And the day turned to night…
Queued up four long blocks outside New York City’s Hammerstein Ballroom, runamuk characters fill up the street with enormous anticipation; their simmering hush broken by calls of delight, loud whoops, warbles and rooster crows. Everyone acknowledges each other by costume- the playful, mischievous energy of this event blossoming in every interaction. The first person I happen upon is the beautiful and fabulous Alison Lovett, just the lady I was looking for! Although we’d never met in person, she and I have both become great friends with Raja Ram via the Internet (she on MySpace seven years ago, me through Facebook last year). He had sung her praises many times and so we began to write back and forth, sharing our lives and experiences. We were so excited to finally meet, and since Raja had guestlisted both of us, we flew up to the front of the line together. I explained to the security guard that I was here with the Lost in Sound crew to review the show, Alison and I were on the list, and we must go inside to set up the camera before it gets too crowded. The security guard sends me in with everybody’s IDs to procure the passes, and in the fray of guest lists and press lists and confusing nicknames (Caeli La?… Dizzy Gillespie?) the overwhelmed ticket agent accidentally hands me three extra backstage passes and two extra tickets. Wowoweewah! I burst on the sidewalk hollering “WHO NEEDS A MIRACLE?!” The first guy to respond had come to meet his girlfriend, a big fan, but he was mostly unfamiliar with the music. I figured the ticket wanted to blow his mind with an initiation into all that is weird and wonderful, so I gave it to him with a hug. The next guy to approach me wasn’t in costume, so I made him swear up and down that he was not going to scalp the ticket. As we spoke, people around him yelled “He doesn’t deserve it, he’s not dressed up enough!” and he asked “Who are you to judge?” I gave it to him and he teared up, saying “You don’t know how much this means to me.” Miracles complete, I sprinted back to meet up with the crew.
Six eyed masks, floating above the crowd on heads, hats, shirts and posters, grin with wild abandon for all that was and all that is to be. Descending into the coat check/restroom area, we were immediately greeted by a group of people doing yoga, breathing deep and stretching wide in preparation for blast off. Phutureprimitive was opening, on fire as usual, while the audience responded with buoyant enthusiasm. Some people stood still in the bouncy crowd, eyes closed, hands pressed flat against each others’ high up in the air like a mutual prayer. I saw this happen multiple times throughout the night… group, partner, and solo meditations, like beacons of light conducting energy from the cosmos to activate the crowd. Next up was Hannah Thiem, a regal violinist vibrating her bow with fluid speed at a quickening pace, building the anticipatory vibes with willowy crescendos playfully layered over full, booming tribal-trance beats. Most of us up front stood still, transfixed with quiet awe. In a soft, shiny voice she thanked us and said simply “Up next, Shpongle.” The crowd roared. Positioning ourselves stage left, right in front of Raja Ram’s neon jungle of a setup, we anxiously awaited the band.
The Shpongle Shaman, Raja Ram
What happened next, if you’d like a breakdown of it musically speaking, can be found in some really great reviews here and here… my breakdown occurred in the form of boundaries breaking, illusions dissolving, downloads from the cosmos unzipped from their files, compressing, decompressing, as the ode to Ganesha at the end of “Ineffable Mysteries” (the opening song) inspired the exact same feeling I’d had just the night before as the plane from Oakland, California to New York, New York sped down the runway for take off. Take that feeling, times a thousand, imagine it on mushrooms and you’ve got an approximation of the crowd’s energy by the end of the first song.
And we got higher, and higher, and higher…
Like a dreadlocked diamond in a box full of rubies, my fellow Shpongloid Fan de Gonzalo appeared next to me, shining bright. We ventured further toward the stage into a group of people holding hands, dancing in a circle, taking turns jumping in the middle to spotlight their moves, and it was this glorious seemingly single organism of dance and movement and laughter and light, everyone grooving and moving together, connected so gracefully through the music. I reached my hand out toward a guy about my age, standing off to the side with a military haircut, looking extremely uncomfortable and uptight. He refused to take my hand and dance with us, and I couldn’t shake it- I wanted him to smile so bad! I danced around him for the rest of the night, watching as he watched the band and slowly began to clap… nod his head… sway back and forth, a little bit more, a little bit more… and then finally… a smile!!! Laughing at the antics onstage, he was like dawn breaking through grey rainclouds.What a delight! We all put our arms around each other, shoulder to shoulder, head to head, swaying as one, singing, laughing, loving it. I ran into a boy who had recently been through some very intense trauma and was glad to be able to dance with him, give him smiles and back rubs and reiki and hugs, which was just what I’d been wishing for. Shpongle set the stage for so many incredible connections to be made and experiences to be had… it was supremely spiritual, elevating everyone to heights yet unknown. And suddenly Oh, My, God. My favorite instrument in the universe, the hang drum, is brought to the stage, about to be played by the player I’ve been watching on YouTube since high school, the ethereal Dante Bucci. It was a complete surprise… at this point my mind exploded and I began to cry, sobbing and laughing hysterically at the same time, as somebody hugged me from behind and said “Wow, to feel it like that, what a trip.” I did not stop crying and laughing at the same time for the rest of the show. This has never happened before, and it was the most incredible feeling of communion, better than any drug I’ve taken, happier than ecstasy, trippier than acid, more spiritual than mushrooms. As the hang drum bounced waves of wonder off the walls of the ballroom, I was completely out of body, traveling with the sound, in it, full of it, part of it, all of it. Loving it. As the show came to a close, encoring with my favorite song “Around the World in a Tea Daze,” I sang along to the Sanskrit mantra woven so beautifully in with horns, bleeps, blips and strings- “Hara Hara Maha Deva Shambho Kashi Vishwanatha Gange” (Ode to the destroyer, to the highest power, to the river that flows by the lord of all things). I collected myself from the ceiling and came back down to find the crew.
Backstage, we ascended to the tippity top of the staircase into a tiny room filled with a very big presence… Raja Ram swirled around into an explosion of love, hugs and sky high vibes on his way out to catch the flight for tomorrow’s show in Oakland, CA. We made plans for tomorrow and waved him goodbye. In the next room, Dante Bucci, the night’s supreme surprise, was sitting on the couch. I said “Ohhh you, I have SO many questions…” and he began to regale me with a deep, profound understanding of his instrument and astonishingly intelligent discourse. Dizzy and Eliav slipped in to begin filming and recording it, and with his permission we conducted a formal interview. It was just amazing, completely spontaneous and unexpected… a real treat, and I can’t wait to share it.
We headed to Nobo’s house to decompress and catch up with each other, then I went home to get ready for my flight back to Oakland, departing in a few hours. Sleep was not an option, so I ate some breakfast, hugged my mom and flew off into the next adventure. Breezing through security, I floated onto the plane full of wonder at the resilience of my body and mind, grateful for the comfort of Cloud 9. Out like a light and my eyes opened wide to put my seat back in an upright position; the tiny window glowing bright with California sunshine (I left New York grey, rainy and cold below 20 degrees, and flew straight into 76-and-sunny perfection). Alighting off the aircraft, zooming down the moving sidewalk through baggage claim and into the arms of my partner in crime,space&time, Miss Emma Lorraine, we headed onto the fabulous Telegraph avenue in Berkeley for miso soup and rainbow rolls. A quick stop by our friends’ house to get adorned, and we were off to Shpongleland at the legendary Fox Theatre. We braced ourselves for the inevitable parking nightmare, knowing we’d need to leave the car somewhere until at least 5am. Like magic, a space opened up right in front of the venue, with a gorgeous man in a tuxedo standing there to tell us this spot was perfectly fine, he leaves his car overnight here all the time, never a ticket, and after the show we should come to the party next door. We laughed and cried “the Shponglegods are smiling!” Inside the venue, we were both stunned speechless at the intricate, ornate, delicate, golden, glowing beauty of this otherworldly opera house. In VIP we ran into the fantastic photographer Dave Vann, and lo and behold, Greg Gordon, the CEO/Founder of Pyramind (the music school Emma and I are beginning in January) is standing there and I CAN’T BELIEVE HE’S A SHPONGLE FAN! It was such a perfect sign. We located some of my Boston crew who have all migrated West together- a group of gorgeous girls, Leah, Elyse, Rocio and friends- and found our spot in the crowd front-left, again in front of Raja’s neon jungle, eagerly waiting for the lights to dim.
Cid Shaha [Photo Credit: Kevin Seaman]
Three, two, one…
Blast off!!! The curtain parted and lights exploded to reveal the opening invocation of “Ineffable Mysteries,” interpreted by the traditional Indian Kathak dance-fusion of Cid Shaha, an incredible man dancer with spectacular talent. We worked our way up to the barrier separating stage from floor and I hung over it for the whole show, eyes glued to parts of the performance I’d been unable to see the night before; taking the time to close my eyes and follow sounds weaving in, out and around each other, feeling the energy swell as the crowd got looser and louder, weirder and wilder. Although the band flowed through the same setlist, this show had it’s own distinct quality, owing to the elaborate choreography and costumery of several groups of dancers, and the unique atmosphere created by the audience. Going to Shpongle in New York was like going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala on acid; lots of model-and-actor-like-creatures, dressed to the nines with sky-high Louboutins on their feet and Gaga-like sculptures on their heads. The audience in Oakland was just as decked out in sillier, brighter gear, but New York has an air of expectation, this impossibly high standard that everyone strives to meet under the pressure of being in the center of the World. In Oakland, the attitude was completely open and receptive, although the New York audience was much more diverse in terms of race, creed, color and costumes. The general feeling of Oakland was super shiny, delightful and chill, whereas New York was weird, supercharged and fierce.
After a three hour ride through the peaks, valleys, rooms and chambers of Shpongleland, with opera singers Abigail Gorton and Michele Adamson truly shining in such perfect acoustics, the show came to a close. We made waves backstage, where we found ourselves surrounded by the most phenomenal group of people. The musicians, performers, crew, family and friends created a vibrant abundance of color, love and beauty. For the rest of the night we delighted in each other, making merry, riding this incredible high full of love, appreciation and complete occupation of the moment. Raja gave me a fan he’d hand drawn, and I still have not put it down (in line at breakfast the next morning, the barista saw it and said YEAH, let’s get Shpongled!) So many mind blowing conversations abounded… beautiful moments shared with people that elevated us with their ingenuity and purity… and it was all Raja Ram, the grand maestro, looking every individual in the eye as if we each had a spectacular secret to share, encouraging the spirit to come out and play. To sum up my adventure with the traveling circus of epiphanic psychedelicacies, here’s an excerpt from the letter I wrote to Raj the next day:
“…because thats what Shpongle is: the ULTIMATE fusion of ALL, the consummate love of an entire world coming together through this incredible sound, weaving all cultures, genres, people, and places together… its because you and Simon and everyone on stage, through the music and costumes and performances, give everybody in the crowd permission to wave their freak flags HIGH and be as weird, wild and wonderful as possible… what it does is break down the illusion of SEPARATENESS… to show us that we are all the same, while we are all incredibly unique. This music and crowd and experience is at the forefront of the evolution of sound, guiding us into unity through LOVE, and I am so grateful to be able to know you while its all happening. It felt like we were coming HOME to a big happy cosmic family… I truly believe that touring the Live band in the States will spark something absolutely divine in the hearts of thousands upon thousands… basically, we’ll all be joining the circus… and entering Shpongleland /:::-) ‘you are whatever a moon has always meant and whatever a sun will always sing is you’… forever love… big hugs & OM”