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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Zoukfest Effect

Well, Zoukfest 2007 has passed, and I just might be recovered enough from the psycho-physical-emotional freight train that is ZF to make sense here...

A recurring theme this year in my little circle of friends was "The Zoukfest Effect," which roughly translates as the simultaneous desire to practice forever and never stop playing one's instrument and the desire to never play one's instrument again. Clearly, The Zoukfest Effect is brought about by the mind-bending level of talented people that shows up, and the simultaneous soaring inspiration and dirt-down humility they conjure in those around them.

I have attended every single Zoukfest, whether for the entire camp or for one day, and I have never seen The Zoukfest Effect fail. 2007 was no exception. From the first moments of the Sunday night orientation, when all the staff talked briefly about their classes and then played a short piece, I was hitting humble. Then the first night's sessions confirmed it. I always have the same response: I can't believe they want me to teach... even the students are better players than me!

As always, I am honored to be included in this fine company of rascals called the Zoukfest staff. They always make me feel welcome and appreciated, and this year they gave me other gifts: this was the first of all my years at ZF that I actually attended classes as a student, and didn't just teach my one little class and then hang out all day! So not only do I have a much richer musical vocabulary due to my teachers' generous sharing of their wisdom, but I have a much more vivid appreciation of the students, their dedication to learning new things, and understanding of how incredibly burnt they get and keep on truckin' over the course of the week.

So my thanks go out particularly to Robby Rothschild, who taught me a bit of African percussion, Doug Goodhart who blew my mind with Polyrhythms, and Steven Miller who most delightfully confused me in his Gamelan class. They have forever altered my music, much for the better, I think. But so many people affected me so very deeply this year. Some things I'll never forget:

The almost psychedelic experience of hearing Steve Smith and Luke Plumb utterly shred my matched pair of mandolins while I sat between them, one man playing into each ear as if in stereo...

Kaila Flexer's beautiful "Stone's Throw" fiddle tune, which to me sounds like some weird hybrid between 19th century New England and 19th century Constantinople...

Sonja Drakulich singing Led Zeppelin songs while I played my new doubleneck guitar...

The overwhelming generosity and kindness of G.D. Armstrong...

Crashing the "big gong" for the first time in Gamelan class...

The omnipresent elegance and grace of Stanley and Kip Greenthal, not to mention their great music...

Mason Brown's hilarious, scream-inducing medicine-show pitch for Doug Goodhart's CD during their concert...

Singing Afro-Cuban Santeria hymns with Corey Green and Rison Holthouse as if we'd been singing them all our lives (not to mention walking down that long, weird hall to the cafeteria while singing one rhythm, clapping another, and stepping yet another!

Brendan bashing his drums so hard in African percussion class that afterwards my shirt collar was full of sawdust from his trashed drumsticks...

Playing bodhran for the great John Carty, and managing not to faint dead away!

The inspiration of Nakul Deshpande, Zoukfest's scholarship student this year, and how most of the staff debated whether or not we should teach this whiz-kid, or take him out into some alley and kick and pound on him so we'll all have careers in a year or two! You go, buddy; you're gonna be one of the great ones...

Accompanying Don Richmond's haunting, hypnotizing, and stunningly beautiful song "Wide Open" in our concert...

Herb Taylor's wonderful and weird black 12-string guitar (and black mandolin, and black bouzouki... oh, hell... all the neat stuff he brought to show us!)

Paul Brown playing the upright bass like an oud, and repeatedly blowing Luke Plumb's mind in the process...

I could go on and on... I have no doubt that while my memories may differ from other folks, they surely have just as many moments to savor for the rest of their lives. That's it: Zoukfest changes lives. The lives of students, the lives of the staff, and the lives of all those it touches when our music leaves the classrooms and filters out into the coffeehouses and concert halls where we all play, attempting to get it across to our audiences - a task that's hopefully made easier by the learning we all absorb during this wonderful week each summer. Thank you, Roger Landes and Lisa Wright, and the board of Zoukfest.

And here's the last thing I have to say about The Zoukfest Effect: not only have I never seen it fail to hit everybody there, I've also never seen the inspiration side of it fail to win out in the end. And with that, I gonna quit typing and go practice. Forever.

See y'all next year,
Chipper Thompson

P.S.: You, dear reader, can read this and other blog entries about Zoukfest, as well as find out about how you can attend and bask in the Zoukish delights in 2008, by clicking the Zoukfest links on my links page (and check out the links to some of the other ZF staff members and my good friends...)


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