Veselica - party, business and fundraiser
It is not easy to describe what a veselica is. A rural party unique to Slovenia, it is heavy on traditional polka and its more modern renditions, with ample amounts of booze and fatty food. It is unbridled fun - but also big business for performers and a vital source of money for the organisers.
Almost every decent-sized village and town in Slovenia has at least one veselica per year, typically organised by local volunteer firefighter associations - of which there are about 1,300 in the country.
Almost every association organises at least one veselica per year to raise funds for their firefighting work, according to Iztok Zajc of the Ljubljana Fire brigade.
There are no nation-wide figures available, but some insight can be gleaned from music revenue. Data by SAZAS, an association which collects royalties on behalf of musicians and which event organisers are required to report to whenever there is live music involved, suggests that there are 570 veselicas per year on average, a figure which excludes Covid years 2020 and 2021.
Veselicas are organised from May to late autumn but June is the peak month since the weather is already warm and most people are not yet on holiday. For the 30 June - 2 July weekend alone veselice.si, a website that tracks veselicas, found more than thirty around the whole country.
Bigger events can easily attract several thousand people. A recent veselica in Grosuplje, south of Ljubljana, recorded around 3,000 guests according to data shared with the STA by the organisers. Conservatively assuming there are 1,500 guests on average at a veselica, one can surmise that almost one in two Slovenians go to a veselica every year.
Preparations take weeks
The key ingredients of a veselica are accordion music, barbecued food and a raffle. Janez Kavšek, president of the Grosuplje Volunteer Fire Brigade, says more than 120 members of his organisation and their colleagues are involved in the preparations, all of them working for free.
This is the only way for a veselica to be financially viable. "If we had to pay for all the services that our members perform, we would definitely not break even," he says.
Preparations are typically launched two months before and intensify in the final week, when volunteers work from morning to night arranging the final paperwork, security measures, ambulance teams, parking, tents, and the stage.
They also have to buy the food and drinks. Kavčič says that this is the most difficult part. At the Grosuplje gig guests chowed down 300 kilo of čevapčiči and about the same amount of fries.
Music choice critical
The choice of performers is critical since big names attract big crowds. Prices vary considerably and not all organisers can afford the big bands.
Data by omisli.si, a website that matches performers with event organisers, show the average performer - a veselica typically has more than one band - costs €1,200. The cheapest ones will perform for €230, the pricier ones demand as much as €4,300 per evening.
Some particularly popular bands are booked months or even years in advance, according to Mitja Pritržnik, who runs the website.
The band Modrijani, who are reportedly sold out more than a year in advance, are veselica superstars and data by SAZAS shows they are the top performer, along with Dejan Vunjak, Ansambel Nemir and Mambo Kings.
And music is precisely what primarily attracts people to veselicas. "There's things going on for adults and for kids, there's a lot of joy," said Veronika, a guest at the Grosuplje veselica. She likes to go to a veselica at least every two weeks, even just for an hour or two.