Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Sunday, July 25, 2004


While I was away from the computer for a week, 119 pieces of e-mail came. One from a friend, one from a friendly fellow blogger, and 117 solicitations from the usual gang of diploma millers, penis enlargers, pornographers, and mortgagers, many of them in Japanese, which I’ve never claimed to have been able to read.


Did I miss blogging?

Not at all, except for one intense morning of longing. While the folk festival ran from Friday night through Sunday night I was too absorbed in music and family and friends to miss anything. Monday morning though, while packing up in the motel to get ready to go camping, I really really wanted to write the fest up. Three nights of camping on the beach and days of walking and reading books (no newspapers, no mags, no web) drained the itch out of me. Got back home Thursday night & read my e-mail & had no urge to write at all until Saturday night.


Was it a good time?

Yeah. Absolutely.


Item. I’ve been complaining hereabouts of classical snobbery. Folky snobbery is no better. “Real music in a sea of shit” said one of the MCs. To use the current vernacular, Cheney me.

Item. Wavy Gravy was another of the MCs. I saw him at a free concert in Golden Gate Park 20 years ago during the Democratic National Convention in Frisco. In showbiz terms he was a serious has-been, coasting on a few mildly witty remarks he made in auspicious circumstances 15 to 20 years before. Last week-end he was still repeating the same remarks, and they’re no funnier now than they were 20 years ago, though they were probably passably good lines in context, 35 to 40 years ago.

Item. One of the festival’s draws for me is that it creates a context for the spontaneous interaction of really good musicians to play together who have never met and may not even speak a language in common. A couple years ago the festival decided to institutionalize the practice and invite musicians to work together for a few days before the festival. It doesn’t work. The spontaneous interactions still happen, fortunately. When one musical act is doing their thing, and another musical act jumps in and finds a way to fit their thing into the first act’s thing, it can excite and move everybody. The planned collaborations end up being lowest common demoninator common ground jams, with nobody’s committed musical vision coming through. The local flavors disappear in tentativeness. One of the planned collaborations we heard Saturday morning was just awful, good players marring themselves with ugly sarcasm -- a bunch of “alt” musicians deciding to play “the worst wedding songs we could think of.” A request: If you think it’s garbage, don’t play it, unless you need the money.


Lots of great music.

The toddling dude danced a lot and had a great time. And he slept fine -- afternoon nap & going to sleep before the end of the concert.

Beautiful weather in a beautiful park.


Autorickshaw is a four-piece band from Ontario: a singer of the traditional music of her parents’ birthplace of South India, a tabla player, a trap drummer, and a six-string electric bassist. Stripped minimal sound, high energy -- loved it. The singer sat while singing in traditional Indian style. She stood when they played the Ellington standard, a piece of exotica he wrote with his Puerto Rican valve-trombonist Juan Tizol, “Caravan.” A moto-riffic bass & popping percussion underscore the Indian-flavored jazz and scat singing. When I heard them play this on Saturday they shared the stage with a Turkish band from Quebec, and the ney (Middle Eastern reed instrument) player jumped in with a Turkish sounding solo, the members of Autorickshaw looked very happy. Just wonderful is how it sounded.

The next day they shared a stage with Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali, a traditional Pakistani Qawwali band led by two nephews of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and played “Caravan” again. This time the singer sat in deference to the Qawwali players, who sit in order to be closer to God, and after her scat solo the harmonium player jumped in with a fine solo & then the Qawwali singers kicked in & it was ecstatic. Nusrat Fateh’s nephews bring no shame to his name, and I can’t think of a higher compliment. Amazing. I couldn’t help but think that Duke would have been well pleased. Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali’s own material was wonderful too.

Warsaw Village Band kicks it. Two violins, cello, hammer dulcimer, a standing bass drummer, and a tambourinist who plays with a mallot. The bass drummer has a cymbal mounted on his drum and occasionally a triangle hanging from it; one violinist doubles on hurdy-gurdy; the other violinist doubles on a 16th century Polish 6-string fiddle between a viola and cello in size; the three women in the band sing with a tone reminiscent of the Mysterious Voices of Bulgaria. Tremendous rhythms and great sounds. This was the toddling dude’s favorite band to dance to, in 4/4, 6/4, or 7/4 meter -- didn’t matter.

Los de Abajo, a 10-piece Latin ska band from Mexico City, put on one of the most energetic sets I’ve ever seen. “Up from Below” is how their name translates & it’s the title of a revolutionary novel. 3 horns (trumpet, trombone, tenor sax), 3 percussion, 2 lead vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards. Mad!

Fiamma Fumana from Italy wove traditional rural Italian melodies with electronic beats, lovely sounds, and great charm. On one song they were joined by a teen-age (or maybe barely older), unrecorded traditional Scottish Gaelic singer named James Graham who has a beautiful voice similar to that of Lorin Sklamberg’s but with a softer edge. I had always thought that bagpipes were native only to Scotland and Ireland until I heard a traditional piper from Spain at this fest a few years ago; Fiamma Fumana has traditional Italian pipes. James Graham’s solo sets were just lovely.

The evening concerts always close with a loud danceably rockin’ band, usually Celtic (or Celtic-Quebecois), except Sunday night, when a mellow folkie follows the party band to send everyone home sweetly. The last four years it’s been the great story teller, anarchist, singer-songwriter-guitarist Utah Phillips, who in good communitarian spirit always shares the stage with other singers. He hosts and they all trade songs. The first two times he closed the festival, he had someone on stage with him who equalled him in experience and venerability, and he graciously offered the last song to whoever that happened to be. But the last two years he’s been up there with people in their 20s and 30s, and so he’s closed it himself. And it touches me deeply to see such a sweet sense of decorum.

It was a great week-end.

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