Peace before the storm
The Sixth Annual California Worldfest offers a celebration of music and family
No one seemed to be talking about the tumbling stock market at the sixth California WorldFest in Grass Valley last weekend. The festival, a first-class event, offered 13 hours a day of nonstop music on five stages, and workshops and other activities on two more. The adjoining campgrounds, bathed in the shadows of hundreds of ponderosa pines, bustled with activity: Families cooked, kids played, and friends mingled.
There was so much to see, one person couldn’t possibly take in all the music. Saturday, for example, by 2 p.m. had seen more than a dozen performances take place. Scottish fiddler Alasdair Fraser, perhaps the festival’s MVP in terms of versatility and number of performances, led a morning dance at the Pine Tree stage. At the same time, up-and-coming singer-songwriter Alice Peacock drew a couple hundred fans to her Sierra Stage show. Meanwhile, Al Kemi, a talented group of belly dancers, entertained other folks at the indoor Cultural stage. By midday, three other guitarists—Italian classical guitarist extraordinaire Peppino D’Agostino, Lawrence Juber (formerly of Wings) and Bay Area guitarist Brian Gore—all played solo sets. Later on still, the CSU Chico All-Stars rocked out. The All-Stars consisted of many young local acts, mostly rock groups, who each got a few minutes to show their stuff.
But the top music story at this year’s festival was undoubtedly Adaawe, an L.A.-based rhythm and vocals outfit that featured seven talented and diverse women. Oh, there were other anticipated performers who dazzled the crowd, but Adaawe blew away its audiences with its mix of high-octane percussion, funk, Gospel-infused lyrics and pure joy. The women, a melting pot of talent from Kenya, Morocco and Brazil as well as the United States, performed three times and became the talk of the festival. Joselyn Wilkinson, the band’s founder, from Montana of all places, attended college in Ghana (Adaawe is the term that describes traditional women’s music in Ghana) and worked closely with women in a small village there. She was touched by the crowd’s reaction.
“The people have been really enthusiastic and open; there’s a lot of love in the air,” she said. “Everybody seems to be in the moment and in high spirits.”
Going in, Fruit was one of the festival’s known commodities. Playing at its third WorldFest, the five-piece alternative-pop outfit from Australia pleased its fans, old and new. However, a late start and a strict 11 p.m. curfew limited its set to an hour.
Saturday night, the crowd grew to about 4,500, according to festival officials, and the evening was capped by legendary Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart, who brought his outstanding ensemble, Bembé Orisha. Packing every inch of the stage with exotic percussion instruments from around the world, his set was a mix of Afro-Cuban and Middle Eastern sounds that alternated with a few particularly rhythmic songs from the Grateful Dead catalog: “Iko Iko,” “Fire on the Mountain” and “Not Fade Away.”
Sunday’s main stage acts were decidedly mellower. One of the festival’s most anticipated performers, Zimbabwe’s Thomas Mapfumo, performed, but for only 40 minutes due to a late start. It was unfortunate, as he and his group, Blacks Unlimited, offered a wonderful albeit abbreviated set of sweet, swaying music.
Capping the festival Sunday night on the main stage, fiddle master Matt Glaser and renowned banjo player Tony Trischka led the Wayfaring Strangers in a wide-ranging set of bluegrass and roots music. Also featuring Laurie Lewis and Tracy Bonham, their set featured traditional numbers such as “This Train” and “Goin’ to the Well,” as well as a Beatles medley bluegrass-style and even a PJ Harvey song.
There were many other outstanding festival performances. Don Ross, he of bushy hair and witty tales, mused from the Sierra stage Sunday. And all three days, Sid Lewis and his Acoustic College offered guitar workshops.
After the festival’s final tune, "The Wayfaring Stranger," emcee Lisa Bryant offered a sentiment, "Go in peace." But not to be outdone, Mother Nature herself provided the final fireworks as vehicles headed out of the fairgrounds accompanied by a thunderstorm that filled the sky with a summer lightning show.