As another summer from Hades blankets south-central Indiana, an early sign of merciful fall arrives with the Summer Night of Lotus, a concert of musical hors d’oeuvres meant to whet appetites for the upcoming Lotus World Music and Arts Festival.
Three very different – but all triple-strength caffeinated – musical adventures will unfold in high gear at the Buskirk-Chumley Theatre on Friday, July 13, at 7 p.m.
Initiated three years ago as an annual means of officially launching the Lotus “season,” this year’s Summer Night of Lotus features Grupo Fantasma, a lively, 11-man, Austin-based Afro-Latin funk fusion outfit; the Wilders, a four-piece string band from Kansas City known as much for their torrential, comedy-peppered live performances as for their remarkable musicianship; and Kusun Ensemble, an exhilarating percussion and dance group hailing from Ghana, that many folks will recall having seen during Lotus Festival, 2005.
Of the decidedly up-tempo lineup, Lotus Executive Director Lee Williams says Grupo Fantasma will likely be the least well-known to attendees. But those who do catch the sonic live wires are in for a treat.
“Everyone I’ve talked to who has seen them play says they are some of the best performers they’ve ever seen,” he says. “They have really good press, great presentation, they have it all.”
Indeed, Grupo Fantasma has garnered both national and local attention. Hand-picked by Prince to back him during his explosive Super Bowl performance last February, the group has been selected by Austin Music Awards as Best Latin Contemporary Band for several consecutive years.
Boasting a hefty treasure chest of both standard and exotic instrumentation, including horns, percussion, guitar and cuatro, Grupo Fantasma is known for its exuberant mixture of Afro-funk, Latin, cumbia, hip-hop, salsa and merengue rhythms to create an overall musical atmosphere in which dancing is just plain compulsory.
Like Grupo Fantasma, the Wilders, who have been burnishing their brand of bluegrass, hillbilly, honky-tonk and country-western tunes since 1996, are also known for their ardent, transcendent live shows.
Fiery fiddle, banjo, dobro, mandolin, guitar, stand-up bass and airtight vocals – along with onstage banter that is downright funny without ever veering into irreverent, ironic territory – distinguish the Wilders from their peers.
Williams says the feisty quartet is “considered one of a handful of the most well-known artists in the community of music they represent. People who know them love them. They’ve been doing the festival circuit for a long time, and we’re lucky to have them here.”
Radically jumping genres, Ghana-based Kusun Ensemble will bring its energetic mixture of traditional and innovative West African music and dance back to Bloomington after being here for Lotus Festival two years ago.
Williams says many will remember Kusun Ensemble from when “they participated in the drumming workshop, the parades and put on an amazing performance at the Buskirk-Chumley.”
Founded by Nii Tettey Tetteh, Kusun Ensemble delivers a convulsive combination of West African traditional music with African jazz and hilife, in an instrumental package that includes the flute, drums, guitar and bells.
Audiences are typically left spellbound and dizzy after seeing Kusun Ensemble, partly because of what Williams calls the “awe-inspiring athleticism and dance and movement” of their performances.
In addition to serving as a fundraiser for the Lotus Foundation, the Summer Night of Lotus will serve other functions as well, Williams says.
“It is the ‘kickoff’ to the festival season, and we will be announcing our full festival lineup, and people will be able to buy the festival pin and T-shirt,” he says.
This year’s T-shirt and pin were designed by multi-talented LuAnne Holladay, who is Lotus Festival assistant director as well as a graphic artist. While the actual image will remain a surprise until concert night, Holladay describes an elegant design chock full of symbolism that most Bloomingtonians hold dear.
“The T-shirt and pin designs are related,” she says. “I was inspired by this year’s visual arts project – the ‘art bike,' which will be tricking out and decorating a dozen or so bikes to be used in the Lotus Festival processions.
“Bikes are cultural icons around Bloomington because of Breaking Away and the Little 500, etc,; these days there are even more reasons to advocate for bikes; and so on. There’s also the whole symbolic impact of circles and spirals: community, wholeness and movement.”
Plenty of movement and cardiovascular workout music will be on hand at Summer Night of Lotus. While this year’s lineup is more up-tempo than the previous two, Williams says this is a show music lovers won’t want to miss.
“This time it’s definitely more aggressive and in your face,” he says, “but it will be an amazing night of music. Come on out!”
Lori Canada can be reached at .