Right on time
The seventh annual Chico World Music Festival promises something for everyone, including a little red, white and blue pomp and circumstance
Ethnic diversity will be at the forefront this weekend, as the Chico World Music Festival returns to Chico State for the seventh time. Cuban conga player Poncho Sanchez will ignite the festivities tomorrow night, Friday, Oct. 5, paving the way for continuous weekend performances all over campus by more than a dozen wide-ranging acts.
The festival climaxes Saturday night at Laxson Auditorium with a twin bill of passionate female artists, Iris DeMent and Laura Love. DeMent’s warbling porch songs are classic tales of Americana, often reflecting the struggles of the rural underprivileged and sung with a realism we can all feel.
Opening for DeMent is Laura Love, an Afro/Celtic ball of energy. Returning five months after she wowed the crowd at LaSalles, Love and her funky bass lines will be part of a duo, as she performs with acoustic guitarist and mandolinist Jan Todd. As a duo, Love’s arrangements are typically leaner than her full-band versions, which should bring the vocals to the forefront.
Both Laxson concerts require paid tickets. But shhh, don’t tell anyone: Laura Love fans can get a free, early glimpse of her during a 3-4 p.m. vocal workshop in the Wismer Theater.
Poncho Sanchez and his Latin Band return to Chico’s Laxson Auditorium in support of their recently released album, Latin Spirits, which itself is a melting pot of Cuban, African and Caribbean sounds combined with American inner-city soul. A Grammy award winner, Sanchez, with his trademark cap and bushy beard, will lead his brass- and percussion-heavy eight-piece combo in a set of unique instrumental fusion.
While the Laxson performers are certainly accomplished musicians with excellent reputations, the beauty of this year’s Chico World Music Festival promises to be the cultural swirl of the free daytime performances. The daytime proceedings, which take place on the lawns surrounding Laxson, include arts and crafts booths, multicultural food offerings as well as children-friendly presentations, courtesy of the Sawmill Theatre Puppet Company and the Chico Creek Nature Center. In addition, the Chico Unified School District will contribute an art exhibit, coordinated by four of the district’s fine-arts teachers.
Saturday’s free eclectic mix gets underway at 11:30 a.m., on the small Monument Stage, with Vassil Bebelekov and Family. The group will offer an hour of Bulgarian folk music, highlighted by Maria Bebelekov’s vocals and Vassil’s deep-dished kaba gaida bagpipe. The group is scheduled for a repeat Monument Stage performance Sunday at 11:30 a.m., and Vassil will also host a folk dance workshop in the Wismer Theater Saturday from 2 to 2:45 p.m.
Saturday’s Monument stage will also host, from 1 to 2 p.m., the West African Highlife band, an all-star ensemble of West African veteran musicians whose vocal harmonies, guitars and vibrant percussion will urge listeners onto their dancing feet. The Highlife band will reappear on the larger Sycamore Stage from 3:30 to 5 p.m., closing out Saturday’s free performances.
Gifted world-class vocalist Perla Batalla will appear four times during the festival. Her emotional expressiveness draws on her Mexican cultural roots, as well as collaborative experiences with artists as diverse as k.d. Lang, the Gypsy Kings and Iggy Pop. The result is a powerful, incomparable package that promises to win over even the most jaded music fan. Batalla is scheduled to host a vocal workshop at the Wismer Theater Saturday from noon to 12:45 p.m. and will appear on-stage as the Perla Batalla Trio on the Sycamore Stage Saturday from 2 to 3 p.m., Sunday from 11 a.m. to noon, and on the Monument Stage Sunday from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m.
Eighteen-year-old David Jacobs-Strain will host a blues guitar workshop Saturday in the Wismer Theatre from 1 to 1:45 p.m. The slide guitarist will then move over to on the Monument Stage to perform from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m.
Also at the Sycamore Stage Saturday, representing the United States Air Force and probably stepping just a little bit higher and flying the flag just a little bit prouder than usual, will be the Air Force Reserve Jazz Ensemble from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. and the Air Force Pipe Band from 3 to 3:30 p.m. The big-band sound of the Jazz Ensemble and the Pipe Band both promise to add a little red, white and blue pomp and circumstance to the festivities.
Habib Kahn will offer a sitar lecture/demonstration at the Wismer Theater Sunday from noon to 12:45 p.m., and the Troika Folk Dance Band, who will explore, perform and teach the fine points of Eastern European folk dancing, will follow at 1:45 p.m.
Dancing “body percussionist” Sandy Silva will perform with violinist Laura Risk on the Sycamore Stage Sunday from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. She’ll then bring her one-of-a-kind mix of American tap, Spanish flamenco and avant-garde modern dance (as well as “body slapping” sound effects) to what should be an unforgettable dance workshop from 2 to 2:45 p.m. in the Wismer Theater.
Habib Khan will reappear with Ancient Future from 2 to 3 p.m. Sunday on the Sycamore Stage. The ethereal Ancient Future, combining contemporary jazz, rock and international rhythms, has filled America’s highest-regarded recital halls and festivals with its brand of complex, inspirational and melodic mix of world music.
Master Irish fiddler Kevin Burke, whose resume includes three instructional tapes, will bring his expertise into the Wismer Theater for a workshop Sunday from 3 to 4 p.m.
And if all that isn’t enough, longtime Chico friends Spark & Cinder come home again to bring Sunday’s festivities to a rocking climax, from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Spark & Cinder promises to include bassist and founding member Billy “Dik Slax” Baxmeyer, who will once again make the commute from his new digs in San Luis Obispo. The band, part of Chico’s musical fabric for 25 years, is looking forward to the gig.
“It’s a great gig for us,” said keyboardist and part-time bassist Kim Gimbal. “It’s a well-attended community event where people turn out to see different kinds of world music. I know we’ll come away with some new favorites.”
This will be the Chico World Music Festival’s third year at the Chico State campus after four years at Cedar Grove, said Chico Performances’ Daran Marx Finney. Last year’s festival drew from 3,000 to 4,000 attendees for the free performances, and both headliners, Rickie Lee Jones and Ladysmith Black Mombazo, sold out the 1,300-seat Laxson Auditorium, she said.