The best part of the Festival for me was going to the parties at night. All the performers stayed at the same hotel, and volunteers from the local folklore society, including me, staffed a Hospitality Suite for the performers there. We had a buffet table with food, soda, and beer for the performers. Some of the performers brought their instruments and jammed, while lots of people danced with them. Some of the Omani dancers were quite athletic. Their women were not allowed to dance except in certain ceremonial dances, but the men sure liked having the American women dance with them. I saw two young Omani women, probably no more than 20 years old, covered by their saris everywhere except for their faces, out in the hall, where they thought nobody would see them, and they were dancing. I heard the Omani piper play Omani music, Scotland the Brave, and Oh Susanna. I thought that must be the greatest cross cultural music of the Festival, but I was wrong. Another night, a bluegrass fiddler joined the Omani piper and drummers in playing Oh Susanna. One night, the bluegrass musicians gathered in the hall outside the party room and jammed. They were joined by a few people from the Cherokee nation who sang some of their traditional songs with beautiful harmonies. They explained to us that these were Christian worship songs. The melodies were traditional Cherokee, and Christian missionaries had put words to them. Someone asked how old the melodies were, and one of the Cherokee men said, “As old as dirt.” When they sang Amazing Grace in their native tongue, the bluegrass musicians played along. One of the bluegrass fiddlers really impressed me with his back up rhythms and chords, in addition to his highly ornamented melodies. His musicality was excellent, even when he played one of his mouth harmonicas. I’ve come to associate the harmonica with the raucous sounds of Bob Dylan, but this man made his harmonicas sound as warm and gentle as a breeze or a birdsong. I spoke to him about his fiddle music. I told him that I’m a classically trained violinist and I’m trying to learn rhythm backup bluegrass fiddle from a book, but that’s not a good way to learn. It’s far better to listen and join in. I was honored that another fiddler let me play her instrument for a few songs. I sat next to the awesome fiddler, listened, and tried to do what he was doing. At times I succeeded, but as quickly as I did, he changed to something else. What great talent and creativity! He gave me one of his CDs to take home and play along with.
There are just no other musical experiences like the ones I had at this Festival. I was so lucky.
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