This year’s Lotus Fest was a special treat: Not only did my sister come down for the festivities, but she brought her two daughters, too. We had a blast.
I could write for hours about our whole weekend together, but I want to focus more on the acts we saw. We kicked it off Friday with Barbara Fortuna at the First Presbyterian Church. They are a four-man a cappella group from Corsica singing Serious Music. Their voices were perfectly suited for the setting. Gorgeous and rich. They huddled close together, almost shutting the audience out entirely with an almost circular formation.
The Main Guy (I couldn’t tell what part he was singing) had his hand on the shoulder of the guy next to him, and occasionally would lift that hand and make this sort of shaking motion. I thought it was kind of cool but it drove my sister nuts. She found it pretentious.
As good as they were, we left after three songs. To my sympathetic dismay, the bass singer could not nail his line down. He consistently floated sharp. So there we were with this rich, transportive sound, and one voice kept marring it. It was painful. Was it jet lag? Just an off night? I’m not sure. But it was enough to drive us off.
And on we went, into the arms of Chicha Libre! They were billed as Peruvian surf cumbia, but I didn’t hear any surf influence at all. I just heard what sounded like the thousands of songs my sister has played for me on Mexican radio stations over the last 10 years. Which I can’t stand. So disappointing. We stayed for three songs or so until I couldn’t take it any more, then headed over to the tent by the Waldron where Nation Beat was up.
Nation Beat is “Brazil maracatu meets Americana.” How in the world does anyone write about music? Words can’t convey sound. Or at least, I’ve not seen a successful instance of it.
Anyway, Nation Beat had a great lead singer with huge hair sporting a lime green flower. The music was more danceable than Chicha Libre. The teenagers were kicking it off down by the front of the stage. It was still early in the night and it didn’t seem like many people were around, so the energy of the band was higher than the energy of the crowd. We left in search of food after 20 minutes or so.
Food took longer than I’d expected (my nieces are the pickiest eaters on the planet), but we finally got back on track over at the Buskirk-Chumley with Cimarrón, billed as “muscular” music from the plains of Colombia.
We entered on a song where the lead singer was a woman. I believe it was a slow song. I wasn’t blown away by her voice but the sound was decent. She left the stage after her piece and the band kicked into some “muscular” music indeed. They had that great Gipsy Kings sound where the guitars are treated almost as rhythm instruments. Great harmonies, interesting rhythms. Plus the most gorgeous front man we’d seen. My 13-year-old niece was swooning. Hell, I was swooning. It was hard to leave that one!
On we went to the surprise hit of the festival: Red Baraat, an “Indian bhangra brass band.” By now the festival had heated up and the tent was filled with dancing people. The band was fantastic — very high energy with a great set list. Their music had lots of changes in tempo, which made it highly danceable. You’d go from a moderate “I’m writhing” move into a “get down” funk groove” to a punk “go nuts” melee all in one tune. The lead singer was on a drum (can’t remember the name of it) and did a phenomenal job of interacting with the audience and grooving with the beat. We had a blast.
During the second break we went over to the arts village to hang out with my friend Jeanne, who was managing the area. My sister took the opportunity to set down while my nieces and I added to the street art. I added a pink ankh, niece #2 added a flower, and niece #1 added a cow. Go figure.
This break became yet another search for food, this time to Greek’s for their pizza by the slice, which was just outstanding. We were revving up for the primo act of the festival, Funkadesi. But first! We went by Moscow Nights over at the First Presbyterian. I really wish we could’ve stayed longer. My sister and the girls were jonesin’ to see Funkadesi and we entered Moscow Nights just as they decided to do a teach-in on the different instruments. I would’ve been much more interested in just hearing them play. We’d heard a few tunes out in the hallway while we waited to get in and they sounded fantastic. Great traditional Russian music played on three instruments, including my beloved balalaika.
So after not-enough-time, we finally ran back to the Lifecycle tent (by Monroe Bank) and entered the world of love that is Funkadesi. It’s been several years since they’ve been to the festival and they were very welcome! I think they were playing some reggae tune when we entered, much to my dismay, since I can’t dance to reggae to save my life. It’s too mellow. I’m just not that cool.
But they soon went on to their mixed repertoire of funk, Afro-pop, reggae, and Indian influences. Their female lead singer is so talented—and this time we got to hear her rap! It was great. We lamented that she was wearing a headscarf, because she has beautiful long black hair. And then the male lead singer is like some shining beacon of pure love. He’s great! It was a real pleasure to rock out with them.
One of the things that I noticed about several of the bands over the weekend was their focus on “peace—love—unity!” I kept thinking it’s something we should incorporate into Kaia shows.
Saturday we stumbled to the Farmers Market for kettle corn and a poesy for my sister (who treacherously chose to sleep in while the rest of us wandered around bleary-eyed). We went back to fetch her and hit Runcible Spoon for a yummy brekkie. Then it was down to Third Street Park for Lotus in the Park, an event my business sponsors each year.
First up was Hudsucker Posse, the only local act playing at Lotus this year. I was disappointed in their show. I’d seen them at the Fourth of July parade and thought they were tighter and more high energy. They consist of a three-piece ensemble and numerous hoola hoop dancers. After a while it became impossible to see because so many people were wandering in front of us. So we went over to the tent where niece #1 made a noisemaker.
Both nieces said they wanted to try hula hooping but they chickened out. Who knows if they will regret it in years to come! Regardless, our next stop was the Oreka TX workshop at the IU Global Pavilion tent. Their set-up was wooden boards set on a flat surface. They then used mallets to bang on the boards to create this great percussive sound. But the twist is that there are two players on the same board, and all the music is improvised. It was fascinating. The players were great musicians. I couldn’t tell that the music was improvised because it was so tight. Really great stuff.
We weren’t interested in the other acts so we spent the afternoon resting, shopping, and doing a quick tour of the IU campus, where my sister and I confessed our dreadful college stories.
Then it was on to night #2. We didn’t have anyone we wanted especially to see that night except Red Baraat, so we knew it would be a low-key night of wandering around. We started with Crooked Still at the Lifecycle tent, who were supposed to be playing old-time music. None of us cared for it very much. We stayed for the requisite three songs and moved on. To…I cant remember. None of the bands I’m looking at on the schedule next to me here looks familiar.
So! I do recall that we took part in the parade. Or rather, niece #1 and I did. My sis and my other niece were knackered by that time and decided to sit it out. We saw a fire eater and a magician in the street, accompanied by a boy (about 10 years old) who was doing a surprisingly competent job of drumming along. (Other street performances included drummers by the Athena store, Dark Side Tribal doing belly dance in front of the Bus-Chum, an accordion player wearing a formal dress and a mask, a punk band inside the skateboard shop Rise, and a troupe of dancers who acted out Michael Jackson’s Thriller video. Classic Lotus.)
After much standing about in confusion, Red Baraat showed up and off we went. I shouldn’t have gone. I was in tremendous pain already from so much time on my feet, and a slow walk for 87 blocks just made it worse. Niece #1 was formidable, however, whenever we decided we’d fallen too far behind Red Baraat. She’s tall and built like a football player. She’d go first and clear the way while I’d slip in after her. It was fun.
I believe we once again went for food, so were late heading into the second set of the night. We passed by the tent at the courthouse where Emeline Michel was singing Haitian songs (not our cup of tea) and headed over to the First United Methodist Church for Mariam Martossian singing Armenian folk songs.
She had an outstanding voice. As Jane put it, a cross between Amy and Ardas. The ability to stay right in the center of the pitch matched with a sweet brightness that fit perfectly. The songs were beautiful. Her stage show, however, could use a little work. Her intros were very long and overly dramatic, with long pauses while her band just stared at the floor. She spent most of her time singing with her eyes closed, which left me feeling cut off from her. She did have extremely sparkly bracelets on, which was a major plus for me. 😉
Niece #2 signalled us to leave but then could offer no explanation why. I would’ve been happy to sit (sit! blessed word!) around a while longer, but off we went to the Lifecycle tent yet again for the Sierra Leone Refugee All-Stars. They did indeed play a “reggae African mix.” I was so disappointed not to like them.
The band members really are refugees from Sierra Leone. They met in a refugee camp and began playing music there. They’d been forced to do terrible things in the war, the worst of which was being forced to kill their families. From those horrors came the call for peace, love, and unity.
Unfortunately, as mentioned above, I can’t dance to reggae. And I detest Afro-pop. The songs just go on for way too long and are way too repetitive for my taste. I tried to like them, I really did, but after our three songs (which felt like an hour), we decided to leave. Their stage show had been high energy but there were some dance moves going on up there that struck this non-prude as just plain vulgar. “The Dancing Butt” is how it shall forever be remembered in my mind.
We had the second break to get through, and then went back to the Lifecycle tent (I swear, we spent the whole festival there) to hear Red Baraat. What a show! My sister and the girls lasted about 3 or 4 songs before needing to set down. I stayed on the floor and danced my tail off. The sound was tremendous—very percussive and in your face. It was loud enough to deafen anyone within a five-mile radius. I kept checking my cell phone to see if my sister was ringing me off the floor, but it was clear sailing. I was in terrible pain but determined to have a great time. And so I did!
We wrapped up the night with a trip to Taco Hell and then my sis and I stayed up late talking. We could have gone to the World Spirit Concert on Sunday, but everyone agreed we’d had enough. We all just wanted to laze around.
Kaia had rehearsal Sunday afternoon, so I brought my posse along for the ride. It’s the closest they’ll get to seeing us perform (we’re running sets in prep for our People’s Park gig Tuesday), so all they had to do was stay awake. Which proved to be a challenge for them, but they made it through. We then sat around and swapped stories about Lotus, where I regretted our not making it over to hear more of Cimarrón and a little of The India Enterprise (Indian classical music).
Sunday night and Monday were “quality time with the couch” days as I tried to recover. I greatly enjoyed the 17th annual Lotus Festival and look forward to #18. Sis is already talking about bringing the girls again, this time with friends in tow. We’ll see!
(I was going to go back through and add links to all these band names, but am too lazy. Google them if you want to find out more. :-))