Kern County Basques Throw Annual Festival

Bakersfield youngsters keep up their culture through folk dancing.
Bakersfield youngsters keep up their culture through folk dancing. Photo by Linda Iriart.

The day began with clouds and rain, but the gloomy weather gave way to sunshine as several thousand people enjoyed the 39th Annual Kern County Basque Festival in Bakersfield.

The well-wishers descended on the festival grounds for a day filled with culture, sports and great food and entertainment. This year’s festival featured the annual NABO Pilota Txapelketa, which pitted men’s and women’s teams from Bakersfield, Boise, Chino and San Francisco against each other. The championship tournament, which was held on Saturday May 28, was filled with competitive and hard-fought matches.

Festival goers were also treated to exhibition pilota matches by athletes from the Basque County. These action-packed games, organized by Jose Recondo, have become a highlight of the festival. This year’s pilotaris were Xabier Urberuaga from Aulesti, Bizkaia; Patxi Larramendi from Eulate,Navarra; Asier Berasaluze IX from Berriz, Bizkaia, and Ibai Bengoetxea VII from Leiza, Navarra.

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Competition was also intense inside the clubhouse, where mus players tested their skills in championship card-game action.

Bakersfield and Chino boys join for the traditional dances. Photo by Linda Iriart
Bakersfield and Chino boys join for the traditional dances. Photo by Linda Iriart

The Bakersfield festival, organized by the Kern County Basque Club, is probably the largest of the Basque festivals in California, attracting Basques from all over the state and other regions. The importance of Kern County’s Basque community was underscored when two elected officials– Assemblywoman Shannon Grove and Kern County Supervisor Karen Goh — stopped by the festival to soak up some culture and mingle with their constituents.

“I love the perpetuation of the culture,” said Goh, who represents an area that includes East Bakersfield.

The crowd dances to the music of Luhartz from the Basque Country
The crowd dances to the music of Luhartz from the Basque Country. Photo by Linda Iriart

In the evening, the dancing was non-stop as the Luhartz band, which was invited by the club from the Basque Country, belted out great music. The group’s members, who have played in Bakersfield previously, appreciated seeing Basque culture on display and said the party reminded them of great festivals back home

Georges Petrissans plays the bugle for the club klika. Photo by Linda Iriart
Georges Petrissans plays the bugle for the club klika. Photo by Linda Iriart

Luhartz's Aintzane Uria and Rafa Iriondo. Photo: Euskal Kazeta.
Luhartz's Aintzane Uria and Rafa Iriondo performed during the pilota matches. Photo: Euskal Kazeta.

Basque Handball Players
Basque handball players thrilled festival crowds with some athletic plays. Photo: Euskal Kazeta.