Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Gratitude Up North, Kirtan, Crazy Wisdom with Meeta

Hello again,

The summer has officially began! I finished my first full time year at Go Like The Wind and suddenly I have some time on my hands. Wow, what a great thing to be able to say! Life has been pretty busy for the past 10 years or so, and it feels good to get a little time to breathe. I suppose the thing I feel most is appreciation for all the people who have helped me get to where I am today. Sometimes, when life is moving so fast, the people who are helping you along the way seem to come in and out of your life like the fuel in your car, and you don't get much of a chance to slow down and say "Thanks for keeping me going". So, with that said, I would like to thank my wife Jody, my Mom, Dad, and Sister, my uncle Richard and Mike, all my friends and teachers from NMU, CalArts, UM-Flint, EMU, and India, all the musicians I have been fortunate enough to play with, all of my students, and a vast array of friends out there in the world who are also working very hard to do what they love. I am inspired by all the postitive attitude and good, hard work. It has kept me going for a good while now, and I hope it will keep me going till I am old and grey.
So, now it is back to good old blog business......the music. Well, for the past week I have been in Traverse City with my wife Jody camping out and enjoying the fine art of doing very little. The week prior however was a madhouse. It was one week after GLTW was out, but I was still going back in the mornings to teach a hand drumming camp to 3-8 year olds. It was a lot of fun. I have really honed my skills with the young ones this past year, and I could tell by how easy the class went. The kids were excited and interested for the whole week, and we really made some progress with rhythm. The really cool part for me is that I will have most of the kids in my music class in the next school year, so we will be able to build off of what we did. I really do have a lot of fun teaching, and I am looking forward to next year already!
On Thursday of that week I had a gig with Gratitude in my calendar, but I never checked to see where it was. When I checked it out on Wednesday, I found out it was in Evart, Michigan, which is about 3 hours north of Ann Arbor. It is a little to far to go on my own, so I hitched a ride from Gratitude. We pulled into the small town and right away an old man came walking up to the van. He said, "Are you the band that is playing later on down the street?". "You bet", said Loretta. He then went into a long story about how he used to tour the world with a well known steel band called Trinidad Tripoli. He didn't play an instrument, but he did do the limbo. He claimed to be able to get under a limbo stick that was only 12 inches off the ground! He said he could still do it if he didn't hurt his knee the other day. He was 76 years old and he drove an hour to come to our show. We talked to him for a little bit, then went into our hotel, rested a bit, had some dinner, and then made our way down the street to set up for the show. The man was sitting in the front row with his wife. They were the only one's there besides us and the sound crew, but they looked excited. As we got closer to show time, people started showing up and we got ready for a good show. From the first note the man was up on his feet dancing. He actually stole the show for the first 3 numbers. He was doing things that would wear out a teenager. He was standing on his head, spinning around really fast, doing cartwheels....now take a moment and imagine a 76 year old man doing cartwheels all by himself on a grassy dance floor in front of a steel band in a tiny little town. It was almost surreal to watch him go. We played for 2 hours and he never stopped. After the show I actually went over to thank him for putting so much energy into having a good time. It inspired me, as I am sure it did for a few others out in the crowd.
The next evening I was with the Kirtan group again. It was a nice summertime show. The group is beginning to settle into its new sound since adding and subtracting musicians. We now have guitar, cello, harmonium, tabla, and just 2 singers. This group is unique for me in that it is made up of mostly of non-professional musicians who all have other jobs and do the kirtan as their primary musical outlet. The unique thing is, however, that they are the most organized professional groups that I play with. They have not been together more than 2 years, have not played more than 20 shows, but have their own beautiful website, advertise in all the local publications, have been on the cover of a local newspaper, and have an e-mail list with hundreds of names. It makes me wonder what that kind of organization could do for a band like Gratitude, who spend more time at shows than at the computer. Anyway, the show went great, and the group is beginning to cultivate a sound, which can never be rushed, no matter how organized you are.
So on the night of the Kirtan I took advantage of the crowd and advertised for my show the following day with Meeta Banerjee at Crazy Wisdom. A lot of people from Kirtan ended up coming to the show, so it worked out well. It is always fun to play with Meeta. We play well together and always have a good time taking questions from the audience and talking about the music. It is great to play Indian classical music because a lot of it is improvised, like in jazz, so each piece is constantly developing and changing. We have added a tabla solo to our show, so now I have an outlet to really try the compositions I have been practicing for years. Meeta was sounding great, although she was under a lot of stress due to a huge convention that was right around the corner in which she was a chair of the youth commitee and was up to her ears in business. We are slated to play at the convention, so this show was actually good practice for us. I look forward to some big shows coming up with Meeta. I will tell you more about that later.

Thanks for reading, and I will write again soon!

John

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Gratitude in Orchard Hills, GLTW Spring Concert, Gratitude in Mackinac, Nankin Mills, Steel Fest

Hello again,

I can't beleive I have 5 shows to write about and it has been just a week since my last entry....what a week! It all started on Tuesday when I showed up to the Orchard Lake Country Club in West Bloomfield, MI. at 5p.m. for what I thought would be a 3 hour gig. When I spoke with the event planner I learned it was actually a 5 hour show. Yikes! For a band, 4 hours is considered a full night of playing, so 5 is pushing the limits of energy. Luckily for me, I was with a great crew of players. Guy Barker on guitar, Lamar Woodall on lead pan, Big Kelly on the double seconds, and Anthony Tollson on the bass. It was a fun show. We did a lot of vamping while Kelly did some freestyle rappin about the night. He is a great performer, and very easy to play with. The night went by fast. I got home late and went right to bed to get ready for a big day on Wednesday.

I woke up at 6a.m. ready to go for a big day at Go Like the Wind. It was the big Spring Concert and graduation night. It was a great event, although the logistics involved were complex. The concert was held at St. Luke Lutheren Church in Ann Arbor, so we had to get all the students on rented buses and down to the church to set up and rehearse, eat lunch, then get back on the bus to get back to school in time to be picked up. Sounds simple, but it took a lot of my energy. The concert itself went great. It was exciting to watch the students perfrorm so well in just their 2nd concert. I was a proud teacher, and I am now looking forward to next year more than ever.

The next morning I was up early again to meet the Russell family for a one night stint on Mackinac Island. We were to play for a bunch of Michigans top politicians as part of the meeting of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting. It sounded like a nice time, but it turned out to be a very tough job. We arrived at the island 2 hours before the show. Normally, this would be plenty of time to set up and play. In Mackinac, however, there are no motorized vehicles, so moving equipment around must be done by drey. A drey is a cart pulled by horses, and is the lifeblood of life on Mackinac island. When we got our equipment off the boat, the staff told us to head on up to the venue and our things would be up soon. We walked up to the Gatehouse, which used to be the French Outpost until it was bought by the Grand Hotel. We waited and waited for our things. They didn't show up for an hour and a half! So we ended up with a half hour to set up and start playing. Apparently we showed up on the island just as it was time to feed the horses. Oh well....this band was more than capable of a quick set up, and at least we made it! I had my drums set up in about 10 minutes and was ready to change into my 'Gratitude garb' when I noticed that my luggage was missing. Charles told me it was down at our hotel called the Windmere, so I ran down to the hotel to get it. When I showed up to the front desk they receptionist told me that she was all booked up, had not had a bit of luggage come to the hotel, and never heard of a steel band! Yikes! I went back to the venue and told Charles the bad news. It was time to play, so we had to wait till the first brake to call someone about our situation. He called a few people and no one knew where we were supposed to be. The guy who set everything up had to leave the island for some kind of emergency surgery, so no one had any answers. Luckily, the receptionist at the Grand Hotel was nice enough to hook us up with some rooms at the staff housing facility way up behind the Grand Hotel. We had to walk to it after our gig. It was about 2 miles from the show and was all up hill. By the time we got to bed it was about 2 a.m. and everyone was dead tired. We woke up early the next morning and got off the island by noon. It sort of felt like we never stopped traveling. We made it back downstate before nightfall, and I got some much needed rest.
The next day it was off to Heinz Park where we were playing for some kind of community concert. Apparently, it was not very well advertised because no one showed up! The band was sounding so good. We were still reeling from the Mackinac experience and the lack of crowd was actually a nice break from the normal pressure of perfromance. We played for a couple of hours and then it was off to downtown Detroit for the 2nd annual Steel Drum Festival.
Last year we were the opening band for the first ever steel drum festival and this year we had a spot right in the middle of the festival. Actually we were right after the Steelheads from Flint, so I got to see some of my old friends from my U of M Flint days. When the Steelheads started playing, heavy rain started to fall, so they had to turn off the power to the PA system. When we got up there we had no vocals, so the whole set had to be instrumental. It turned out to be really cool. The whole show felt like an affirmation of all the hard work this band puts into their art, and the crowd was very appreciative. I felt proud to be a part of it.



Thanks for reading, and I will write again soon.

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