There's a reason Bloomington's Lotus Fest has been around for 21 years. Every autumn, Lotus Fest organizers bring a carefully curated selection of the world's greatest musicians to the Hoosier state for a weekend full of unforgettable performances.
In addition to the always brilliant artist lineups, Lotus Fest benefits from a thoughtful approach to the sequencing and placement of acts within the festival schedule. The Lotus format allows attendees the option of choosing among a rich variety of concert experiences, from intimate chamber style performances to all-out street parties highlighting global hip-hop and dance music styles.
The considerations outlined above are just a few of the reasons why I regard Lotus as the best music festival in Indiana. While the 24 groups on this year's Lotus roster don't feature as many star acts as years past, that's really not the point anyway. The joy of Lotus is often found in the experience of discovering exciting new sounds, and this year's schedule provides ample opportunity.
If you decide to make the trek to Bloomington for Lotus this weekend, below is a list of performers I recommend checking out.
Honduran musician Aurelio Martinez is one of the greatest living exponents of Garifuna music, and my top pick for Lotus Fest 2014. The Garifuna people of Central America represent one of the world's most unique cultural traditions. A blend of African and indigenous Caribbean ancestry, the Garifuna people have become famous for their vibrant form of music and dance called punta. The intensely percussive sound of punta exemplifies one of the best-preserved African music traditions in the Americas. Martinez is a master of the more traditional side of Garifuna music, and his soulful vocals are captivating. In addition to being an iconic Central American performer, Martinez is also the first black person to become a congressman in the National Congress of Honduras.
Van-Ahn Vanessa Vo
As a singer, composer and virtuoso performer on several traditional Vietnamese instruments Van-Ahn Vanessa Vo is a one-women musical tour de force. While Vo is most closely associated with playing the Vietnamese zither (called the àn tran), she also performs on the dan bau, one of my favorite instruments in the world. The quivering tones produced by the one-stringed dan bau sound at times like a theremin.
Sergio Mendoza Y La Orkesta
Channeling a variety of sounds from Mexico and the American Southwest Mendoza and company have created a compelling and danceable style they call "indie mambo." Featuring waves of shimmering psychedelic slide guitar washing over the percolating cumbia and rumba rhythms, Mendoza's indie mambo sound comes highly recommended by me.
Conceptually speaking, the idea of blending Swedish hip-hop with big band era swing jazz didn't sound exceptionally appealing to me. My apprehension was misplaced – the mix works, and it's quite fun too. Swedish trio Movits! have become major crowd favorites at Lotus, and they'll be making their third appearance at the festival this year.
The seven-piece Arga Bileg play American jazz on Mongolian folk instruments creating a thoroughly unique sound you're not likely to see on Indiana soil outside the confines of Lotus Fest.
If you've never experienced the thundering rhythms of a Japanese taiko drum ensemble Toronto's Nagata Shachu will provide an excellent opportunity. The six-member ensemble will likely be the loudest group at Lotus this year.
A Cultural Manifesto is now available on WFYI's HD2 radio. Tune in Wednesdays at 7 p.m. and Saturdays at 3 p.m. as NUVO's Kyle Long explores the merging of a wide variety of music from around the globe with American genres like hip-hop, jazz, and soul.