Sunday, March 1, 2009
Casa Grande Ruins Festival Recap
The inaugural Casa Grande Ruins American Indian Music Festival was one of those welcome, but rare, overwhelmingly positive music events that I look forward to being part of for many years to come. What makes everything good is usually one of two things: The absence of people or the quality of the people there. When you go hiking or camping and encounter no one you say, “Oh man it was great did see another person all day.” Likewise it is when you are with people whom you respect and enjoy and they you. The latter was my experience.
I had to drive six hours to Casa Grande, AZ to check into my room, and then zip back to Tucson, an hour back up the road, then back to rehearse in Casa Grande. It was tough. I was taping an interview at KXCI in Tucson for a Saturday morning program called “Brainwaves.” Thankfully Buddha Todd, the host let me tape it instead of coming up at 5:30AM, yes AM, on Saturday. Todd was gracious and the station is a converted house in Old Tucson with Orange trees in their courtyard. KXCI have been great supporters of my music and I enjoyed meeting Todd a really down-to-earth and cool guy. He showed me the mountains of CD’s the station receives of month—we’re talking hundreds and hundreds. It was humbling.
I was a little early to my interview so found a community center and park because I really had to use their facilities—one of the side effects of drinking so much coffee to stay awake… I saw a guy who had been loading drums into a truck and thought hey a musician. So I followed him, probably scaring him, and introduced myself. After we determined we were both musicians (which you can usually tell by our scraggly, stylish look) I showed him my Hang drums. He said he plays every Thursday afternoon at something called “El Tiradito” Shrine near where we were downtown. It is a fascinating story. Click El Tiradito to read more. I showed up after I was done with my HAPI drum. His name is Martin Klabunde and among many things, he leads drumming classes for high school students, leads drumming circles, plays a wide assortment of African instruments and is one of the most brilliant Djembe drummers I’ve ever met. Three of us met at El Tiradito and began to drum for the spirits. We drummed changing beats and rhythms as crowds from the Gallery and Mexican restaurant gathered. I didn’t have much time but felt a real kinship with Martin, Todd and Tucson in general. I’ll be returning. Check out Martin’s MySpace page: http://www.myspace.com/portalopening We traded CD’s and I’m glad we did.
Most of the festival performers and vendors stayed in Casa Grande although the Ruins are in Coolidge a good 20 miles away. The hotels in Coolidge have comments like “stay away this place is the Bates Motel!” or “People where turning tricks in the shrubs” then a little later “They’ve really cleaned this place up the shrubs are gone.” So with my irreplaceable Hang drums and others with really costly flute inventory Casa Grande was a nicer choice. The park rangers who organized this event, especially Alan Stanz were generous hosts and we all felt really well taken care of. The Arizona mornings were brisk and the temps never really made it above 60 so it was a little chilly amidst the Hohokam ruins and giant Saguaros who look like they are waving at you… I set up a table selling my CD’s, Aromatherapy Massage oils, hand-made Jewelry and Pecans from my trees. Initially I had a note telling people to sample my open bottles of oil until a few people took them thinking them “free” samples. I added “tester” and that helped. My booth was between Coyote Oldman and Woodsounds flutes. Yikes! These are flute makers I respect immensely for the gorgeous flutes and integrity. I just drooled and didn’t buy. Whew.
I believe we experience what we attract first in our mind, thoughts, words and meditations (unconsciously or consciously). This festival was that for me. Martin, the drummer, KXCI, several people who heard the interview and actually made the one-hour drive from Tucson for my sets, performing with amazing musicians and a rugged-renaissance guy named Kevin Hoagland who does so many things well you just have to check out for yourself at http://khoagland.blogspot.com. He likes my music for some reason and was in the Phoenix area doing a Gold Show so made the trek up to Casa Grande Ruins, took the shuttle etc. to bring me a Didgeridoo he made out of an Agave stalk which was beautiful, golden and studded with inlay Turquoise. He stayed for the concert too. Now I have a new friend. We are working on producing some film of my songs since he is also has done video production for the Travel Channel among other things. See what I mean about that attraction thing? Saggio, a musician friend from Apache Junction stopped by and hung out in my booth. I always like his company. I hung out with Travis Terry, Gabe Ayala, Vince Chaffin, Lynne Nicholson, Scott August many other really cool musicians and people. Rick Dunlap and his family were there with their Moya Drums. Oh man my face still hurts from hanging out with Rick. We tease each other mercilessly laughing so hard. Rick played my Buffalo drum with me on stage during my set and his wife Linda gave me a beautiful hand-sewn drum bag after seeing I didn’t have one. Son Ricky filmed some of the sets with my camera I didn’t know how to use and took my iPod through configs I didn’t know it had…whiz.
The concerts were set up next to the Big House or “Casa Grande” which was lit up at night with an eerie glow; though as soon as the sun went down it took some serious dedication to stay as it was really cold with a brisk wind. I performed during the day a few times then with Michael Graham Allen (a.k.a. Coyote Oldman) for all of his sets. He brought some experimental rim-blown flutes with complimentary tunings to my Hang drums. That was a highlight for me to say the least. It was breezy so how he managed to make those rim blowns sing like he did is a testament to his musicianship. I had come up with a new song there at the festival on Hang, Vocals and Michael’s flutes so asked the audience to offer name suggestions. I got some pretty cool answers. R. Carlos Nakai did a beautiful set as did Travis Terry, Michael Allen, Gabe Ayala, unfortunately, I didn’t get to hear more of the other performers. Here is a video of Michael Allen and I battling the wind a bit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5fxX1KGfbh0&feature=channel_page
On the final day the festival ended at 5 so after my set we were finally able to do an all performer’s Jam. Me, Gabe Ayala, Loren Russell and Park Ranger Alan Stanz tore up that stage trading solos, rhythms and had the audience moving. What a treat and close to a great festival! What was different about this festival experience from other NA flute events I’ve been to was 1) It was geared toward the broader general population 2) only about 25% of the vendors were flute makers leading to a wide variety 3) the stage set up was professional and integrated with many chairs for the audience and for me it was free of the politicking, lobbying and egoistic atmosphere that I feel has hurt some of our gatherings. Speaking for myself it seemed that I was taken seriously as a professional and was allowed to do what I do best—this wasn’t the ‘audition’ this was “Hey you are here for a reason and the audience is too, so go make some magic.” I hope I did. I know I’m going back next year. See you there.