The Sarajevo Beer Festival, commonly abbreviated as SBF, drew both old and young attendees, and Bosnian locals rubbed shoulders with tourists from all over the world. The festival embodied a combination of old and new, East and West and familiarity and difference.
As Bosnia and Herzegovina’s capital city, Sarajevo is revered for juxtaposing Eastern and Western elements because of its strategic location on the Balkan Peninsula in southeastern Europe. This fusion of tradition and modernity was seamlessly incorporated into the performances of the nine bands who played at the seventh Sarajevo Beer Festival, sponsored this year by Bosnian telecommunications company Haloo.
Set at the 1984 Winter Olympics venue Juan Antonio Samaranch Olympic Hall, known by the event organizers as Zetra Olympic Hall, the festival was held from June 21 to June 23, 2018. Although Bosnian music remains unknown to many U.S. audiences, SBF’s eclectic feel and radiant success demonstrated the talent and versatility of the Balkan music scene.
Lined by a rainbow border of beer tents, with drafts ranging from local Bosnian craft beers to Heineken’s signature lager, the festival offered a satisfying range of brews. Connoisseurs enjoyed the cold beer, served both on tap and in bottles, while absorbing the music of many Balkan musical legends like the 1980s pop-rock sensation Crvena jabuka. The festival was first held in 2012 and originally showcased 14 brands and 26 beers. Since then, the number of participants has doubled and SBF now serves 21 brands and 48 beers.
Although the brews were the main attraction, the music and palpable sense of community drew many to SBF, giving the festival a charm beyond the intoxicating taste of ale. Despite on-and-off rain all three nights, attendees enthusiastically gathered in the lot of Zetra Olympic Hall to listen to artists from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the United States and the United Kingdom.
The festival’s lineup was diverse in musical style, featuring performances including an electronic DJ set from Sister Bliss, best known as a member of the U.K. band Faithless, and the Croatian hip-hop group Elemental. Even punk rock was represented by the band Hladno Pivo, whose name translates to “Cold Beer” in Bosnian. Across a variety of genres, Balkan music serves as a cross-cultural outlet for artists and their listeners.
Although the festival’s atmosphere remained enthusiastic throughout, some more relaxed bands sparked listeners to calmly wave lighters in the air while others elicited mosh pits of boisterous fans. Festival attendees remained clearly connected to the music as they leaned over the barricade toward the singers, danced their hearts out to upbeat songs and slow-danced with loved ones to ballads. The festival’s array of musical styles and genres helped foster a welcoming environment; paradoxically, SBF’s embrace of musical diversity was what made it so cohesive.
Boasting its broadest lineup since the festival’s founding, Danira Kostic, the festival’s public relations manager, highlighted the community aspects of the festival. “[SBF is an] ideal destination for a fulfilled and fun family weekend,” Kostic said in an interview with The Hoya.
One of the most eclectic performances of the weekend was by Kultur Shock, a Seattle-based gypsy punk band that fuses traditional Balkan folk music with punk rock. While half of the band’s members are from the United States, Kultur Shock’s lead singer, Gino Srdjan Yevdjevich, hails from Sarajevo.
Interspersed between songs that referenced political movements like #BlackLivesMatter, Yevdjevich’s pride and appreciation for Bosnia and Herzegovina remained clear throughout the performance. The band’s over-20-year commitment to unify native Balkan melodies with the intensity of punk rock demonstrates the long-standing potential of the region’s music scene to subvert norms, both inside and outside of the Balkans.
A quality common among the weekends’ performers was social and political commentary in their lyrics. Like Kultur Shock, Sarajevo-based band Letu Štuke is not new to the Balkan music scene. Releasing its first song in 2005, the band continues to engage in criticism through its lyrics today. Letu Štuke’s lead singer, Dino Šaran, expressed a hopeful perspective.
“The driving force behind my music is having trust that people are still humane,” Šaran said in an interview with The Hoya.
Between the powerful messages of the eclectic musicians and the jovial atmosphere encouraged by free-flowing beverages, SBF brought together the community of Bosnia and Herzegovina with the timeless combination of drinks and music.