Saturday, September 01, 2007

Short Reflection, Gratitude@ OCC, Cheeseburger Festival, Wing Lake, and Howel; Kirtan

Hello,

When I started this blog back in 2005, my first thoughts were about regret that I had not started it sooner. I had been through a couple of very busy and interesting years in my post-CalArts climb into the real world. Within the first week of moving back to Michigan, had two private teaching jobs, one in Southfield and one in Ann Arbor, and I began playing with the Gratitude Steel band.
The first year was all bout playing any and every show Gratitude would throw my way. If you take a look back at my blog entries, you will see that I play with the band a lot, however, I only play around half of the shows that they do. They work HARD, and in the first year, I was right beside them on almost everything. One day we would be on a yaht in Lake St. Clair, and the next we would be at a 10 year-old's birthday party, then the next we would play for the governor, followed by a community concert. It was a never ending slew of random shows. Usually I did not know where I would be heading, all I would have was an address and a time to be there.
Actually, thinking back, I don't know if I would have even had time to write in a blog. Ecspecially when I began my schooling again at U of M Flint. At one point in life, I was living in Linden, MI. Traveling 15mi. north to Flint to go to school full time, then rushing down to Ann Arbor to teach, (about 35 students a week), having rehearsals at night with various groups, (like the U of M ICMD), and then driving home at midnight to do it all over again. On top of that, for the entire winter of 2003-2004, I was playing with Gratitude at the Motor City Casino for 4 hours on Friday, 6 hours on Saturday, and another 4 hours on Sunday. Thinking back, I am so thankfull I was not in an accident on my hour ride home at 4 or 5 in the morning from downtown Detroit.
Once I finished at U of M, got my teaching certification, and then landed my ideal teaching job at Go Like the Wind, (which, by the way, is a school were a teaching certificate is desired, but not required!). Things began to calm down a lot. This past summer has been one of my most enjoyable, relaxing, and productive summers ever. I don't regret any of the craziness of the past years, and I am grateful for the experience. Perhaps someday I will try and write about some of those past experiences, but for now, I am having enough trouble keeping up with the NOW.......so let's get to it.
As I look back on my calendar, the 14th of August has 2 things written, one says "Gratitude @ OCC" and the other says "babysitting". Usually, when my wife and I are babysitting our 2 nephews and niece, it is desireable for me not to have any shows to play. This time was different though. My oldest nephew Gavin is now 7 years old, and he has been learning music with me since he was just a baby, (he even has his own album with his brother Liam, [one of the tracks is about their sister Delanie : ) ]). I have been waiting for the time when he was old enough to come with me to a show and this was the time. My original plan was that he would come, help out with the set-up, and then sit backstage until it was over. It turned out, (with a little pushing from his uncle), that Gavin was ready to be on stage with the band! I brought a hand drum, and he even got to wear the band shirt. He played the entire 2 hour show, and got more compliments than everyone in the band combined! I was so proud of him, and he actually sounded great. We were on a nice big stage on the campus of Oakland Community College. It was the last show in their summer series, but only the second show that they had outdoors due to weather. It was a nice crowd, around 200 people, very appreciative. A great perfomance debut for a 7 year old.

The following Friday was another Kirtan event. I had missed the month prior because of the Hiawatha Festival, so Atmaram, the harmonium player had the P.A. system. Usually, I am the one who brings and sets up the P.A., but this time I showed up and it was all set up and ready to go. It was a nice start to the evening. Doing a Kirtan show is a very unique experience because as soon as it begins there is no sound except for the chanting. When the chants are over, it becomes completely silent. That is a big part of the experience. I suppose it is a practice of internalizing the feelings and sensations that are created by the singing and meditate on them. I am usually distracted from that due to the fact that I must prepare for the next chant. Also, playing straight grooves on tabla for 15-20minutes at a time can be daunting on the hands at times. I guess I use the Kirtan experience as a meditation for my tabla playing more than anything. I find that towards the end, I am playing much lighter on my drums, and getting much more focused tones. I challenge myself to get to that point of balance earlier and earlier. I think the ideal would be to begin the night in perfect balance, but it never seems to happen that way. I guess I will just keep practicing!

The next day was a little hectic. I was slated to play the Cheeseburger in Caseville Festival up in Caseville, Michigan, (on the tip of the 'thumb'). Everything would have gone great, except for the fact that I misread the directions. I was functioning with the belief that it would take me 1 hour and 47 minutes to get to Caseville from Ann Arbor, when in fact it took 2 hours and 47minutes. Not to mention that the Cheesburger festival is a city-wide event that attracts thousands of people, all of whom seemed to be getting to town the same time as me, so it took me about a half hour to travel the last mile to the stage. We were supposed to start playing at 1 p.m. I arrived at the stage at 12:59, (talk about anxiety!) My tention was relieved in a strange way by the fact that the same thing happened to the rest of the band, so when I pulled into the stage area, the Gratitude trailer was just getting there too. The guy on stage before us had also started late, so we had just enough time to set our insturments up. It all seemed to be working out, and then we got a wrench in the gears......they had a nice big sound sytem set up and no sound guy to run it! What!?! Big festival, thousands of people, sound system, and NO SOUND GUY! It was a little hard to comprehend. So, acting fast, Charles set up the whole Gratitude system seperately, which pushed the whole show back about a half hour. We couldn't go later because the family had another gig to get to in Detroit, so they had to leave right at 3p.m. sharp. It all happened so fast that we hardly had time to say hello to each other.

We had time to catch up the next day at a nice big house on Wing Lake somewhere in Bloomfield, MI. This gig was set up really nice, except for the fact that we were outside and it was raining. Sometimes people plan to have these grand parties and in the intensity of the plan, they leave no room for adjustment. There are not many bands that can play in close quarters and still deliver a quality performance, but Gratitude is definitely one of them. Unfortunately, we were stuck outside, while the party was indoors. The money for this gig must have been pretty good, because we had the family, myself, Guy on guitar, Nigel on pans, Miguel on percussion, and Jaquie on backing vocals. A big group for an 18 year-old's birthday party. Aside from the rain, the view was great, and the band was having a great time playing with such a big sound. Sometimes it all comes together at the right moment, and sometimes it rains on your parade. I guess you just have to play through, keep a level head, and have a good time no matter what.

So after a week of really bad weather in Michigan, including tornatos, rain every day, hail, and crazy wind, I was back with Gratitude, (this time just the family and I), for a 9 hour gig outdoors in Howell, MI. Yes, I said 9 hours. It was like having two full time gigs back to back. We were leary of the weather, (naturally), but the sun came out for the first time all week as we were setting up. We were at a big beautiful house right on a lake and the family that hired us was having a big family gathering. When I asked Charles what they were celebrating, he told me that "Nobody got married, and nobody died". everyone loved the music, and they fed the band well. After the 3rd set, we felt like part of the family. I found it a bit strange that no one danced, with the exception of some little children, but everyone kept telling us they were loving it, so we kept getting more and more relaxed. By the last set, we were all laughing and having a great time. I was impressed that we did not have to repeat any songs, and we still had at least 3 sets of music left that we never touched. I have never been in a band that knows so much music. Despite a sore rear end at the end of the day, I had a great time playing the longest gig of my career so far.

That is all for now. I am looking forward to a very exiting month of September. My new experemental jazz fusion band KOZORA is making it's debut, plus my Guruji, Samar Saha is coming to Michigan for a couple weeks and a bunch of good shows. I can't wait to tell you how it goes! Thanks for reading, and I will write again soon.

John

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