Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Sundance Film Festival. How to strech your comfort zone.
Sometimes you do things as an independent musician without any real sense of how things will turn out. I like to trust that something good always comes out of everything I do. About 3-1/2 hours into my trip from Las Cruces to Salt Lake City I had an omen but kept moving on. I had smelled an acrid odor that I thought was either an Acid spill on the interstate or a cloud of wicked smoke. I usually travel with nuts, fruit, peanut butter, some bread and always a bottle of Tabasco. When I stopped to get gas in Bernalillo I was digging around my paper sack for an orange and found the source of the eye burning smell—my bottle of Tabasco had come open and spilled all over the bag and my back seat. Arrrgh! No wonder my nose was running and my eyes were red.
So fast forward to the Sundance Film Festival. First of all there is no parking in Park City, Utah during the festival which is ironic. You will get fined or towed, period. I parked at the Park and Ride about 7 miles away from Park City that is of course after driving the mountain pass from Salt Lake. Let me tell you what Mormons repress in every other aspect of their lives they make up for in their driving. As I waited for the shuttle with two Hang drums, a heavy case of flutes and a bag with my CD’s, maps, passes etc., I thought about what I was doing there and a shiver of doubt ran through my bones. I said to myself you are here, 14 hours away from home, so do it and make the most. Walking uphill to the venue dodging wealthy people with Bluetooths and fur I was a little ragged by the time I got there. Okay so the gigs in the pub/clubs were okay. I know the promoters took a chance bringing someone like me to an atmosphere that is like Hollywood meets Mardi Gras with a touch of Spring Break in the Snow. I appreciate the chance to showcase what I do. That being said my brand of peaceful music that is as mystic as it is ethereal requires a little, shall we say, attention. But hey, I figure these people need peace too eh? I wasn’t daunted and played my ass off for whomever….which was usually the other musicians and the bar staff. The highlight, as always, was meeting the other musicians and hearing their work. There is a camaraderie knowing we all must give 100% regardless. Still the surreal quality of me playing my Hang, Native flutes and singing in the midst of deal making and celebrity gawking is the stuff of independent film. Hmmm any directors taking note out there?
As I was clinging to a tiny bar on the shuttle going back to my frozen car at midnight completely weighed down by my cases which were literally cutting off the circulation in my arm I was trying not to touch the man’s butt accidentally with my numb fingers. I just laughed. I overheard a girl from Buffalo reading off the list of celebrities she had seen to a woman she was sitting next to, a stranger. She rattled off, Mariah Kerry, Nick Cannon, all the Baldwin brothers, Paris Hilton, Allie McDowell, etc. etc and Ashton Kutcher whom she said was a jerk because he saw them coming with a camera and lowered his head and dashed into a café where they had to wait an hour for him to come out and he ignored them. Imagine that. Ummm it’s called Stalking. Adam Durtz of Counting Crows was in a pub where I was playing and a buzz quickly filled the place making its way back to the upstairs, tiny lounge room where I was playing. It’s okay he couldn’t have got through the crowd of 700 or so and since no one knew we were back there it didn’t matter. I’m being sarcastic a bit because I would have rather played closer to the “Front Door.” It took me 30 minutes to get out the door and I must have bruised 30 people with my instruments and I tried to get to my shuttle which had its last run at midnight. I flew downhill only to slip on the ice and wreck my already aching ankle. I sat next to some film maker from New Jersey who went on a diatribe about “my people.” I think he meant Indians, or maybe musicians who the hell knows? He offered to do a shamanic energy healing on me but I declined. Too funny.
One of the Sundance venues I played was the Rose Wagner Arts Center. There are several theaters that were screening films. I played in the lobby in-between films. My sets were acoustic and it was the strangest thing. People are so desperate to document their Sundance experience they were taking pictures of themselves in front of the Banner with my name on it as well as standing next to me playing. They were all qued up for the film on these ascending stair cases and would applaud after every song. That was wonderful. A guy came over and was asking about my instruments, like always happens, but he seemed really curious and specific and he listened and bought some CD’s so I was extra patient. I introduced myself and he said he was Robert Townsend and his film was about to screen. I shook my head and said, “Oh you have the film ‘Black Comedy’ which I thought was about dark comedy.” He pointed to his skin and said, “No it’s Black comedy.” D’oh! Color me stupid. He was really cool though and I finally took my HAPI drum over to him and had him play while I played a duet with him on flute. Talk about awesome. The picture is a little dark because I had the flash off. Now that I’ve been back home I’ve seen Robert Townsend in practically every show and series on TV. Isn’t that how it always is?
Overall I made some good contact and know if I had more time to prep I would actually see some films and make better use of my time. Living with arthritis can take its toll however. Being in the frigid icy cold, 9000 ft. elevation, driving, standing and hauling my gear around then slipping on the ice wasn’t fun. One day I took 12 Aleve just to function.
It takes courage and trust to put yourself in a position you aren’t familiar with. Stepping outside the comfort zone of Native American flute festivals and churches is something I do all the time. I do it for several reasons. 1. I need to make a living. 2. The peacefulness of my music needs to reach as wide an audience as possible. 3. I grow from the experience. So maybe some people heard me and carried some of that stillness home with them and maybe I was humbled even more knowing I was not as important to the promoters and club owners as some of the other, more sexy, acts were. Maybe the delusions I have about being my own celebrity is why I’m not intimidated by anything. Who knows? I’ve played as a street musician, in front of thousands, done countless live TV and Radio interviews and have probably made of fool of myself every time. One thing I did come away with was what M. Night Shyamalan said in an interview I saw. He said that his film, and Tarrentino’s, Robert Rodriguez and a few other indie directors all debuted at Sundance the same year and what he finally learned was to be as much himself, to embrace his own style as much as possible. That way no one can compete with you because no one else IS you. I take that to heart.
Enjoy this slideshow. Wish I had some of that video and pics I saw people taking of me. Maybe they will share.