Eight voices and syncopated clapping open up the performance, singing “I’m so glad to be here.”
Bloomington-based world music a cappella band Kaia’s repeated lyric served as a mantra for the bands and audiences attending the three-day Lotus World Music and Arts Festival in town this weekend.
On a rainy Friday night, Kaia brought a full crowd into First United Methodist Church, one of eight venues housing music for the festival.
Along with local music venues and churches, four temporary outdoor stages were set up for the 29 international musical acts converging in Bloomington for Lotus’ 16th year.
Sarah Noggle, a volunteer who has served as the volunteer coordinator in previous years, said she appreciates the opportunities that an international music festival brings.
“Here we are in southern Indiana, and we get a chance to interact with people from all over the world and they get to meet and be enlightened by people in this country,” Noggle said. “It is a chance for people in this part of the world to reach out – that is what we should all do, is share.”
The festival makes its mark on Bloomington, shutting down various downtown streets for the weekend so pedestrians can stroll from venue to venue experiencing the simultaneous entertainment.
Two blocks north of the church, a colorful display of paper lanterns, flags, sculptures and sidewalk chalk brightened up the night as part of the Lotus Visual Arts Village.
The space featured performances and also a sculpture designed by IU fine art students.
Three blocks east under a tent, the crowd forgot about the rain as it danced to Mexican salsa-punk band Los de Abajo. Masked band members played a variety of instruments, adding electric guitars, two drums sets, an electronic DJ and coordinated dance moves to traditional salsa rhythms.
While a full weekend pass to Lotus costs $52 and a nightly pass costs $34, the outdoor tents provided opportunities for those without a ticket to see some of the acts.
Junior Stacey Schwarz did not have a pass to the festival, but said that the sounds of the concert encouraged her to join the crowd on the other side of the barricade for the Los de Abajo concert.
“It’s almost as good a view,” Schwarz said. “They should do something to block it off.
However, it is much appreciated that they don’t.”
As the festival wound down on Friday, the rain ceased as well, and musicians not on the playbill gathered together on street corners and continued to add music to the night.
Magic in the park
Sno cones, lawn chairs and picnic blankets welcomed the Saturday sunshine, which arrived right in time for Lotus in the Park, a free afternoon of concerts, workshops, and art in Third Street Park.
“We are thrilled to be here in the free section” a band member from the Stairwell Sisters told the audience.
The Stairwell Sisters were this year’s Lotus Dickey artist, a title given out each year to an old-time musician or group in honor of native Hoosier and Lotus Festival namesake.
The San Fransico-based band includes Evie Ladin from Bloomington.
“It’s been 10 years since I moved away,” Ladin said to the crowd. “It was hard to do because this community is amazing. It is incredible to bring (the band) to Bloomington.”
Many bands reiterated that there is a sense of community embedded in Bloomington that blossoms during Lotus.
“Lotus is just amazing, and we’ve been well taken care of,” said a band member from Kaia who was on hand Saturday afternoon to lead one of three workshops available as part of Lotus in the Park. “We feel privileged to be here.”
Chinese and Inner Mongolian band Hanggai combined traditional folk melodies with electric guitars and a drum kit to provide the afternoon audience with beats to dance to.
“Thank you very much,” Hanggai’s lead singer said. “This is my first time in America, I’m very happy to be here.”
Between acts, stilt walkers intricately adorned in bird and a butterfly costumes strode through the park as kids followed like the Pied Piper. The festival then paraded from the park to Kirkwood Avenue where performances again filled the venues for the night – just as the rain returned.
Inside the Buskirk-Chumley Theater, Indian fusion band Srinivas Krishnan & Madras Broadcast sat on the stage and offered a conversation of saxophones, violins and southern Indian percussion instrument mridangam.
Before the final dance number, Krishnan addressed the audience, telling them the final song title is translated to “country.”
“What country do each of us really belong to?” Krishnan asked the audience. “We call it world music, but I belong to everybody. We are not necessarily made in India – we represent a tradition of music that has to be shared.”
The theater rang with applause.
Outside north of the square, in defiance of the Saturday evening’s dropping temperatures, EE: Magic Circus Marching Band juggled, flipped, danced and hula-hooped in brightly colored rags and various animal-ear hats.
Listeners wanting a different kind of multimedia performance were under the tent and out of the rain listening to Bajofondo, an electrotango group from Argentina whose performance was synched with a video projection.
Laurel Cornell, a Bloomington resident who has attended all 16 years of the festival, said she appreciates the unique opportunity that Lotus brings.
“You get to hear all kinds of sounds you wouldn’t ordinarily get to hear, like the toy piano,” Cornell said. “The tents are actually really dry – there are lots of people dancing and there seems to be steam rising by the stage.”
The World Spirit concert featuring a sampling of the festival’s acts brought Lotus to a close Sunday afternoon. The ticket to the event was a $5 commemorative Lotus pin designed by local artist Sam Bartlett.
Kristina Hobbs, who made sure that her trip from England to visit family coordinated with Lotus, was in the audience with her niece and nephews.
“We’ve made a pact that next year we are going to do the whole weekend,” she said.
Hobbs said she has attended Lotus in the past and values the community that the Lotus festival provides.
“It’s not just the music, it’s the whole thing,” Hobbs said. “I love music, but the diversity of it – all the different cultures, world views, the whole spectrum, the whole atmosphere – that everyone is here to enjoy themselves and explore – Bloomington is like that anyway. This weekend shows that.”
Graduate student Elizabeth Plant, who works at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater, reflected on the festival.
“Last year it was sunny,” she said. “This year it is rainy, and that made it much more memorable.”
Plant said the rain outside made the opportunity to be dry and listening to music all the better.
“It was so amazing that it was a rainy Saturday night in Bloomington,” she said. “I would’ve been sitting at home but I got to hear amazing music.”
Plant said she regrets not discovering Lotus sooner during her undergraduate years at IU.
“I really think it has changed my life,” she said. “Experiencing different cultures without having to leave – I just love it. I want to come to Lotus for the rest of my life.”