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The beat goes on

Drum Boogie Festival spotlights world percussion at Kingston’s Cornell Park this Saturday

by Frances Marion Platt
September 15, 2011 12:24 PM | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Liam Teague
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Among all the different kinds of music in this world, there is none so elemental and grounding as percussion. The very first sound that each of us hears, in utero, is the drumbeat of our mother’s heart. And although many of us living in Western societies grow up believing that we have no natural sense of rhythm, it doesn’t take much exposure to a well-rendered beat to bring us all back to that inborn sense of well-being and attunement to the pulse of the universe.

Woodstock Chimes founder Garry Kvistad knows this well, and has made it his life’s mission to put the means to make beautiful rhythms back into the hands of modern-day Americans. A conversation with assemblyman Kevin Cahill back in 2009 inspired Kvistad to organize the first-ever Drum Boogie Festival to expose the Kingston community, free of charge, to percussive traditions from around the globe. Named, at the suggestion of Woodstock’s legendary graphic designer Milton Glaser, after Gene Krupa’s spectacular solo in the 1941 movie Ball of Fire, the Drum Boogie Festival invited world-class musicians from near and far to perform both separately and together, giving local audiences a sense of the amazing breadth of what can be done with drums and other percussion instruments. And so one of the great music festivals of the mid-Hudson region was born.

This Saturday, September 17, the Drum Boogie Festival returns to Kingston for the second time, beginning with an open Drum Circle at 9:30 a.m. and running all day until Cornell Park closes at 8 p.m. Kvistad is very enthusiastic about the location, calling the Park “the best-kept secret in Kingston.” Bordered by Post, Hunter and Wurts Streets and located near the old bridge connecting the Rondout Historic District with Port Ewen’s marina neighborhood Connelly, Cornell Park doesn’t look like much from the street, but turns out to be “terraced on three levels, like a Greek amphitheatre,” according to Kvistad. “When I first saw that Park, I fell in love with it…It has acoustic and visual characteristics that are really ideal” for this type of public music event.

And what an event the 2011 Festival is shaping up to be. The biggest name on the day’s roster is Woodstock’s own Jack DeJohnette, whom Kvistad calls “the most important jazz musician – not just drummer – alive.” The Jack DeJohnette Quartet, featuring David Sancious on keyboards and Luisito Quintero and Yusnier Sanches on percussion, is scheduled to take the main stage at 4 p.m.; but DeJohnette will also be on earlier, reading a poem as part of the Native American Music and Dance portion of the program that will feature Dennis Yerry, Matoaka and Powhatan.

Another participant is not nearly so well-known, but perhaps ought to be: 88-year-old Nick Attanasio of Lake Katrine, a member of the Not-So-Traditional American Rudimental Drummers, is the best bass drum player in the rudimental drumming field in the world, says Kvistad. What’s rudimental drumming, you ask? Well, it’s what drum-and-bugle corps play; but it’s a lot more than that, and its roots go back to the days before military units had bugles. Drum patterns once served the same functions that bugle calls do today: telling soldiers when to wake up in the morning or when to charge the enemy. It is said that the medieval Swiss Army used tabors to set complex beats to keep its pikemen from hacking each other up instead of the enemy when fighting in close formation. The French had replaced the tabors with snare drums by the 17th century and perfected the art of rudimental drumming under Napoleon.

Another rudimental drumming troupe that will be performing at Saturday’s Festival is Hip Pickles, which takes the form into a more contemporary mode (try visualizing a drum-and-bugle corps crossed with Blue Man Group). Chet Doboe of Hip Pickles is also the mind behind Drumstrong, a national not-for-profit organization that promotes the healing powers of music and raises funds for cancer charities. At the Drum Boogie Festival, Doboe will coordinate the Open Drum Circle that will kick off the day’s events and establish a focus on fundraising for the Kathy Janeczek Memorial Fund. Named for the well-loved longtime city clerk who was a noted booster of outdoor cultural events in Kingston and who died of cancer just two weeks before the original Festival in 2009, this local charity is administered by Family of Woodstock’s Cancer Treatment Grants Program, which assists indigent women contending with breast cancer. A raffle of cool prizes – including a number of fine percussion instruments – is one of the ways in which donations to the Fund will be solicited at this otherwise-free day of musical fun.

Who else will be playing? Nexus, the contemporary/classical percussion quintet whose members (including Kvistad) serve as artists-in-residence at the University of Toronto and have been called “the high priests of the percussion world” by The New York Times, is known for its many years of collaboration with Steve Reich. At 3 p.m. at the Festival, Nexus will perform an all-Reich program, including Mountain Quartet, a piece that the famed Minimalist composer wrote specifically for the group. If that seems a bit too highbrow for you, make sure that you catch the 7 p.m. closer: Hart Attack, a rock ensemble fronted by noted Woodstock session drummer Jerry Marotta. He’s a former member of Orleans who has also played with such luminaries as Peter Gabriel, Hall & Oates and the Indigo Girls. Nicole Hart sings, Sid McGinnis plays guitar, Pete Levin holds forth on the keyboards and Charlie Knicely holds down the bass end.

Then there’s Liam Teague, “the Paganini of the steelpan,” who hails from Trinidad and Tobago and is, according to Kvistad, “one of the few pan-players who can sight-read.” For this event, Teague will headline the NYU Steel Band. Also check out Jonathan Singer, who specializes in the obscure musical niche of ragtime xylophone, a type of “novelty music” popular in the 1920s. Its leading exponent, George Hamilton Green, lived in retirement in Woodstock until his death in 1970, and Singer has devoted himself to keeping Green’s compositions alive. Green’s music was featured in a number of early Disney cartoons, and he is credited by some as the inventor of the vibraphone.

Prefer something that harks back more to drumming’s African roots? Listen to Mandara, Valerie Naranjo’s group. Naranjo was in the Saturday Night Live band for 16 seasons and is also known for her long stint with The Lion King on Broadway. African dance will be part of Mandara’s performance; and Kvistad sees dance as just another form of percussion, anyway. He has brought in tap-dance wunderkind Orlando Hernandez to perform on Saturday; and Kingston’s own community youth ensembles, the Energy Dance Company and Percussion Orchestra of Kingston (better-known as POOK), will also turn out for the event.

Ready to unleash your own inner percussionist? Show up at Cornell Park at 9:30 a.m. with your drum in hand. And whenever you plan to arrive, it’s advisable to bring a chair or blanket, especially as the ground is still wet from all the recent rains. The Festival will go forward on Saturday unless there’s a deluge, in which case it’ll be rescheduled to Sunday. For more information, visit www.drumboogiefestival.com.

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