Monday, July 24, 2006

Stick Fest, Gratitude, Hiawatha

Hello again,

It has been such a great two weeks since I last wrote in the blog. On Saturday the 19th I played tabla and conga with Steve Osburn on the stick, and Maruga Booker on the drumset at the 1st National Chapman Stick Festival in downtown Ann Arbor, MI. Mickey Richard sat in on a couple of tunes with his electric guitar and Craig Brann helped us out with some guiro. It was an interesting show. I really liked playing with Maruga, although our sound on stage was a little out of adjustment, the feeling was solid and groovy. I have been listening to Steve practice and rehearse his pieces for quite a while now, so I was very familiar with them, which always helps in a performance :) The set was just over a half hour long in the middle of a very hot sunny day. The stick fest lasted all day and had some of the top chapman stick players from around the country, including Emmet Chapman himself. It was interesting to see all the different styles of stick players. Later in the day I got to sit in on a jam with Bob Culbertson, Steve Adelson and Maruga. It was a great way to spend the afternoon, and to top it all off, as I was standing in the street watching, Ken Kozora came up to me and asked if I wanted to play with him and Mickey Richard just down the street at the Crazy Wisdom Tearoom. I grabbed my tabla out of the truck and went down and played till 11:30pm. It was a great day. Check out http://www.stickfest.org for pictures soon.


The next week I played two concerts in two parks with The Gratitude Steel Band. The first one was on Wednesday at Hines Metropark near Farmington, MI. It was a nice little show. We did alot of games with hula hoops, beachballs, and the limbo. Lamar Woodall came out and played some lead pan with us. It was great to play with him again. It has been a while and he is such a good player.
The next night was in the city of Gross Pointe Woods. It was a more intimate setting with a smaller stage and relaxed crowd. We played a lot of the same games for the kids. The music was sounding nice and everyone in the group was relaxed and feeling good. It is great to go to work and have everyone smiling and working together so well!

On Friday Jody and left for the U.P. for the 28th annual Hiawatha Traditional Music Festival (http://hiawathamusic.org/). I was scheduled to play in 2 workshops and host another. It was great to go back to my hometown of Marquette and be involved in a festival that I grew up with. The workshops went great. I played tabla with a West African ensemble made up of a kora player Mady Kouyate, African banjo master Cheick Hamala Diabate, a djembe player who introduced himself at Ishmael and a baliphone player whose name I can't recall at the moment. The sound of the tabla and their instruments was so nice. Cheik Hamala loved it. We talked a lot afterwords about how well the sounds went toghether. Hopefuly it will not be the last time I can play with them, they were the nicest guys, and incredible musicians.
Later in the day I hosted a World Percussion Workshop with Jessica Ross and Nick Joseph helping me out. It was so much fun. We brought a ton of instruments and had everyone playing and clapping. It was only an hour long and felt like it could have been two. The last workshop was a simple jam workshop where a whole bunch of guitar, mandolin, violin, flute, and percussion players sat in a circle and played. It was very mellow.
I had such a great time at the festival. It is a true gem. I hope to come back next year. When the music is over, the festival goers sit around camfires and play music all night. It is like being in a great musical dream.

Now it is time to head back to Ann Arbor and do another hand drum workshop tonight. I feel inspired. Thanks for reading.

John

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Lots of Gratitude

Hello again,

The Gratitude Steel Band has been playing more than ever lately, and lucky for me, they have been taking me on a lot of their gigs. Two weeks ago on Saturday we had another double header. The first one was a house party in West Bloomfield. It was hot and 4 hours long. We set up in front of a pool and I watched kids use the pool slide and do cannonballs. The music was sounding good and it was a pretty mellow gig. We were using the playing time to warm up and rehearse tunes for the big show later that day down in Detroit.
It was the Jazz on Jefferson music festival. I invited one of my longtime students, Jeremy Bilyeu, to come along. He was a big help hauling equipment and getting us to the second show on time. When we got to the stage, there was a drumset already set up and ready to go, so my job was easy. Jeremy and I got to check out Thornetta Davis, who was on right before us. The sound was great, the stage was nice, and the crowd was gettin' down. We set up quick and started playing as if not to lose a beat from the previous job, only this time the sound was big and booming and instead of watching kids in a pool, people were watching us.
It is great how a band can really come together when they are on a big stage together. It is like the reality of one sound coming out of huge speakers brings everyone together and lifts the spirit and energy of the performance. I was excited to have the Arkansas Traveler, Mr. Larry McDaniel give our introduction. He is the host of the longest running bluegrass radio show in the country. I have listened to him many times on the way to Gratitude gigs. It is as close as I have gotten to mixing bluegrass music and Caribbean steel drums. As an extra treat, two amazing tap dancers came up on stage and traded solos with each other as we played for them. At one point it was just me and the tap dancers playing. They sounded so good that the crowd lept up on it's feet and cheered wildly. The stage was a little cramped when they were up there and all I could see were the feet of the guy on my right. The stage floor had a rubber coating and his shoes were tearing it up, literaly! By the end of the second song you could see the little circle he was dancing in and the marks of all the crazy maneuvers he was pulling off. It was a little hard to follow that act, but we did a cover of Stevie Wonder's 'Sir Duke' and the crowd was back with us again. It was a great experience and I hope to be on the big stage again soon.

A week later on Friday I played with the Ann Arbor Kirtan group. Kirtan is an Indian practice of call and response chanting between a performer and an audience, (to put it very simply). There has been a craze lately in the west of western performers performing on western and world instruments for mostly western crowds and it is becoming a practice all it's own. I had been rehersing with this group off and on for over a year, so it was great to finally have a performance. It went very well. There were about 30 people and the group sounded great. I think we are going to try to perform about once a month in the Ann Arbor community. Friday's perfromance was at the Friends Meeting house just outside of central campus. It was a nice little hall that fit everyone comfortably and made for a nice evening. Two hours of tabla playing took its toll on my left wrist, which slides back and fourth on the drum. I ended up with a nice little blister. Truly suffering for my art ; )

The next day I was on the road down to Huron River Metro Park for a big corporate summer party with Gratitude. It was a long 6 hour gig, (4 hour gigs wind up being a full 8 hour day of work when you count set up, drive time and tear down). It was fun just to play in a park, but we were set up just downwind of Famous Daves BBQ catering tables and the wind was blowing strong. I felt like I left the gig fully basted with a layer of the Famous smokehouse BBQ sauce from head to toe.

The next show was on the 4th of July. It was with Gratitude on a big tractor trailer for the longest parade in Southeast Michigan. I think the town was Clawson. We had our friend Kelly on the electronic drums too, so the beats were pumping hard. Everyone we passed was dancing and clapping. I had just as much fun watching all the people as they did watching us. When the parade was over and we had to drive back to the staging area to unload, the driver got going a bit fast and we almost lost our instruments off the back of the truck. It made things a little tense once we stopped, but we got over it and had a fun time breaking down. Kelly was blasting some Calypso from his van and we were doing the limbo, laughing and having our own little celebration.

Last night I played with Deep Blue at Cafe Felix again and found out that in keeping with their recent remodeling of the cafe, menue, and uniforms, that they also want to remodel the music that the band playes. The manager gave some examples of diferent kinds of music that he would like to hear and asked if we could do it. I am all for it, but I know it is not easy to please when someone hears something different that what you have been playing. It requires a lot of flexibility and willngness to change, and can sometimes backfire if you are not digging what you are playing. I guess we will see how it goes.

Well, I guess that is it for now. Tonight I will be playing hand drums in Ypsilanti at a coffee shop called Bombadills. It is for an acoustic show with Paledave. I think I may even play the bass on a couple of songs. I will keep you posted. Thanks for reading, and I will write again soon.

John

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