As you’ve probably heard by now, 2020 is a Jaialdi year! Jaialdi, which means festival in Euskara, is the biggest Basque festival in the United States, possibly the biggest outside of the Basque Country. It is held every five years at the end of July, the weekend of San Ignacio.
- The first Jaialdi was held in 1987, attracting some 30,000 visitors. At the time, it wasn’t envisioned as a recurring event, but, with the Idaho centennial in 1990, the then-governor of Idaho, Cecil Andrus, asked that another be organized. After the phenomenal success of the second Jaialdi, it was decided to hold the event every 5 years.
- The first Jaialdi was held at the Old Idaho State Penitentiary. However, the festival quickly grew too large for that space and was moved to the Western Idaho Fairgrounds. I admit, I miss the intimacy and just cool feel of the Penitentiary. It was cool watching all of the events while being surrounded by those massive stone walls. But, progress means change and the Fairgrounds can accommodate all of the guests. Actually, Jaialdi is split between the Fairgrounds and the Basque Block in downtown Boise, where a lot of events and milling of people happen.
- As one would expect, Jaialdi is full of Basque flavor. There are continual dance performances, featuring the most seasoned dancers from the United States and the Basque Country, to the youngest beginners, who always draw the most “oohs” and “awws.” There are lots of sporting exhibitions, from the most traditional txinga carry to more unique events, such as one in which the athlete has to use a rope through a pulley to pull a bail of hay up and down as many time as possible, using gravity to lift himself in the air. There are also lots of vendors selling the coolest Basque-themed gear you could ever want.
- In addition to the events at the Fairgrounds and the music on the Basque Block, there are other special events, including Sports Night, a rural sports competition featuring weight lifting and wood chopping, and Festara, a celebration of Basque music and dance. And, scattered throughout the festival are other activities and lectures. At the last Jaialdi, for example, I attended a great lecture by Christine Bender on Basque whaling. These little gems make the festival so much richer.
- Jaialdi is full of lots of Basque activity. However, that wasn’t really what drew my dad there. Sure, he’d watch some dances and some of the sporting events, but what really made him want to go was the people. He’d sort of just park himself somewhere on the Fairgrounds and there would be a continuous stream of people he knew but hadn’t seen for years, from old sheepherder friends to farmers and ranchers he knew from his hay route. It was almost like one huge family reunion, with all of the old timers reminiscing about the good old days. It’s similar for me, where the best part is just running in to old friends, making new ones. In the end, it’s all about the people, and there are lots of great ones at Jaialdi.
Primary sources: Euzkaldunak, Jaialdi 2020.