Saturday, October 11, 2014

Music Does Intoxicate

Meanwhile, back at the Folk Fest...

What I mean is, of course I went back today, setting out on foot from my house and going down Fifth Street with the throngs of people intent on enjoying music now that the rain had stopped.

I began with Afro-Persian band Ensemble Shanbehzadeh and wasn't there five minutes before running into the former baker and the guitarist/writer, both captured by the activity onstage featuring dancing and large sticks. It was even better when volunteers from the audience joined them, trying to match their movements.

Then it was over to the MWV stage (passing the smart-assed gardener and my J-Ward neighbors) to score a third row seat for Debashish Bhattacharya and family, meaning brother Subhasis, a master tabla player, and daughter Anandi singing.

They're touring behind their new album "Madiera: If Music Could Intoxicate," setting out to prove that we didn't need other substances to get to another place.

I saw Debashish and Subhasis at the Folk Fest back in 2009 (where he'd earned my undying fandom by pronouncing, "Music is a better religious activity than doing anything else") and, like at that show, their timing was so spot on, stopping and starting on a dime simultaneously, that the crowd couldn't help but burst into spontaneous applause throughout the show.

This time, with the addition of Anandi singing so beautifully, it was just as impressive but even more moving.

Explaining that she was going to sing an aggressive song about a king who decided not to marry a courtesan because of the color of her skin, so she "danced like lightening and sang like rain" to show him that his decision would come back to haunt him, she sang like she meant it.

It was a song, she said, that changes with every performance so it can't be written down.

My only complaint with their entire set was ongoing sound problems resulting in ear-bleeding feedback more than a few times. You'd think after ten years of Folk Fests, we'd have sound issues figured out.

After she sang "My Beloved" and her father kissed her on the head, Anandi jumped off the low stage, looking both traditional and contemporary in her pink tunic over black leggings.

Then we were treated to Indian slide guitar and tabla by two brothers who can anticipate each other so superbly that it's like they're a single four-handed musical wizard.

Deebashish told how his mother had been an exceptionally talented singer but that Indian women in the '40s and '50s weren't allowed to perform in public, so she couldn't sing outside the house.

"Now my Mom has a voice in her granddaughter," he said, praising to an already impressed crowd his daughter's talent.

When their set ended, the audience jumped to its feet in a standing ovation much like they'd done that night back in 2009 when I first saw them.

From there, I headed to the Folklife Stage to see the oyster shucking sisters I had interviewed for Style Weekly's Folk Fest issue.

Deborah, decked out in multiple loops of pearls, threw her arms around me and her sister Clementine bragged that they'd seen my piece on them at the hotel last night before they went back to shucking and answering oyster questions.

I spotted two of the local art scene's high priestesses eating lunch from the Goatacado truck and stopped to see what they'd seen so far. They'd attempted the Throwdown on Brown breakdancing competition but it had been mobbed. "The only way we could see anything was in people's phone screens," they reported.

Don't get me started, I'd replied, because the thought of people too busy filming for the future to be present in the moment is the curse of the 21st century.

A stop at the Benevolent Burrito got me a black bean quesadilla with guacamole, pickled slaw and sour cream and as I stood there devouring it, a couple walked up to me and inquired what it was and where I'd gotten it. I like to think I looked like I was enjoying my lunch.

Thus fortified, I showed my colors as the groupie I am, making a beeline for the dancing pavilion to see William Bell. Again.

Okay, yes, I'd seen him last night, although just an hour of his 90-minute performance and I wanted more.

This time I stood rather than sitting, starting out maybe eight people back from the stage and winding up in the third row by the time his set ended.

The emcee told the crowd, "If you aren't with your sweetheart now, you'll wish you were by the end of William Bell's show."

Tell me something I didn't already know.

Immediately, he got everyone moving and grooving to "Easy Coming Out, Hard Going In" (how he got away with that title in 1977, I have no idea) and just kept it up as more and more people kept arriving.

Sure, I heard some of the songs I'd heard last night and absolutely, I enjoyed hearing them live again.

During "You Don't Miss Your Water," a woman in a pink hat in the front row kept making heart signs in Bell's direction until he finally acknowledged her. "I love you, too!"

Because the crowd was so much bigger than last night's there was even more slow dancing going on all around me, but who can resist the soul stylings of William Bell?

"Can I testify a little bit, y'all?" he called out and the audience roared back their assent. Me, I just kept dancing by myself, occasionally getting knocked into my women with big purses or couples caught up in each other.

I stayed for the whole set because I knew it was my last chance to see him and if that makes me a groupie, then so be it.

Even so, I was able to catch the last few songs of duo Kostas Fetfatsidis and Evan Karapanagiotides playing traditional Pontic Greek music that sounded like it came from high on a hill from a sheepherder's lonely perch.

Walking back up to Second Street when they finished, I came upon Supaman, the Indian hip-hop performer, in his full headdress and regalia, waiting to be picked up after his recent performance.

As I walked up the rest of the hill, the wind making me cold, the van with Supaman in it drove beside me. As it should be.I'm just the rabid fan, the groupie, if you will.

I'm all for the talent saving their strength to perform for people like us. I'll even testify to that.

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