On Friday night at the 29th Annual Lotus Music and Arts Festival, attendees were greeted by rainy, autumnal weather. Echoes of music could be heard from the Sample Gates all the way to the courthouse in the heart of downtown Bloomington.
A variety of people were on the streets of college town, including but not limited to a traditional Vietnamese master musician and the leader of a Toronto-based band.
Master Vietnamese traditional musician Van-Anh Vo
As a San Francisco-based Vietnamese composer and traditional master musician, this is Van-Anh Vo’s second Lotus Festival. Vo tours and performs mainly with three instruments: the dan Tranh (zither), the dan Bau (monochord) and the dan T’rung (bamboo xylophone).
“I came here eight years ago and this is my second time at the festival,” Vo said. “I’m invited back here, so the festival organizer definitely wanted to present something with more cultural diversity.”
Her father was the reason Vo started performing, she said. Originally from North Vietnam, his father had to either enlist in the army during the Vietnam War or defect.
Related: [Lotus in the Meadow kicks off weekend of events]
“He didn’t like holding guns to shoot people, so he signed up as a guitarist,” Vo said. “He was playing really bad guitar at the time, but he got away. His risk was to rush onto the battlefield right after both sides stopped firing, and he had to play some music to boost the morale of soldiers.
Vo’s father saw his friend and bandmate being killed by a sniper during the war. After the war, Vo says his father learned music at the national conservatory. When she was 4 years old, her father started teaching her to play. Vo has been playing dan Tranh since the age of 6.
Playing music has helped Vo express her emotions with people around the world from different cultures, she said.
“It helps me meet new people,” Vo said. “It helped me to connect with different cultures, to understand the differences and to share the differences of our culture.”
As music has helped her express her emotions and connect with culture, Vo hopes her audience at the Lotus Festival can connect with traditional Vietnamese music and culture.
“I hope people can learn and bring back some of the Vietnamese culture and the beauty that we have, the traditional heritage that we have,” Vo said. “Maybe one day they will come to visit Vietnam, and maybe it’s a good start for them to experience a new culture.”
Leader Mark Marczyk
Mark Marczyk is the leader and co-founder of Toronto’s Balkan Folk-Punk Brass Lemon Bucket Orkestra. The group, described as a 12-member guerrilla-punk-klezmer band in the Lotus Festival Guide, has members from all over the world and many have Ukrainian roots.
If the members all have different backgrounds, they are all inspired by the Balkans and the Slavic countries. Marczyk’s experience living in Ukraine, where he was able to experiment with different types of music from different parts of the world, specifically influenced the direction of Lemon Bucket Orkestra.
The group was founded 12 years ago by Marczyk and a few other people who all fell in love with traditional Ukrainian culture and folk culture, Marczyk said. The Lotus Festival has invited selected artists this year to show their support for Ukraine, according to festival details.
“A lot of our music is Ukrainian and a lot of the message and the energy that we carry is positive,” Marczyk said. “We do a lot of political work and we do a lot of fundraising.”
Related: [Jacobs School of Music Ballet Theater to begin new season with ‘Fall Ballet’]
Marczyk said that together with his wife and band member Marichka Marczyk, they raised around $500,000 in fundraising projects for Ukraine. Lemon Bucket Orkestra feels it’s important for the band to perform and give a voice to Ukrainian culture so everyone knows what’s going on.
“We think it’s really important to play music that reminds people of all the positive aspects of Ukrainian culture that are basically under attack right now,” Marczyk said. “The freedom to be together and make our own choices, to celebrate life, tragedy and stories together.”
The colors of the Lotus Festival, from the annual shirt to the design of the brochure and the light strips at the concerts, all show Ukrainian support. Lemon Bucket Orkestra performed in Saturday’s festival parade and attendees were able to pick up an arts village flag or mask to show their support.
“We know that regardless of the audience, people come to listen to great music and be moved,” Marczyk said. “You come with an open heart, so it’s bound to be a good experience.”