Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Many Musical Faces of the Gratitude Steel Band


Last week I played 3 very different shows with the Gratitude Steel Band. On Friday we had a gig in Livonia at the Laual Manor. A hospital was hoding a graduation ceremony in the next room and as a surprise ending to the ceremony, they would open the dividing wall and expose a room filled with tropical decorations, food, drinks, Hawiian Dancers, and us. We did all Hawaiian tunes as the dancers danced, changed costumes, and danced some more. Songs like Blue Hawaii, Rock a Hula, Tiny Bubbles, etc. The two and a half hour show ended with a really nice Tahitian drum breakdown that starts pretty fast and just goes faster and faster. It was a nice way to spend an evening, and the food was great!
The next morning I hopped in my car and headed to downtown Detroit for the first ever Michigan Steel Drum Festival. Gratitude was slated to open the festival at 12pm. It was a really easy gig for me, because they had a drumset there already. The sound crew had a bit of trouble getting their stuff together, so the band skipped the soundcheck and just started jamming. It was so much fun, and all the people that were playing after us were totally into the improvisation. I always love playing in the morning or during the day when everyone is their most alert and attentive. The jam that started with Dayjumbe playing Mary Had a Little Lamb on some break drums turned into a 20 minute collage of musical ideas, swells, and releases. At noon, when we were supposed to go on, the sound wasn't quite ready, so it cut our show time from an hour to just over a half hour. We were featuring all the gospel tunes that the band plays at churches and religious events, so we had a small choir with us made up of members of the Russel's church choir, including Charles' cousin Jaquie Crawly. It was short, but high powered and sweet. 8 other bands performed at the festival, but we did not get to see any of them because we had to high tail it over to Canton, MI for the Liberty fest.
We finished in Detroit at 1pm and had to start in Canton at 3pm. The whole band got to Canton at about ten minutes to three. We were ready to play at about 10 after. Luckily, the performer after us was just one guy and a mic, so we didn't have to worry about stepping on another bands toes. By this time, everyone was very relaxed anyway, and the sound crew was understanding and really good at what they did. The gig was so much fun. We were playing with the family, myself on drumkit and the big bad Kelly from Trinidad on electronic drumset. Some of the beats we played together were so powerful that the whole band couldn't help but jump up and down on stage while we played. I think there was a drum solo in every song. I am not sure how it sounded to the audience, but on the stage everything was fat and juicy and it was so much fun!! I just kept looking at Kelly and smiling. We were in polyrhythmic bliss. The band did alot of reggae and calypso tunes for this show, which are great for dancing, but it was really hot, and there weren't very many people in front of the stage, so we kept the party right on stage with us and had a great time. It was one show that I wish that I had recorded.
This week I am playing another 3 shows with Gratitude. One is a community concert in Gross Ile, MI. another is a house Party in the burbs, and the last is at the Jefferson St. Jazz festival in Detroit. I have been playing with this band for almost 5 years now and I still never know what to expect when I show up for a gig. I am sure this weekend will be the same. Thanks for reading.


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