Expanding Lotus 

The best world music fest in the Midwest

The best world music fest in the Midwest

Bloomington’s Lotus World Music and Arts Festival returns Sept. 22-24, making another growth step in year 12. One sign of the festival’s evolution is the fact that its original three venues (two rooms in the Waldron Arts Center along with Second Story Nightclub) are no longer used because they are too small. Even the areas for music in the streets have expanded from small tents to large stages this year.
Balkan Beat Box will perform Friday at 9:30 p.m. at the Bluebird Nightclub as part of the Lotus Music Festival in Bloomington.

“There were many problems with tents,” says Lotus Festival Director Lee Williams. “The band is on the same level as the crowd. The sound is not ideal in tents, either, and they’re very small. They hold only about 250 people. We’re making the physical experience for our paying customers much better at our outdoor venues because we will have more space for people to move around in, with taller stages and better sound. We’re going to use Sixth Street between Walnut and Washington, along with Fourth Street between College and Walnut.”

Indoor venues for this year’s festival are the Buskirk-Chumley Theater, First Christian Church, First Presbyterian Church, First United Methodist Church and The Bluebird. Third Street Park will be used for Lotus as well, but only on Saturday for a free event called Lotus in the Park. “We’re creating Lotus in the Park especially for people of limited income,” Williams explained, “and for people with families who can’t afford the hundred dollars or so it would take to bring the whole family on Friday or Saturday night.

“We created this event in conjunction with the city, which is paying for this event so we can offer six hours of music, workshops and kids activities for free.”

Lotus in the Park begins at noon on Saturday, Sept. 23 and features the music of Sara Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion, Sidi Goma (Black Sufis of Gujarat, India), the annual Lotus Dickey Tribute and Los Gauchos de Roldan (folk music from Uruguay). There will also be workshops on Sacred Harp singing, Balinese chanting and Ghanian percussion.

Lotus Festival kicks off on 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 22 at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater with a concert called “Women’s Voices,” featuring Canadian folk/roots trio Wailin’ Jennys and African-American gospel/folk singer Ruthie Foster. Later on Thursday night, Puerto Rican plena band Plena Libre performs outdoors on Sixth Street.

The main performance aspect of Lotus Festival has always been the Friday and Saturday night showcases held at multiple venues and this year’s lineup is as exciting as ever. Williams pointed out a few of the highlights. “The one that really stands out in terms of appeal is Seu Jorge from Brazil, because of the burgeoning career that is happening for him right now in film and music. There is definitely a buzz going on with him because of the films he’s been in — City of God and The Life Aquatic. Other artists not to be missed reflect the usual diversity of the Lotus Festival roster, from bluegrass to Afro-pop to Gypsy jazz.

“King Willkie, the bluegrass band, is going to draw a lot of attention,” Williams expects. “They were IBMA [International Bluegrass Music Association] Newcomers of the Year last year and they played at Bean Blossom in 2004. Mamar Kassey, from Niger — people loved them when they were here several years ago. We booked them last year but they had to cancel due to visa problems. The sleeper band of the festival may be Samarabalouf, a French Gypsy jazz band from Paris. They draw on the Django Reinhardt tradition, their lead guitarist is just amazing, and that music is really lively and infectious.”

And the list goes on. Williams continues, “Those who like the virtuoso side of music will love Le Trio Joubran, a Palestinian trio of brothers who all play the oud simultaneously. I’ve seen them live and they’re as good as it gets. The music is complex and challenging, but it is virtuosic. Those into Middle Lura, from Cape Verde, is comparable to Cesaria Evora but a little livelier. Lura started as a backup singer in Cesaria’s band; she’s a fantastic singer. Balkan Beat Box should really appeal to the funky fringe of Lotus. Funkadesi is always popular at Lotus. People still talk about them — Indian music is so incredible mixed with reggae.”

Other artists performing at this year’s Lotus Festival include Badi Assad (Brazilian acoustic guitar), Creole Cowboys (Cajun and Zydeco), Frigg (contemporary Nordic folk), Ana Moura (Portuguese fado), Teada (traditional Celtic) and Jake Shimabukuro, a young virtuoso ukulele player from Hawaii who steps way outside the traditions of his instrument.

In between all the musical action there is much to enjoy in the streets of downtown Bloomington.

According to Williams, “The street scene with parades is going to be more vibrant than we’ve ever had it, and it is all open and accessible without festival wristbands. The visual arts component with banners and giant puppets and everything gets bigger and more exciting every year. We make a lot of the things we give to people to carry in the parades. We’re going to have more parades than ever before.” This year’s street parades will be led by the Kusun Ensemble from Ghana.

Lotus Festival closes on Sunday afternoon, Sept. 25 with the annual free “World Spirit Concert” at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater. This year’s closing show features Moira Smiley and Voco (world a cappella), Nawal (from the Comoros Islands) and Los Gauchos de Roldan.

Tickets for Thursday’s “Women’s Voices” concert are $10 and the Plena Libre street party which follows is $5. Tickets for Friday and Saturday’s multivenue showcases are $30 per night or $50 for a two-night pass ($35 and $60 day of show). Tickets for seniors 65 or older and children 12 and under are $20 per night ($25 day of show). Tickets for IU students with a valid ID are $25 per night ($30 day of show).

Complete festival information can be found at the Lotus Web site: www.lotusfest.org.

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