Tuesday, July 14, 2009

San Jose Obon

Well that was a kick-ass fun weekend!

I'm not the best to give background and history of Obon festivals, but for those who don't know, the Obon festival is both for celebration and remembrance of loved ones. It's usually full of food, wares/games, music, dancing, and (hopefully) taiko!

The friday night before, we had a big potluck with about 60 college taiko players (plus some non-collegiate). In talking to my L.A. counterparts, it hit me that San Jose Obon is probably the largest in North America, if not the entire American continent (dunno what they're doing down south!)

SoCal is saturated with taiko groups and smaller Obons, so there's not a singular large one to be held. Even up here in NorCal, they've spread the Obon out so people can visit a new one each weekend - but the size of San Jose's is still stunning. We had 1200 dancers for the odori dancing on Saturday, and 700 on Sunday. That's 1200 dancers, not to mention all the onlookers and fans. I'd say we were easily close to 1500 if you included everyone else...yow!

We've been inviting college taiko groups to play both Saturday and Sunday before our sets, and since many of them don't have a practice space or a lot of drums to play on, it's great to watch them "cut loose" on our home turf, with our drums.

There's also something about performing at SJ Obon - it's one of the few festivals that we play on street-level, instead of being on a stage. A stage is great for various reasons (hot asphalt, easier to see, etc.) but being in the middle of so many fans and playing with the full ensemble is something we only get to do once a year.

My newest song - Commotion - which debuted in May, was in monster-mode on Saturday! We took it from the regular size of 7 people to all 18 of us, which made it look but huge and awesome. I don't mean my song is awesome (although I'm biased and it is), but having so many people playing taiko at once is an awesome experience!

A lot of people only get to see us at a concert, on stage, with lighting and a much broader range of pieces. A lot of people only get to see us at a festival, with the "4th wall" gone, all the songs full of energy and a more casual atmosphere. I was asked what the difference to me is between a festival like Obon and a concert, and I had to admit that while neither one is "better", there's nothing quite as much fun as playing for an Obon crowd...

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