Indiana Daily Student

Lotus Festival brings music, global connection back to Bloomington

<p>A performer accompanies Saraswathi Ranganathan Sept. 25, 2021, on the stage of the Buskirk-Chumley Theater. The performance was part of the 28th annual Lotus World Music &amp; Arts Festival.</p>

A performer accompanies Saraswathi Ranganathan Sept. 25, 2021, on the stage of the Buskirk-Chumley Theater. The performance was part of the 28th annual Lotus World Music & Arts Festival.

As the sun went down Friday night, a bass line could be heard through the streets of Bloomington. Getting closer, it became clearer — upbeat and jazzy, the trombone carrying a bouncing beat over smooth trumpet melody like a rock skipping on water. Block letters on the sousaphone labeled the band: Nation Beat, a Brazilian-New Orleans jazz and brass band. Lead percussionist Scott Kettner took the mic.

“It’s a pleasure to be onstage, it’s a pleasure to be back here at Lotus Festival, let’s give it up!” Kettner said to a cheering crowd. “This is not a livestream, this is live. Real live!”

The 28th annual Lotus World Music & Arts Festival took place Sept. 23-26 and featured performers from cultural traditions across the world. During Friday and Saturday of the festival, ten artists performed from 6:30 p.m. to midnight. Attendees could move between two tents, located on 4th and 6th St. respectively, and the Buskirk-Chumley Theater to see multiple performers in the same time slot. 

Several festival activities didn’t require tickets, like Lotus’s Festival Arts Village, which offered chalk, hula-hooping and crafting. This year, children and their families made lanterns, yarn paintings and origami cicadas.

Nathan Parker was one of those children, hands covered in chalk dust as his mother spoke.

“It’s been a tradition for the 13 years we’ve been together that we just always come,” Christina Parker said. “We just hang out and enjoy the activities that are going around.”

Downtown after dark

As the night wore on, more performers took the stage. In the BCT, Martha Redbone’s voice slid up and down, red lipstick striking against the colored lights. Performing as Martha Redbone Roots Project, she sang about the “long walk to D.C.” alongside Charles Burnham on violin and husband Aaron Whitby on piano. At one point, she asked audience members to raise their hands and clap along with her. 

“Remember,” Redbone said. “Friends do not let friends clap on one and three. This ain’t no polka night.”

Laura and Arthur Littlepage volunteered Friday morning and Saturday but took Friday night to enjoy the performances. It’s not just a local event, they said, but one that brings people in every year.

“We just love the international music and how all kinds of different people come,” Laura Littlepage said.

When Doctor Nativo, a Guatamalan-Mayan reggae performer, took the stage at 10:45 pm, the crowd perked up immediately. Energy spilled from the group as Nativo, also known as Juan Martinez, strutted and salsa danced across the stage while playing guitar. Martinez’s voice echoed as he encouraged the crowd to come closer to the stage to dance and cheer.

“Come on!” Martinez called again and again. “Are you alive? Come on!”

Indoors at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater

The evening festival began at 6:30 p.m. in the BCT with a performance by bohola, a traditional Irish band. The set began with slower songs and as the tempo rose, the audience began to clap to the beat. Pat Broaders, one member of the two-person group, introduced the next song in a lilting accent, plucking the strings of his acoustic guitar as he spoke. 

“This is a song I got from a singer called Frank Harte — anybody heard of him?” Broaders asked. No one responded, and he smiled and continued, “alright, that’s your homework.”

Immediately following on the same stage was Saraswathi, performing traditional South Indian music. Seated on the floor of the theater, swaying to the steady melody, Saraswathi Ranganathan led the all-instrumental piece on a veena as petals of light came together and drifted apart on the backdrop behind her. 

National and international

As the evening wore on, more and more people packed Kirkwood Avenue. 

Bloomington native Bill D’Amico now lives in California but came back to visit friends and see Lotus performers. He said he would recommend attending Lotus because of the exposure to global artists that the festival provides.

“It’s amazing to get exposure to cultures and art from around the world,” D’Amico said. “Indiana needs it. California gets it some, but it doesn’t get the acts that we see here.”

A few streets away, Pamyua, an Inuit group, plugged in an electric guitar. Playing a combination of traditional melodies with contemporary instrumentation, their song “Bubblegum” mixed ‘50s-style rock with Yup’ik vocalization. They taught the crowd the word for drum, “cauyaq,” in a call and response. 

When one member of the group turned around, a message displayed on his jacket read: “we exist, we resist, we rise.”

Stepping into another tent, Nohelia Sosa, lead singer of Nohe and Sus Santos, stood shining in the middle of the stage as the light caught the rhinestones on her shirt. 

Sosa never stopped moving, a fringed skirt sweeping her legs as she danced salsa during instrumental breaks. The beat of the drums punctuated her honeyed vocals in the group’s signature mix of alt-rock and Latin rhythm.

At one point, Sosa stopped and introduced the band, bowing to each. When it was her turn, she raised the flag of Honduras as the crowd cheered. The band returned for an encore.

“This next song’s a classic,” Sosa shouted. “But we’re making our own version. Do you understand us, mujeres?”

Bringing back the party

Saturday ended with Dwayne Dopsie and the Hellraisers, a Zydeco band based on New Orleans musical tradition. The rat-a-tat of a metal washboard underlay lead singer Dwayne “Dopsie” Rubin’s vocals and accordion playing. 

Lights flashed as Rubin riffed on the accordion as if it was an electric guitar, fingers dancing over the keys. As the song ended and the crowd screamed for more, Rubin summed up the festival in a few words before diving into the next piece.

“We didn’t have a Mardi Gras, we didn’t have a jazz fest,” Rubin said. “But I brought my umbrella. And we’re gonna have our own party tonight.”

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