I saw some Indy faces in the crowd on Friday, and knew more of you were coming down on Saturday. For those of you who wanted to attend Lotus but were swept up by the too-many-doings in Indy last weekend … well, let’s just hope that everything doesn’t happen at once next year.
Now heading into its 12th year, Lotus World Music and Arts Festival features an eclectic and exciting gathering of music from around the world in the small university town setting of Bloomington. Over two dozen acts convened from places like Kyrgyz, Peru, Poland and Ireland. Some didn’t make it — Yat-Kha, the throat singers from Tuva, Mamar Kassey from Nigeria — but there was plenty to choose from and stumble upon in surprise.
The first such surprise came Thursday night. There are only three venues, and about a dozen bands, and so, traditionally, the Thursday night concert is a way to sample a fractal of Lotus offerings. Keep that in mind for next year. The surprise was the African Showboyz from Ghana, a high-energy, five-man band of percussion instruments — one was a round, volleyball-sized gourd that the musician passed back and forth between his hands to create a sea-of-cymbals sound. The Showboyz performed in an outdoor tent setting, quickly getting the audience up and dancing. As the show proceeded, the Showboyz began to do magic tricks with everyday objects like newspaper and water. (Word has it on Friday the Showboyz ate fire and chewed glass as well.)
Following the Showboyz was the Warsaw Village Band, whose hard-core folk sounds from the heart of rural Poland were weird and wonderful — and anything but polkas. Comprised of six musicians, the band was fronted by three women, each of whom had the vocal strength and range to carry a band on her own. They traded solos, and when all three united … it was a sweet tsunami of song.
A Lotus favorite, Väsen, from Sweden, played the Buskirk-Chumley Theater for only a couple of songs before inviting Darol Anger & Mike Marshall (contemporary string musicians) and, later, Frigg (Nordic folk music). The B-C audience was in hog heaven as there were more fiddles on stage than anyone could count. I was reminded of the peerless behavior of Lotus audiences: respect, accolade and pin-drop silence as musicians are tuning or talking to the audience. In that setting, I often fancy a collective connection between us all, as if the audience is one entity, united in its love of music. Did I mention that Lotus featured many fine kinds of beer from the Bloomington-based Upland Brewery?
Friday featured the full flourish of Lotus fun. I had my list and kept abandoning it. First surprise was Mari Boine from Lapland, whose dreamy complex landscape of sound was as much performance art as it was danceable electronica. Except no one danced: I guess everyone was saving it for later. Speaking of electronica, I did intend to see Karsh Kale and was not disappointed. Tabla-player and drummer Kale and his band, Realize, mix East with West so potently and seamlessly, even the directionally challenged can dance. And so we did.
We needed a break, though, and a handful of us went outside for some fresh air. Once there, the Lotus urge to wander gripped us. We followed the sounds of music to a stage that had been erected in the middle of Kirkwood Avenue. This band was not only not on my list, the existence of this stage was heretofore unknown to me and thus it all seemed like a dream. I learned later that the band was the Virgin Islands-based Jamesie and the Allstars who had somehow escaped the tyranny of Ivan to make it to Bloomington. Lotus had suddenly become a street party — one where the purchase of a ticket was not even necessary to attend.
Still, it was time to wrench ourselves away and see the band I’d been awaiting for three years. Kila had cancelled their 2001 Lotus visit due to Sept. 11 and this was their first opportunity to make good on that initial commitment. In the meantime, I had acquired three of their CDs, along with a DVD of a performance that only reinforced my feeling that this extraordinary band is deserving of a Phish-scale following. Hailing from Dublin, Kila mixes traditional Celtic with Gaelic vocalizations, east European gypsy music and African rhythms. Missing their sole female bandmate, Kila focused their show on Friday on percussive jams that had the dance floor full and sweating in beatific Jig-land. One not so enthralled friend later called it “Celtic cock-rock,” but the rest of us caught the groove — and then it wouldn’t let go.
By Saturday night, I was enjoying Fiesta in downtown Indianapolis, but just 50 miles south, there were thousands of revelers wandering between 10 venues, struggling to stick to their lists in the midst of musical riches.