This Must Be The Place: Another Lotus Family Gathering at Summer Dance

There’s a wonderful place in Garrettsville, OH called Nelson Ledges Quarry Park. They host a number of festivals on their lush, forested grounds. Every year since 2008 (save 2012), diehard fans of the five-piece, genre-bending, instrumental rock band Lotus have flooded the Ledges and its wonderful woods, beach, and quarry lake to reunite with friends from wide and far, reconnect with nature, and connect with their favorite band at an intimate little music festival called Summer Dance. Lotus recently released their newest album Gilded Age in July and, at the same time were already working on the next album (a funk-infused dance album), which is scheduled to hit the shelves in early 2015. Due to the significant studio work this has entailed, the band has had a light summer festival schedule and after headlining a show at Red Rocks Amphitheater on September 19th has no performances scheduled or planned until its New Years run (which the band will announce in the coming weeks). The scarcity of performances made fans all the more excited about this year’s Summer Dance and the surprises Lotus had in store.

 

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But before getting into Lotus’ performances, let’s take a second to acknowledge the rest of the music the Ledges had to offer that weekend. There were three acts outside of Lotus that really stood out during Summer Dance, each for a different reason. Here’s the rundown:

 

3. The Up-And-Comer with the Consistency and Energy of a Seasoned Veteran: Indigosun

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Indigosun is a Chicago-based act on the rise and making a name for itself on the live music scene. Like The Doors, they are a three-piece outfit, but the stringed instrument they lack is the guitar as opposed to the bass. Frontman and keys player Kyle Liss fills that gap in a most funky and fun-filled way. Astronaut uniform and all, his stage presence leaves you smiling; his music brings with it a message of pure positivity, and it was a perfect way to start our final day of music at the Ledges, even with the rain sprinkling upon us. By the end of the band’s set, the rain had stopped and the sun had begun to peek out. It seems that the sun was just as into Indigosun’s intergalactic funktronica as were the numerous fans dancing happily in the sand. Those in line to have memorabilia signed by the members of Lotus seemed to enjoy the tunes as well, bobbing their heads along to the beat as the line slowly inched its way forward. The band has been expanding its reach, recently performing in Colorado and elsewhere. Check out their Facebook page, follow them, and if they make it to your town don’t pass up the opportunity to see them for yourself. You’ll undoubtedly leave with a smile.

 

2. A Picture of Professionalism Perfected: Adam Deitch (Break Science)

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I have trouble getting into most of the music that passes here in America as dub-step, and sometimes the genre’s aggressive, grating sounds work their way into the music of the electronic duo known as Break Science. However, Break Science is perhaps the one act that can really delve into the sounds of popular American dub-step without chasing me away from the stage. The only reason I find myself able to stick it out is the the mind-altering drumming skills of the one and only Adam Deitch. He’s the kind of drummer you watch with jaw hitting the ground, asking yourself, “How on Earth does he do it?” Every time I have seen this man perform, whether it’s with Lettuce, Break Science, or drumming off against the equally talented Stanton Moore (of Galactic), I am reminded of what true musicianship is. Intricate beats, flawless execution, and an energy that sticks with you and keeps you coming back for more, Adam Deitch surely has figured out the recipe for success. I can do without the dub-step, but I sure was pleased to see Deitch bringing the fire to a weekend where many bands, even those we most expected to bring their A game, seemed to follow in the footsteps of NLQP Headquarters and failing to completely get it together in time for the big day. Of course, this state of chaos is part of the charm of NLQP, and is therefore to some extent desirable. But it’s always a treat to see a musician absolutely nailing it, even in a place where the laid-back, take-it-as-it-comes approach is expected and beloved.

 

1. The One Act At Summer Dance That Truly Outdid Itself: Nunchuck

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The one act that truly surpassed its bar this weekend was Nunchuck, the side project of Lotus percussionist Chuck Morris. Nunchuck has taken numerous forms, most often as a solo endeavor of Morris, but he has also been accompanied by Anthony Fugate on numerous occasions. This past weekend however, I witnessed Nunchuck play in the form of a full-fledged band for the first time. Joining Morris on the stage was Higher Learning’s keyboardist Niles Roberts, as well as bassist Nino Dimitrouleas and guitarist Chris Hauser of The Werks. Not only were each and every one of the musicians on point and in sync with one another, but the world music influences (traditional of Nunchuck) combined with the variety of upbeat instrumentals that came out of the collective of musicians, whom united for this set, created the perfect ambiance for that sunny summer Saturday. Nunchuck has always been a good time in my experience – it’s hard not to dance to Chuck’s rhythmically complex beats and ambient melodic electronic accent work. Yet, the added instrumentals really created something special. It’s always nice to begin a day with a bang, and Nunchuck did just that. Seeing Chuck’s side project take the form of a full band again would certainly be a treat – only good can come of this. Keep your fingers crossed, fans. If Nunchuck band happens again, and you’re within striking distance, do NOT miss it.

Onward and upward, friends. It’s time to talk about the festival’s starring act.

The Good, the Badass, and the Downright Ugly: Lotus’ Two-Night Stand at the Ledges

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Let’s begin with the Good. Their first night began with one of the best versions of “Bush Pilot” I’ve ever seen, followed by a pleasant version of the pretty and peaceful rarity “Kalea.”  Then there was the debut of their cover of Vulfpeck’s “It Gets Funkier,” featuring the theatrical antics of tour manager Sean Garahan, who was joined by a couple of ladies from backstage who came out to get their dance on. “Wax” was wonderfully weighted in favor of percussion this night, with Morris and drummer Mike Greenfield sitting pretty in the spotlight, and Rohan Prakash of Higher Learning briefly sitting in on the congas. The second set began on a beautifully high note with an emotive “Spiritualize” that kicked things into high gear when it went into a ferocious “Mikesnack” that had guitarist Mike Rempel nailing every lick. The seamless sequence of songs continued with a deliciously dark and funky “Suitcases” that ultimately transitioned into the debut of the KiloWatts remix of “Out of Focus” off the newest album. What a segue it was. The guys finished off the set with a solid “Lead Pipe” that perfectly merged back into the end of “Spiritualize” right as a light drizzle began, divine to say the least. Buy and download the show here to experience it for yourself.

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Then there was the Badass. Their second set of their second night on stage arguably took the cake in terms of performance quality, and was sorely needed, for reasons explained below. With the very first notes of the energetic old-school classic “Juggernaut,” it was as if a whole new band had taken the stage. Bassist Jesse Miller had some absolutely killer breakdown jams in “Juggernaut” and kept them going after the band went into the hard-rocking classic “It’s All Clear to Me Now,” a number which also featured an incredibly funky Rempel solo and a perfect punch of a drop into the song’s characteristic variance on its main theme. But the run of songs didn’t stop there, as the band then tightly transitioned into a “Golden Ghost” that perfectly finished with a percussion-heavy move into the bright and organic instrumental classic “Shimmer and Out”, which had the entire audience clapping. That particular segue may very well have been the highlight of the band’s two nights at the Ledges, and is something that any fan of Lotus should make a point to check out, which you can do by buying and downloading it here. The second half of the second set came in the form of an extended segue as well, and although some fans mentioned that it was eerily similar to the set list from Lotus’ performance at the Ledges in 2011, the “Blue Giant”>”Jump Off”>”Zelda” cover>”Jump Off”, as well as the beautiful and always emotional “Umbilical Moonrise” encore, were exceptionally executed in comparison to the evening’s tumultuous beginnings.  No one can deny that it had those in the crowd dancing lively.

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And then there was the Downright Ugly….

The band opened the evening with five of the six songs featured on its new album. Many old school fans bucked at the moment they realized the guys were going to play almost the entire new album without breaking it up with older songs. As for me, I didn’t have a problem with the choice. Had the songs been played the way they are meant to be played, it wouldn’t have bothered me to hear them one after the other in the least. I wanted to hear the debut of “Out of Focus” and the thunderous glory that are Morris and Greenfield during it. I wanted the symphony of organic instrumentals that is “Sunset of the Giant Dipper” to bring tears to my eyes once more, as it did during its debut at Peach Music Festival only a couple weeks before. And since its debut in December of 2012, I have always swooned at “Gilded Age,” heart aflutter as the upbeat melodies and dream-like chimes paint the most wonderfully happy picture in my mind.

Yet on this night, these songs filled me with an unfamiliar sensation. I stood mouth agape. Out of tune, out of time, and clearly lacking unison, the first five songs ranked among the band’s weakest performances.  In sixty shows and over four years, I have never once seen the band fall into such an extended rut.  Some fans decided they had had enough after the first couple songs, and walked away before the first set concluded. When the quintet finally went into beloved fan-favorite “Livingston Storm” the music began to come together, but they seemed unable to maintain momentum.

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Whatever went down in between sets must have set a fire under the band’s unified ass – the band that showed up for the first set was but a shadow of the band that came out for the second, and that fact cannot be emphasized enough. For many, that second set was a night-saver.  And, all criticism aside, Summer Dance was a great success. Summer Dance isn’t just about the music. It’s about something much bigger than that. It’s about family.

 

Home Is Where I Want to Be, But I Guess I’m Already There: Family Gathering at the Ledges

 

Many festivals are first and foremost about the musical performances. While music surely plays a role, for many Lotus fans Summer Dance is primarily about friends who have come to be family, many of whom only see each other once a year at the hallowed grounds of the Ledges. I saw friends from around the country, and spent five glorious days with some of my closest friends, hailing from my hometown of Philly to as far away as San Francisco and everywhere in between. It didn’t matter what happened in terms of musical performances. In my eyes, from the day it was announced, Memorial Day Weekend was going to be the highlight of my year. And it surely was, regardless of the music.

The clearest example of Summer Dance’s true heart and soul is probably the Bacon Party. The Bacon Party perfectly represents why many of us from far and wide make this trip year after year, and will continue to do so as long as Lotus continues headlining the festival. It was the talk of the entire campgrounds for all the days following it. Many friends partook in the porky celebration, and those who didn’t catch it certainly heard tales as word of it ripped through the woods the following morning. At the entrance booth that day even NLQP staff were talking about it over their walkie talkies.  The Werks, whose members joined in the bacon-y bash, paid tribute to it with their tease of Umphrey’s McGee’s “Push the Pig” later that afternoon.  Not even twenty-four hours later it seemed everyone had heard about it.  Nearly the entire cast and crew of Lotus showed up for it, with Greenfield, Morris, and production manager Padge McQuillan each taking turns on the grill. It started with a beloved fan from Asheville, North Carolina bringing twenty pounds of bacon along with him to the Ledges with the intent to grill it all up for his friends, and the result was a funky Michael-Jackson-filled dance party in the paths between campsites, complete with bacon costumes and, of course, massive amounts of free bacon for all. It was an opportunity for the members of the band to connect with their fans, many of whom have over the years have become their friends. It was the purest distillation of what Summer Dance means to so many – it is a familial pilgrimage.

Regardless of how the performance ranks among the band’s many others, one thing is for certain. To quote one of Lotus’ greatest influences, the Talking Heads: If Someone Asks, This Is Where I’ll Be. Each and every year until Lotus stops headlining the Ledges. And I don’t care if the band comes out with Playskool toy instruments and plays an elementary version of “Mary Had A Little Lamb.” You’ll still find me right where I know I belong.

Home.

 

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