Kaia at MLK ’09

Tonight we (Kaia) performed at the City’s MLK Day celebration. It was a tricky 9-minute set of 6 pieces of music linked by spoken word. When we met for sound check I completely blanked on all the narration! Quite the panic. Jacob, The Bus-Chum Sound Guy, did a great job as usual. I sent over a diagram for mic setup and we only had a few tiny adjustments to make. He made some suggestions that saved us all time and trouble.

Then I came home and practiced my lines! This time I practiced while waving my hand in front of my face — not only did it simulate a strobe light effect (j/k), it simulated an environment of distraction. After many run-throughs I curled up quietly on the bed and spent some time meditating on the civil rights movement.

I’ve seen so many documentaries and read about that period of U.S. history (primarily the late ’50s and ’60s) that sometimes I feel like I understand it. But I can’t understand it, not fully, no many how many protests I’ve been to or how many ways I get discriminated against. I’m far more privileged than not, and it’s a dishonor to those who joined in the struggle and risked the Klan and military might to think otherwise.

I had a gut feeling that we were going to go on sooner than we anticipated, so I made sure to get there early. I always get very “internal” before a show, pulling into myself and getting very focused. I don’t like to talk and I don’t like a lot of distraction. Having spent enough time in crowded dressing rooms has inured me to that, though! 

The Kaiasistahs were in fine form tonight. We invoked Jane several times (how we miss her!), did some simple warm-ups, and ran the set quickly. Then we did the traditional Kaia cheer (done before every performance) and headed up to the backstage area. We could hear a little of John Whikehart’s (Ivy Tech-Bloomington chancellor) speech. After some quotes from MLK delivered by a cute kid from a local school, we were on. 

How I love the Bus-Chum. It’s a great performance space. It seems so big but it’s actually a very reachable performance space. My beloved high school auditorium was over twice as large but the Bus-Chum has a little of that “gathering in” feel to make performers feel at home.

The set itself went by in about four and a half seconds. I hit every cue and remembered every necessary line — woo-hoo! It started very heavy, with Strange Fruit to start off, followed by four lines from In The Mississippi River. We could really feel the audience start to key into us on that second piece. 

We then moved into two verses from Oh Freedom and got some audience members to clap (MLK audiences are traditionally pretty sedentary but attentive). Eyes On The Prize went over well, keeping the audience with us. I don’t know if anyone there remembered I Love Everybody from last year, but it felt really good to sing at the slower pace and with big smiles.

For my intro to On Our Way To Freedom Land, I got to say how, for all intents and purposes, the Bush administration ends tonight! There was a big emotional response along with some clapping and hollering. It felt so good to say, “Erev Obama — we are on our way to freedom land!” We then blistered through the piece with Jenny and Lorraine wailing like soulful banshees. 

The audience response was very warm and we had a nice three-bow ending before zooming off-stage. We burbled downstairs to the dressing room where we shut the door and did some celebratory woo-hoo-ing. We were all on a major performance high. We’d made only very minor fluffs. I’m amazed that we pulled the whole thing off, completely memorized, after being handed the concept cold only 3 weeks ago. Go, Kaia! When I get frustrated, I need to remind myself of these things so I appreciate what goodness I have!

Amy, Lorraine, and I were able to stay after for the rest of the program. The keynote address by Bishop Woodie White was extremely moving. The most riveting story he shared was when he and two white colleagues tried to enter a Mississippi church during Freedom Summer and they were arrested. The church was his denomination, but he wasn’t allowed to enter because he was black. He and his colleagues were arrested for trespassing and “disturbing worship.” They were held four days before bail money was raised ($2k apiece)! I can’t imagine being a person of color in the South at that time, held in a white jail. I got that shiver that comes from being in the presence of living history.

He also mentioned his college roommate, who was white, Southern, from Mississippi, and had a pronounced accent. Danger, Will Robinson! Only it turned out that this man had been in jail more times than White on behalf of securing freedom for African-Americans. Topping it off was the mention of the scars on his roommate’s face — the result of an attack where the Klan tried to kill him. White talked about how he’d written this man off before he even knew his name, based on the color of his skin and the place he was from. And how wrong he was to do it. The whole story was arresting and a great set piece for describing how we internalize stereotypes and social prejudices.

So tonight my belly is full of a massive ice cream sundae, I’ve watched His Girl Friday to help me ride out the sugar/post-performance high, and I’m very much looking forward to tomorrow’s inauguration. I think the biggest thing to comprehend will be that Bush’s reign of terror is over. I can’t quite believe it. Who knows what he’ll do on his way out the door, but all my hopes are riding on America rising to the challenge of going with the better angels of our nature rather than reacting from fear and anxiety. I feel once again that chill down the back of living history, knowing we stand on the cusp between “chaos or community.” I pray we will choose, as a nation, to embrace hope.

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One Response to Kaia at MLK ’09

  1. Denise says:

    “in the complex arena of human relations, help us to make choices on the side of love, not hate; on the side of inclusion, not exclusion; tolerance, not intolerance.” aho, rev. lowery. nice post. thanks for sharing your experiences and reflections.

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