On a week when you already have your proverbial plate heaping full, a weekend we here at NUVO affectionately call "clusterfuck weekend," consider further complicating your itinerary with a trip to Bloomington to enjoy the Midwest's best music festival.
How can I be so hyperbolic as to say "Midwest's best"? It's subjective, of course, but when you combine the musical content of the festival with the price (some of it is even free) as well as the sheer do-ability of it all (once there, you can do the entire festival on foot), the now 17 year-old Lotus World Music & Arts Festival is a sublime time to party.
This year, Lotus is comprised of 25 groups, 140 individual musicians and 2 parades, stretching over four days, Sept. 16-19.
A Thursday night showcase ("Women of Lotus") at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater kicks off the festival, and then the musical showcases begin in earnest on Friday, followed by a free Saturday performance in Third Street Park, featuring six different groups. Saturday night's showcase of music is punctuated by a Bloomington-wide parade, mid-evening, led by bhangra brass band Red Baraat (see Scott Hall's profile). Finally, on Sunday, a free World Spirit Concert will be held at Buskirk-Chumley Theater.
The budget for this festival? "About $200,000," says Lotus Fest's executive and artistic director Lee Williams. Williams admits this year's fundraising was a struggle, "as many businesses continued to have financial difficulties due to the lingering recession." Lotus received arts grant money, including a decisive grant from the NEA.
As always, Lotus presents a mixture of rocking dance opportunities (the reggae African mix of Sierra Leone's Refugee All-Stars; the Peruvian surf sounds of Chicha Libre; plus, returning favorites Funkadesi and Kinobe & Soul Beat Africa) and listening pleasures like old-time Crooked Still, the Quebecois folk of Genticorum, and the beguiling, Ethiopian-born Meklit Hadero.
Williams says that seventeen years into organizing Lotus, he continues "to be in awe of all the volunteers, the local community who invite family from other states to stay with them or pitch a tent in the backyard and all the artists who travel such great distances to a small midwestern town they have never heard of." Williams, working the festival, tends to "view the artists through the prism of the audience's reactions. It's always a thrill to see a large crowd of people experience the joy of live music."
We longtime Lotus revelers continue to be in awe of this festival, too; its small-town vibe with a global scope.
At a glance:
Lotus World Music & Arts Festival, downtown Bloomington, Sept. 16-19
Women of Lotus concert: Sept. 16, 7 p.m. at Buskirk-Chumley Theater; $15 advance, $20 door
Evening showcases: Sept. 17-18 at venues throughout downtown Bloomington; $35 advance, $40 door for one-day ticket; $54 advance, $64 door for Fri-Sat pass; student and senior discounts available
World Spirit concert: Sept. 19, 2 p.m. at Buskirk-Chumley Theater; $5 or 2010 Lotus pin
Free concerts and parades: Sept. 18 from noon in downtown Bloomington