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Nearby Music Festivals

By Nancy Buchan 

Going to an outdoor music festival is just about as much fun as a person can stand.  Whether you’re dancing to a circle of banjo players pickin’ some fine bluegrass in the Colorado mountains, or laying in a lounge chair sipping a drink with a little umbrella in it on the French Riviera, listening to some cool jazz cats – it’s fun!  The opportunity to hear a bunch of different artists at one venue is irresistible.  Even if there’s 12 stages going on all at once (like the wonderful New Orleans Jazz Fest) and you have to approach it like some kind of military maneuver, it’s fun!  There are lots of interesting festivals being held all over the planet – for just about any genre of music.  Some of them showcase other artistic endeavors besides music, many have ecological or planetary themes, or maybe they’re concerned with our spiritual health…  Anyway, there are a couple of interesting new or newish festivals being held in our little part of the world I want to tell ya’ll about.  

The Jungle Jam in Jaco will be history by the time this magazine comes out, and I hope they had a successful event musically and financially.  The key word here is ‘jam’.  Unless you listen exclusively to ABBA or Merle Haggard, you are probably aware of this popular musical approach, which is always better live – in fact, that’s the whole point.  One time only – inspired – tribal –a flock of birds dipping and turning and soaring as one.   Of course the Grateful Dead were the masters at this, and what seems so loose and spontaneous actually came from a deep well of musical knowledge.  The Dead’s drummer for 30 years, Bill Kreutzmann, has many fans who traveled great distances to hear his band and Max Creek, another jam band, meander around the musical landscape.  Now if you needto hear a logical song, with a beginning, verses, a chorus, regulated solos and a scripted ending, then these guys will drive you nuts.  But if you don’t require a map and compass to enjoy the musical journey, then take the trip with them!  There will be a couple of jam bands featured at both the festivals down south… 

On February 9th and 10th there is a new outdoor festival called The Best Fest being held near Ballena national park – turn to the beach right next to Roadhouse 169.  The producer has put on a few other concerts in this area, but he’s stepping it up a notch for this event.  This is an all-ages-friendly gathering, and there’s a lot of musical variety going on.  Their website has music samples from the booked performers, and I thought some of these guys were really great!   Costa Rican bandsCocofunka and FushionFunk San Jose will be doing that funky chicken, and the Pimps of Joytime from NYC just opened for New Orleans Funky Meters, so they must be good and righteously funky!  Costa Rica’s Ojo de Buey will be playing smooth reggae, and if you like the jam band idea check out The Werk – Bill Kreutzmann just played at a festival they put on in Ohio.  I’m looking forward to hearing Chicago based Van Ghost – they feature some great vocals in a kind of pop-rock format.  

This will be the third year for the Envision Festival, and once again they have lofty goals and diverse global issues on their agenda.   The fest is described in their promo as being about “Music, Art and Sacred Movement” – what’s not to love about that?  I’m a bit clueless and a lot jaded about yoga, and hoola hoops as a creative pastime, and chanting and I’m not sure I want to findmy inner goddess, but heck – I love the opportunity to celebrate and dance and maybe sing along to live original music!  The folks running this train did a great job last year with the daunting task of turning an overgrown field in Central America into a beautiful and efficient festival site/town.  Multiple stages, food booths, water, sound systems, acrobatic apparatus, parking and camping – there’s a lot of pesky details involved and this year should be bigger and better in many ways.  They have found a nice niche – the focus is on healing the body and mind, facing ecological challenges, communal activities to re-vitalize the soul, and oh yeah – some great live music!  

Since last years festival the folks at Envision have donated to or helped build some cool things here locally – sidewalks in Uvita, the kindergarten building at the Dominical school, a school roof in Ballena, responsible tree planting and building a nursery in the Marina Ballena national park to name a few. They are hoping to involve the indigenous Borucas by showcasing their art, masks,weavings and ceremonial rites.  They were really proud last year of their re-cycling and clean up – they take the ‘leave no footprint’ thing seriously.   Security has been beefed up for everyone’s safety and the festival is providing free drinking water – I can’t think of any festival that does that! They added more kid activities and even have an Envision Festival beer! There are basically two main large stages – one is dedicated to live music/dance/performance and the other to techno/electronic/ DJ stuff.  I’ll be at the live music stage listening to Quixotic (violin, percussion, mix and a performance troop), or Santos and Zurdo (great sitar and guitar weirdness), or my favorite Costa Rican band – Calavera y La Canalla.  Amazing visual stuff goes on all around – acrobats and folk singers and light shows and trapeze artists – and the fashion statements are not to be missed.  Kind of Burning Man meets Mardi Gras and Bourbon Street…. 

I usually avoid group drum-beating gatherings like a surfer avoids the rocks, but there is plenty of medical proof that taking part in musical or percussion events is good for you.   Ok, Ok – that probably includes chanting.  I read about a study in Germany where the scientist types took blood samples from drummers playing together before, during and after their session.  The evaluation showed a huge spike in the body’s production of good immune system proteins, and in anti-stress hormones during the time they were playing.   There was a little difference when they were merely listening to drums, but not much, so the lesson here is that taking part in group music gigs or drum circles or chanting OM with a bunch of freaky looking people is good for you!  And, FYI, the long O sound supposedly stimulates the pancreas, which regulates blood sugar. A study of choir members showed they had less respiratory problems, better posture, better digestion, more pain-relieving endorphins being released and were more alert.  A study in Taiwan concluded that group music activity significantly reduced psychotic symptoms in patients with acute schizophrenia. None of this is really news – any musician will testify that playing music makes ‘ya feel better and chases away the blues.  So if you can’t be actually playing with the band, then at least get out and take part in the surrounding communal fun – dance, sing along, jump up and down – have some fun!  

There’s quite a bit of good music going on in this area right now, so take advantage of it!  Find some friends to sing with and improve your health!  All these festivals have great web sites with lots of information, so Google them and check out what they have to offer.

 Write me at njbfiddle@aol.com


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