FolkWorld Live Review 8/2000:
There are two things I love about the annual Rudolstadt festival. The first is the atmosphere - seeing a whole town be taken over by the festival and swept up in its spirit, "folk fever" as the locals refer to it. Diving into the crowds, the great mix of ordinary people and extraordinary characters of all ages who have come from all over Germany and beyond, the friendly, peaceful way people interact. Particularly this year, only days after nine festival goers had been crushed to death in Roskilde, the difference between a rock festival and the Rudolstadt atmosphere was extremely noticeable. The vast majority of the many stages manage without any security barriers, and yet you just couldn't imagine something like that happening in Rudolstadt.
The other thing that makes it a very special event in my view is the way it exposes people to musical experiences they would not have come across anywhere else. There's always a rich choice of music to be experienced, some of which has rarely or never made it to Germany before, some of which you just wouldn't have made the effort to go and see under normal circumstances, but which you find yourself really enjoying.
Among this year's more surreal experiences was
the concert by extravagant Japanese band Cicala Mvta - with the
wildest, craziest cellist I've ever seen, Hiromichi Sakamoto. As a
special guest, they had brought along the chindon drummer from Soul
Flower Mononoke Summit. In the afternoon before the concert, she and
Cicala Mvta's leader, clarinetist Wataru Okuma (with a little help
from knowledgeable and enthusiastic interpreter Paul Fisher of The Far Side) gave a
fascinating presentation on, and demonstration of, the Japanese
chindon tradition which evolved at the turn of the last century,
peaked in the 1920s and again after the Second World War, and largely
died out in the 1960s, but has recently seen a bit of a revival.
The chindon is a drum set made up of two drums and a small gong which are carried around on a shoulder-mounted wooden frame, typically accompanied by a (very large) "goros" drum, clarinet or saxophone, and a flag or banner bearer. The original purpose of these marching bands was to advertise newly-opened restaurants or shops by walking the streets in colourful costumes, playing adaptations of popular songs and grabbing people's attention by means of noise and spectacle. Not something you witness every day, certainly not in Germany.
The chindon presentation was one of the many events in
the festivals newest venue, added this year, the multi-screen
CinePlaza cinema. It offered welcome refuge from the uncertain
weather, and a chance to meet and question some of the performers. It
also offered the opportunity to watch a selection of rarely-to-be-seen
films with a folk/world music connection (documentaries, concert
movies, films with Goran Bregovic soundtracks) - a good idea, but time
seemed too precious to take advantage of it.
Probably the most popular of the CinePlaza events was the chance to meet some of the representatives of this year's featured country, England. In an extended question-and-answer session with "unplugged" musical interludes, Sin É and Waterson:Carthy presented their views on the past and future of (English) folk music. Sadly, Waterson:Carthy's main concert in the castle grounds on Friday was ruined for me by a spectacular downpour which no ordinary raincoat could cope with, so I had to leave and find shelter in one of the indoor venues, where Moanalani Beamer was busy demonstrating Hawaiian hula dancing. Fortunately the rain stopped in time for North Italian B.E.V.'s wonderful concert, which won them many new fans. A second attempt to catch Waterson:Carthy when they played in Rudolstadt's theatre on Sunday morning also failed miserably due to overwhelming demand - even when the theatre was filled to capacity, the queue was still long enough to have filled it again. So much for that...
Apart from Sin É and Waterson:Carthy, England was represented by the Hammersmith Morris Men, Paul Millns, Kathryn Williams, The Committee Band (who coped remarkably well with the overcrowded conditions in the dance tent) and the Bollywood Brass Band (complete with drummers from the Dhol Foundation), who proved so popular with the audience everywhere they appeared that they hopelessly sold out of CDs, leaving many would-be purchasers disappointed. I particularly enjoyed their unamplified performance on one of the small stages in the town centre's main pedestrian road, where they caused a massive "traffic" jam and even attracted a handful of local residents to their windows overlooking the street.
Another first-time visitor to Germany was Zimbabwean superstar Oliver Mtukutzi, who gave an excellent concert on the main Heinepark stage on Saturday night and - to many people's disappointment - sadly wasn't allowed back for any encores. There was simply still too much else to get through.
As ever, the closing concert on Sunday evening, which consists of multiple short performances and a longer one to close the festival, was a chance to see favourite performers again as well as to catch some of what I'd missed before (even Waterson:Carthy, but without melodeon-player Saul Rose by then). By the time Huracán de Fuego took over for the final hour of music and dance, it seemed hard to believe that it was already all over for another year. Time to start looking forward to the next one!
There is another Review of the Rudolstadt Festival in this issue.
Photo Credit: Photos by The Mollis, all taken at Tanz & Folk Festival Rudolstadt 2000:
(1) and (3) BEV, (2) impression at the castle
Further infos available at: Hompepage of Rudolstadt town, with a page for the festival
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