(All photos courtesy of Castle Photographs.)
It’s been exactly a quarter of a century since Bloomington began bringing in artists from all over the world. As someone late to the Lotus Festival “bandwagon,” this was only my second year attending the world music and arts festival, but I enjoyed it this second time just as much as I did the first time around.
Every year, Lotus Fest can be summed up in one simple phrase: a melting pot. This year, however, it may have felt that way even more so than in previous years. Between the free workshops and performances in the park on Saturday afternoon and the captivating evening showcases both nights, there was something for everyone, regardless of whether they paid for a ticket to either night. Even the street buskers helped augment this feeling of authenticity that could be felt all throughout downtown B-Town.
I spent much of Friday evening bouncing back and forth from stage to stage and from tent to tent, seeing everything that there was to see and being offered on night one. As a result I was able to catch bits and pieces of virtually everyone who performed that night, so I’ll just touch on some of the highlights. Aar Maantra and the Urban Nomads got things going for me with their funky blend of Somali afro-hop, and though Maantra himself is Somali, many of his musicians he performed with were from other countries outside of Somalia. I then caught some of the Guerilla-punk brass blend of cacophony that is Toronto’s Lemon Bucket Orkestra, before moving onto the almost Celtic-leaning Swedish folk rockers Hoven Droven a few blocks down. Among the big highlights of Friday for me were the “earlier” staples, from France’s Caribbean blues trio Delgres, to Puerto Rico’s contemporary salsa collective Orquesta El Macabeo, to even Mali’s desert groovers Mamadou Kelly. After the IU drumline put on a captivating free performance in festival headquarters came Friday’s closers, Kansas City alt-rockers Making Movies leading the pack with their psychedelic blend of Afro-Latin rhythms.
It’s as if the festival could have ended after Friday and everything would have been fine, and yet Saturday was still to come. The second day of Lotus Fest kicked off like it typically does, with free workshops and performances in the city’s Waldron, Hill, and Buskirk Parks, where I was able to experience Orquesta El Macabeo in all of their fun Caribbean glory, who was performing later that evening, again at one of the tent stages. The Boricuas may have had some lengthy compositions, but their constantly-evolving tunes never bored the crowd, and were a great way to finish out the free extravaganza. The most fun part about Saturday’s showcases was the ability to see entire sets from artists I wanted to get more of, since I spent much of Friday night running back and forth from stage to stage. Many of them were even more impressive to see the second time around, from Delgres’ tight jamming towards the beginning to Making Movies’ passionate psychedelia following the festival parade to Lemon Bucket Orkestra’s infectious Balkan brass that capped off night two.
The most memorable acts from the weekend were sure to involve the audience, from Hoven Droven teaching folks the “folk rock hand sign,” to Lemon Bucket Orkestra coming into the crowd to play their encore, to even Making Movies giving a personal shout-out to yours truly at the end of their own set. As a self-proclaimed superfan who has worn his “We Are All Immigrants” hoodie to many a show (almost as often as I rep our blog), it was neat to feel appreciated by the band who created my #2 song of last year. I once again linked up with Claire Castillo from Castle Photographs, but unfortunately her SD card corrupted, leaving just a few of her shots from Friday’s showcases. Nonetheless, the few stills she was able to salvage turned out fantastic, encapsulating a glimpse into what was no doubt a weekend to remember.