shoulder and a healthy distrust of anything to do with the G-word (government), talking about how 9/11 was a Bush conspiracy and that Trump is set to bring America back to what it once was or could be or might have been or something rather this way or that. But sometimes it was interesting to journey into the city and see what things were going on, that old stench of civilization that just wouldn’t wash down the Vltava along with all the Drano, fluoride, and whatever the hell else is turning the color that lovely shade of brown.

Tramps are the bearers of a long Czech tradition of shafting the government and taking to the woods. The movement seems to have started sometime around the times of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, when forced conscription had been put in place. Czechs have never been lovers of their rulers, being passed from one to the next over the generations, but this was a line crossed too far. In times of war, instead of going out to pointlessly kill some folks that didn’t have anything for them but fought for the wrong ass hole on the other side of an invisible line, they set to the sticks and wandered about the hills (this would be what we call “draft dodging” over in those United States, and Muhammad Ali had something to tell you about them).

Tramping was a highly illegal activity and carried huge punishments, from torture, to beatings, to execution, depending on the temperament of the local military tribunal. The Czechs of the countryside also knew this, and were quite sympathetic, so there grew some strange tradition of hospitality for the rovers and meanderers of the Bohemian wild and would regularly take them in and help out.

Times are different these days though, what with globalization and refugees. The tramping life is no longer seen as something brave and idyllic, but now the basic term for the chronically homeless. Still, heroes to some, heroes of sorts.

Meander Feastival

The Meander Festival celebrates all those things tramp, the free spirit, and Bohemian ideal. Set just across the Russian border at Karlovy Vary, on the Czech side in the small town of Loket, it’s a three-day music festival that caters to all sorts, the outcast and the tramp, the hippy and the intellectual, the small one-man band and the hundred guitar acts, local and international, fire breathing and water streaming, theatrical acts, clowns, lions jumping through hoops, an impregnable castle, a princess and a pauper, and a meandering river. Really, it’s got something for everyone. “We booked the lions because -” Andy, one of the festival organizers and principal operator of A Maze in Tchaiovna explained to me while smoking something that may not have been tobacco while drinking something that may not have been tea, “Because I thought there needed to be something more. You know, for the kids. It’s really going to be spectacular this year. Oh, and tell them about the bus!”

The Meander Bus leaves A Maze in Tchaiovna on Friday the 10th at 5:30 pm and returns at 2:00 pm on Sunday. You can book your ticket there in advance, one way or both. There are also public transit methods via Student Agency and local routes that aren’t too hard. Or you can drive or coordinate a car to Loket. 

Be sure to catch Cupla Focal - the band in which I play accordion - at midnight on Saturday. And if you need something to read for the bus, check out a copy of How It Ends sold at A Maze in Tchaiovna.


Loket was founded in the 9th century and is near the Russian town of Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic. Its name translates as “elbow”, called such because of the meandering elbow shape that the Ohre River makes around the town. Overlooking the town – like most Czech towns – there’s a 12th century Gothic castle, which was once known as the “Impregnable Fortress of Bohemia.” In the 18th century, the castle was burned to the base, but a hundred years later it was rebuilt as a prison, which was probably used for those draft dodging tramps trolling around the Austrian barracks. The Communists shut down the prison though and turned it into a museum, which it’s been ever since, showing the life that never really existed in the place but did before the place was built. Or something like that. Anyways, come for the castle, stay for the festival. Or vice versa. As you wish. 

Loket, From


  1. Pueblo is my tobacco of choice old chap ;) It may or may not be the finest tobacco around :)
    Andy the operator :)

  2. You beat up some kid that called your mom a tramp, really! Beautiful town and countryside.