Asked to predict the top act at the eighth annual Lake Eden Arts Festival, co-director Jennifer Pickering opts to spotlight the holistic resonance of the entire event: "Of course, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band is absolutely a highlight, but it's a really packed lineup, and all of the music has a vibrant energy. ... One of the nicest things is that most of the performers actually hang out right at the festival.
"We make it really easy for people to come," continues Pickering, noting the variety of ticket options (see sidebar).
Experiencing their first-ever L.E.A.F will be a stunning Nepalese group called Shringara Nepal, who'll perform intermittently throughout the weekend. "People are so fascinated with Nepal, yet few have ever experienced Nepalese music," she points out. Yes, if a theme exists for this year's festival, it's definitely set to a world beat, Pickering concedes -- with the Swiss bluegrass band The Kruger Brothers and Samite of Uganda as featured acts: "We'll have a lot of stuff people haven't heard," she promises. "They'll go, 'This is great. ... What is this?'"
Samite Mulondo (a.k.a. Samite of Uganda)
As the leader of a traditional African band, Ugandan Samite Mulondo has seen firsthand how the right note can extinguish boundaries.
"We've played all over the world, for the smallest fan and the oldest; we've played at nursing homes, for mentally challenged kids, at universities like Cornell, and to farmers at festivals who [would normally] listen to bluegrass. Music transcends all of these [cultural] differences," he declared proudly in a recent telephone interview.
But as a political refugee, Mulondo treaded precarious ground. After fleeing Uganda in 1982 and spending five years in Kenya (including six months at a refugee camp), he came to the United States and settled in western New York state. Two years ago, he returned to his native land to film the ravages wrought by civil war in Liberia, Rwanda and Uganda.
In an essay detailing his homecoming (written before the resulting documentary, Song of the Refugee, was released), the musician reported movingly: "[The film] was inspired by a desire to present African refugees' hopes for the future in spite of the suffering and loss they have endured. Media coverage during the darkest days of the crisis ... concentrated on violence and destruction, on waves of humanity fleeing in desperation. There was no sense that these were individuals, with families and communities. With this incomplete picture, and little or no coverage of the reconciliation and healing processes now under way, it is no wonder that Africans appear helpless and hopeless to Americans. ... [This] documentary moves from a helpless picture of refugees whose lives must be saved to a hopeful picture of a country that has been rebuilt in a large part by refugees who survived."
Released a year ago on PBS, the film has garnered emotional responses from people all over the world, says Mulondo.
"For African people, they feel that it shows the true side of Africa -- people who are still very hopeful," he posits. "And Americans [realize] another side of the situation."
One of the most moving moments in the documentary, Mulondo feels, is when he and his band play for refugees long bereft of the sounds of their homeland: "When you bring music back, it's like life is being restored to them." Having lived in two hemispheres, Mulondo views Westerners' increasing acceptance of world music with little surprise: "It's not just music. People are becoming more interested in other cultures because they realize that people are more alike than [they had thought]." Tellingly, the fact that none of his songs are sung in English has done nothing to hinder their popularity.
"[The language barrier] definitely hasn't been an issue at all in my performances," Mulondo notes. "People make the connection."
Song of the Refugee will be shown at LEAF on Saturday, May 29, at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. (the musician will be on hand to answer questions at the first showing), and on Sunday at 1 p.m. Mulondo -- who goes by the name Samite of Uganda in his role as musician -- will perform with his band on Saturday, May 29 at 5:30 p.m. and on Sunday, May 30 at 2 p.m., on the Lakeside Stage.
The Dirty Dozen Brass Band
Much has been made of the fact that New Orleans' longtime treasure is actually only an octet. But for one brief moment, many years ago, the band almost fit its name. In a recent interview, saxophonist Roger Lewis recalls that moment of truth:
"We did a parade once, and we wanted to have a picture [from it] that actually had 12 people in it," he remembers. So they plucked a few lucky extras from the crowd, to flesh out the ensemble.
"But an extra person slipped in, so there ended up being 13 -- an unlucky number," he says with a laugh.
At least one of the band members must be fortified with four-leaf clovers, though, because this group has enjoyed unflagging popularity for more than 20 years now. Formed in the Crescent City during a brass-band dry spell (now, of course, there are scores, attesting in part to this band's influence), the Dirty Dozen Brass Band decided to drop the latter two words from their name a few years ago, realizing that their sound had evolved far beyond those parameters.
"We aren't only a brass band," Lewis explains. Expansive funk still issues from those horns (Julius McKee's standout sousaphone is a continued hallmark), but electric keyboards have slipped in just like that wannabe band member did in the group photo, allowing the band to dabble in pop and R&B.
Appearing as just the Dirty Dozen, the band played on, with a slightly-less-misleading name. But the change caused some confusion among fans, and eventually, the group decided to re-adopt its original moniker.
"People knew us the other way," he says simply. Newer jazz aficionados, in particular, struggled with the switch. "You know, we're a lot older than we were 20 years ago," Lewis feels compelled to point out, "but we're still getting a lot of college kids." (And younger fans: Festival coordinators have chosen the Enka Middle School Fusion Jazz Band to open for the Crescent City legends).
"The [younger people] really get off on it," Lewis continues. "There's no generation gap, musically speaking. Because music is music, and it don't matter how old you are: If it's good, it's good."
The group has shared stages with an almost comically diverse lot, among them Ray Charles, The Black Crowes, Bonnie Raitt and The Grateful Dead. And the DDBB has played to fans in China, Japan, Israel, Europe, Asia and Brazil. But ask Lewis to discern shades of reaction among this global assortment of grooving bodies, and he sees only bliss.
"We've never had a bad response, anywhere," he enthuses. "The response is always the same. It's because the music is so electrifying. ... It's people music, music that makes people move. And people are people: It don't matter what race or creed or religion you are. Every time we play, it's a joyful thing."@boxtext:The eighth annual Lake Eden Arts Festival -- which runs Friday, May 28 through Sunday, May 30 -- features world-class musical acts; dancing of all sorts (contra, square, waltz, clogging, Sufi, world-beat); some 30 healing-arts workshops (including classes in yoga, meditation and qigong, as well as herb walks); a national poetry slam; and many local performers, including the Latin group Con Clave, local performance poet Glenis Redmond, the dizzying progressive bluegrass act Sons of Ralph, singer/songwriters Anne Lalley and Marshall Ballew, and young bluegrass pickers The Greasy Beans.
Friday's lineup includes: Popcorn Behavior (5 p.m., Lakeside Stage; 8 p.m., Brookside Dance Hall), Sons of Ralph (6 p.m., Lakeside Stage; 10:30 p.m., Eden Hall), Shringara Nepal ( 5 p.m., Eden Hall; 7 p.m., Lakeside Stage), the J.P. Delanoye Band (8 p.m., Lakeside Stage; 11:30 p.m., Eden Hall), Donna the Buffalo (9:30 p.m., Lakeside Stage), Atlanta Swamp Opera (6 p.m., Brookside Dance Hall; 11 p.m., Lakeside Stage), The Greasy Beans (7 p.m., Eden Hall), Glenis Redmond with Debra and Joe Roberts (9 p.m., Eden Hall), and much more.
Saturday's lineup includes: The Dirty Dozen Brass Band (4 p.m. and 10 p.m., Lakeside Stage), Samite of Uganda (1 p.m., Eden Hall; 5:30 p.m., Lakeside Stage); The Persuasions (2 p.m., Eden Hall; 8:15 p.m., Lakeside Stage), Poetry Slam finals (8 p.m., Eden Hall), repeat performances by many of Friday's artists, dance workshops and performances throughout the day, and much more.
Sunday's lineup includes: The Persuasions (1 p.m., Lakeside Stage), The Kruger Brothers (12 p.m., Eden Hall; 3 p.m., Lakeside Stage), a dance finale with Popcorn Behavior (2 p.m., Brookside Dance Hall), and much more.
(Visit the festival Web site at www.theLEAF.com or call (828) 68-MUSIC for a complete performance schedule.)
A variety of ticket options will be offered: $80 (adults) and $65 (youths) buys a weekend pass, including camping. Partial weekend passes, day passes and year passes (which cover both the spring and fall L.E.A.F. festivals) are also available. Again, call (828) 68-music or access the festival's Web site at www.theLEAF.com for detailed info.
The Lake Eden Arts Festival takes place at Camp Rockmont, 377 Lake Eden Road, Black Mountain. From the west, take I-40 to Exit 59 (Swannanoa), turn left off the exit, right at light onto US-70, left at the next light, over the bridge, right at the stop sign, go one mile to traffic light, left onto Lake Eden Road. From the west, take I-40 to exit 65 (Black Mountain), head straight through town (about 3.5 miles), turn right at the light onto North Fork Road, left at the light onto old U.S. 70, right onto Lake Eden Road.