Sex, Drugs and Balkan Klezmer Gypsy Music: on tour with Lemon Bucket Orkestra at Pohoda Festival in Slovakia

IMG_7371 - Version 3

IMG_7357

IMG_7251

Toronto’s 16-member Lemon Bucket Orkestra party like Zeppelin and Metallica, then play traditional folk music from Eastern Europe —

by Christopher Johnson at Pohoda fest in Trencin, Slovakia —

When you have an early gig the next day on the biggest stage you’ve ever played, it would make sense to hang around the hotel and get some rest.

That’s not what Toronto’s Lemon Bucket Orkestra did in Trencin, Slovakia for Pohoda, one of Europe’s best music festivals.

They partied like the Who, Zeppelin and Metallica. They didn’t trash their hotel, though, because they hardly spent any time there.

“Most bands just come to the festival, play their gig, then pack up and move onto the next hotel and festival,” said band leader Mark Marczyk. “We believe in being part of the festival experience, interacting with people just like the fans do.”

On Friday night, hours before their Saturday afternoon gig, they joined the other 30,000 people in catching bands and partying well after midnight on an airfield outside Trencin.

After a stunning Atoms for Peace show by Thom Yorke and Flea, two of the biggest names in show business, Lemon Bucket Orkestra commandeered the crowd, just as they often do on Queen Street in Toronto.

Under a merry-go-round, they ripped through some trad Eastern Europe folk songs. Young Slovakians, assaulted by Euro-trash Techno plaguing every corner of the festival grounds, were surprised at first to hear young Canadians playing old-style European tunes. A crowd gathered around them as they began to march through the festival grounds, just like they sometimes do from Spadina to Dundas Square.

Suddenly, Lemon Bucket Orkestra were no longer an unknown band at a festival featuring Smashing Pumpkins, Kaiser Chiefs, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Buena Vista Social Club, Afrobeat pioneer Tony Allen, Toronto’s own Peaches and some impressive local area bands too. Fans wanted to drink and party with them. LBO members were happy to oblige.

As a result, many didn’t get back at the hotel in Trencin until around 3 am. Even then, instead of sleeping, they hung around in the street, making new friends.

Their Saturday show on the Orange Stage was set for 2 pm, but they had to do a sound-check a few hours before. LBO members were tired, yawning, and anxious. They had never played such a large stage before, at a big international festival. They were worried that nobody would come, since it was so early. 

IMG_2121

IMG_2125

As they took the stage, they were surprised to see people streaming in from the overcrowded camping area to their left, and the Czechoslovak Philharmonic Orchestra show on the main Green Stage to their right. LBO’s acoustic music, amplified by speakers around the festival grounds, now sounded like Led Zeppelin. People milling around at makeshift bars and food-stalls, or napping in sweltering tents, headed toward the mysterious band on the Orange stage.

IMG_2118

IMG_7207

But the LBO members had trouble hearing themselves. Oskar, marching around with his drum, struggled to hear the horns. “Next time, we’re going to need ear pieces to hear, otherwise it’s hard to stay tight,” he later said.

Chris Weatherstone, on sax, later remarked: “It’s a totally different thing playing on such a large stage. We’re going to have to figure out how to take advantage of it.”

The fans, however, got right into it, jumping and waving their hands in the air. The music sounded somewhat familiar, a relic of their ancestors. They could naturally connect with the mad punk energy on stage, especially from percussionist Jaash Singh.

IMG_2134

IMG_7248

The one-hour performance seemed smooth and professional, graced by Stephania Woloshyn’s dancing and the stage moves of the band. 

IMG_7245IMG_7252IMG_7295IMG_2142 - Version 4

Wearing a mountain-man beard and a Toronto Blue Jay’s baseball cap, Mark Marczyk sang and spoke in several languages, including a suburban Toronto dialect of English. 

IMG_7304

IMG_7320

IMG_7328

After the last song, when most bands bid farewell and go backstage toward their buses to the next gig, the LBO started to do their thing. This is when an LBO show really begins.

Michael Louis Johnson, with a bad hip, climbed down from the stage and led the band into the crowd. Fans, not used to this, gathered around. There was suddenly no divided between fans and musicians, field and stage. 

Everybody pumped their fists in the air and clapped along, chatting “Satisfaction! Satisfaction!”

IMG_7348

IMG_7349

IMG_7352

IMG_7357

IMG_7371

As roadies on stage moved equipment and prepared to set up for the next gig in 20 minutes, LBO continued to rock out in the crowd.

A large crowd — hopping and bopping — marched with them across the festival grounds toward the Press Area.

IMG_7384

 

IMG_7390

They were supposed to play a mini-set for a few dozen accredited journalists working at their computers in a small press tent.

Instead, they headed for the wrong tent, where a national radio station was doing a live broadcast interview with a Finnish musician.

Like a Leviathan, the band and the fans streamed into the radio tent, overwhelming the handful of people already there.

Across Slovakia, people listening to their radios heard a quiet interview interrupted by the mad noise of an approaching flash mob taking over the radio station.

LBO, thinking they were supposed to be doing this, took the stage and began belting out a tune to hundreds of fans jamming inside the tent.

The radio DJ, caught off guard, realized there was nothing he could to stop it. He quickly decided to go with it. He then asked the LBO to play a second song.

It wasn’t until later that Marczyk and LBO realized that it was the wrong tent. Oh well!

IMG_2175

IMG_2164

From there, LBO marched toward a tent selling CDs and t-shirts. They sat down and began signing autographs. They didn’t just autograph CDs and t-shirts. They wrote on people’s arms and chests.

Worn out by the excitement, most bands would have, at that point, headed back to the hotel to shower and rest. But with LBO, the party never stops.

They hung out drinking, partying, necking with fans late into the night. Wearing artist passes, they gathered in the pit in front of the stage to watch legends such as Buena Vista Social Club and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

Michael Louis Johnson, seeing a hot air balloon rising behind the crowd, got an idea. He walked behind the stage and around the crowd, and then climbed into the small basket, playing his flugelhorn as the balloon arose and drifted above the crowd.

Even late on Saturday night, as other bands were en route to Exit Festival in Serbia or performances at other festivals, the LBO were easy to spot hanging around the buffet in the food tent for artists, or amongst the stragglers spending every last ounce of energy partying on the last night of the festival.

Exhausted, they finally got back to the hotel around 3 or 4 am.

Still, the party wasn’t over.

The mayor of Trencin, impressed, asked them to play a set the next day in the medieval town square. On a quiet Sunday afternoon, families milling around cafes and gelato shops were expecting some classical music from this “Orkestra”. 

IMG_7749 IMG_7742

IMG_7741

IMG_7747

Instead, they heard trumpets calling them from atop a tower.

IMG_7651

A crowd gathered, curious about the commotion. Then, as the rest of the band picked up the song on stage, Michael Louis Johnson and his Forward Air Control team hurried down the tower, through the cobblestone streets and onto the stage without missing a beat.

IMG_7662

It was a more mellow gig, suited to the family atmosphere in the crowd. Marczyk, playing in his barefeet, and Woloshyn invited children up to dance with them on stage.

IMG_7695

Near the end of show, Johnson implored the audience to join him.

IMG_7706 - Version 2 IMG_7708 - Version 2 IMG_7710

He led the band into the crowd again, and once again, the party got started, turning Trencin square into a riot at a dance hall.

IMG_7716 IMG_7718

IMG_7728

IMG_7738

Even after the crowd dissipated, LBO members wanted to party. Weatherstone and John David Williams stalked around town looking for an open bar; finding nothing, they drank their wine bottles in the hotel stairwell, sharing with whoever came by.

Singh, Mike Romaniuk and others headed for a midnight swim in a river across the train tracks, while a subgroup led by Tangi Ropars sat for hours on an empty street near the tracks chatting and smoking with diehard fans.

They were supposed to be sleeping ahead of a 5 am wake-up call and a 12-hour bus trip deep into a remote area of the Carpathian Mountains in the Ukraine. Almost nobody slept.

As they piled into the van, en route for gigs in the Ukraine and Romania, a realization dawned on Marczyk.

“These fans party their faces off at this festival, and then go back to their regular lives for the rest of the year. For us, it’s like the party never stops. It’s a festival, night after night.”

IMG_7215 IMG_2140IMG_7221IMG_7229 IMG_7235 IMG_7256 IMG_7270 IMG_7276 IMG_7282 IMG_7364

(All photos copyright Christopher Johnson and Globalite Media. To buy or use these photo, please contact editor@globalitemagazine.com)