Giant Balkan Music Fest/Birthday Party - BlueStone Press
February 20, 2020

Giant Balkan Music Fest/Birthday Party

Balkan music festival at Stone Ridge Orchard to celebrate Bill Vanaver’s 70th birthday


Rosendale’s own Bill Vanaver is turning 70, and what better way to celebrate than with a giant festival of musicians and dancers?

On Saturday, Sept. 7, Stone Ridge Orchard is throwing its first annual Balkan and East European Music Extravaganza. They will also be celebrating the birthday of Bill Vanaver with a lineup of performers that include Merita Halili and Raif Hyseni, The Vanaver Caravan musicians, and Youth Dance Company, Seido Salifoski, Caprice Rouge, Steve Kotansky and Chris Fasarakis. The event will be a fundraiser to help Elizabeth Ryan, owner of Breezy Hill Orchard, buy Stone Ridge Orchard, which she has been operating since 2008 and is currently in contract to buy.

“The interest in Eastern European music is really growing in this area, and we have an extraordinary roster of some of the world’s best Balkan musicians,” said Ryan. “I’ve spent a lot of time in Eastern Europe and the music has always been a side interest of mine, and it’s something you don’t hear much over here.”

Ryan said she has always wanted to do a program like this, and decided it would be a great moment to reach out as she continues her fundraising efforts for the orchard. “Next thing I knew, I had 100 performers and more were calling and asking to come and join.”

“This is a very exciting event,” said Bill Vanaver. “Elizabeth has a way of bringing amazing people together.”

When her longtime friends, the Vanavers, heard about her plans for the festival, Bill asked Ryan if they could celebrate his upcoming milestone and have his dancers perform a suite of Balkan dances.

“A lot of people don’t know this, but the Vanavers have deep roots in the Balkans,” said Ryan.

In fact, Bill’s wife and collaborator, Livia Drapkin Vanaver, credits their mutual love of Balkan music for originally bringing them together.

“I started dancing to Balkan music in summer camp at the age of 12,” she said. She continued to participate in dance and music nights at Columbia University and Barnard College, and sang with Ethel Raim, leader of the Pennywhistlers, a group of women who sang traditional Balkan music. Drapkin Vanaver was also part of a women’s singing group called Zenska Pesna. “In May of 1971, I was performing one night at a festival at Columbia University and Bill saw me,” she said. “Later that night, I saw him performing and I went over and introduced myself. Basically he moved in that night and never left!”

Vanaver is well known for his stellar instrumental work on five-string banjo as well as a myriad of other folk instruments. He has performed for audiences over the past 50 years all over the world, and at such venues as the Newport and the Philadelphia Folk Festivals. For the past eight years, Vanaver has taught “World Dance and Music” at Bard and Skidmore colleges.

“He’s a wonderful teacher and interpreter of the Balkan dance and music,” said Drapken Vanaver. “He has really been excited by how much the teens in our youth dance company love the Balkan music and rhythm. It’s been very exciting for us to share this passion of ours with the young people and pass down this wonderful heritage.”

Drapkin Vanaver adds that anyone can participate in the dances at the festival, even without any prior knowledge of the Balkan tradition.

“The rhythms and music are so rich and compelling. Even if you don’t know anything about it, the dances are simple enough that the audience can participate in the dancing or just watch. And the food is amazing and incredibly delicious. Elizabeth always has the best bands at her festivals. People can’t afford to travel anymore, so here you have all these fabulous cultures and you can go to Stone Ridge and you don’t even need to have your passport.”

“As a farmer, I have a huge interest in the relationship between music and food and culture,” said Ryan. “On a farm, you can cook outside, you can have animals there.”

When Ryan asked Vanaver how she could make the festival special for him, he asked her to find a lyra player from Crete. Vanaver was the first artist to receive an NEA grant to study an instrument abroad. In 1973, he spent a year in Crete learning to play the Cretan lyra, and later studied in Astoria, Queens with lyra master George Kaloeridis, who collaborated with the Vanavers on their first album together, “Landfall Two” in 1975.

“The fact that Elizabeth was able to arrange for a lyra player to perform is just a real delight for Bill,” said Drapkin Vanaver.

“I may be a full-time farmer, but back before I’d been to egg school, I fell in love with Balkan music,” said Ryan. “I met the Vanavers – it might actually be 40 years ago – and we’ve collaborated for years at Breezy Hill and we’ve remained friends all these years. They’ve been tremendously supportive of my acquiring this orchard and the relationship between nature and music. One of the things I admire about Bill and Livia is in addition to this company that they run in our midsts, they have brought a generosity of spirit and performance to so many events in the Hudson valley, like the Clearwater Festival and Sinterklaas in Rhinebeck. They are very generous with their local community. There’s a lot of giveback that people don’t always realize, so it’s an appropriate time to salute them, and to salute Bill and raise a glass.”

“Seventy is a big number to acknowledge,” said Drapkin Vanver, “so this is a wonderful time to honor Bill in a different way, with a festival celebration for someone right here in the community.”

“This is an incredible community,” said Bill Vanaver. “When I think about turning 70, I guess it’s a milestone, but really the things that have happened in my life are the real milestones — like our son getting married this summer. And the fact that the people that are having this event and honoring me, that has so much more of an impact on me than just the number. I’m filled with gratitude.”

Guests are welcome between 11 a.m. and 11 p.m. to come sing, dance and eat among the fruit trees and frolic to the sounds of the diverse lineup of performers, each of which will bring their own flavor to the festival. Admission is $35, and kids under 10 are free.

In addition to pickling workshops and a demonstration on how to brine grape leaves, there will be a petting zoo, woodside pizza and hard cider tastings. The Vanaver Caravan Youth Dance Company will also be performing a medley of traditional Balkan dances, including makedonsko devojce (Macedonia), moja diridika (Croatia) and kopanitsa (Bulgaria).

Merita is a beloved Albanian singer who is internationally recognized and was named “National Ambassador” by the President of Albania, the highest award an Albanian artist can receive.

The Vanaver Caravan, founded in 1972 by the Vanavers, is a world touring company of musicians and dancers that synthesizes various ethnic and regional styles.

Seido Salifoski, a world-famous Romani drummer from Macedonia, will be performing with his ensemble, Romski Boji. Seido has played darbuka/dumbek in Balkan and Middle Eastern styles for 30 years and is a unique virtuoso.

Caprice Rouge, an acoustic, old world folk ensemble, draws on styles from Romany musicians, Klezmers, and other folk music traditions, will also be joining this astonishing line-up.

Steve Kotansky, a widely-known and respected Balkan dancer and teacher, will debut his performance of “Aristeus and His Bees,” a reenactment of the Greek myth of the legend.

Chris Fasarakis will be performing his Cretan lyra and lauto music and Cherven Traktor will perform traditional and modern Bulgarian folk music on authentic folk instruments.

“We hope you will come partake in this joyous musical event, raise your glasses of our scrumptious hard cider to Bill Vanaver and to our future acquisition of this bountiful orchard!” said Ryan.

For tickets, visit in the “come visit” section. For more information, email or call the Breezy Hill office at 845-266-3979.

Stone Ridge Orchard is located at 3012 Route 213 in Stone Ridge.



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