April 30, 2008

Live In Ithaca: Long Live the Ithaca Music Scene

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A year and a half ago the goal was simple: Bring more notoriety to all the great, live music clubs throughout Ithaca. For each column, write half about the club and half about the band playing. What wasn’t clear was whether or not there would be enough venues to write about — after all, you do hear so much about what a boring town with this is, with nothing to do. But that’s just not true.
To review: We’ve visited Barnes Hall, Castaways, the Haunt, Pixel, the ABC Café, the Nines, my house, Willard Straight Reading Room, the State Theatre, the Chapter House, Common Ground, Barton Hall, Bound for Glory at Anabel Taylor, Lucatelli’s and the Carriage House, as well as others I’ve forgotten — and still, there are more clubs to write about.
We’ve also seen some amazing bands, some you’ve heard of and some you haven’t: G. Love and The Special Sauce, Medeski Martin & Wood, Slo-Mo, Kimya Dawson, Yo La Tengo, Alash, those unbelievable Tuvan throat singers, Pete Panek, D.J. (Idan) Beck, Driftwood, Kev Rowe and the Slip. Each of these groups brings something unique, musically speaking, to the live experience like no recording could ever capture.
So what now, Ithaca naysayers? Music, in our city, is everywhere.
We’re lucky that in Ithaca we also have access to such a diverse range of culture. A few Wednesdays ago a friend and I went to a celebration of the Sufi mystic-poet Jalal ad-Din Rumi in the Memorial Room at Willard Straight. Although the keynote speaker’s address ran on the extremely long side, the wait was well worth it: we experienced a taste of some of the world’s most mystical music. A few months ago I wrote about the biannual Spic Macay concert in Barnes. While that concert featured classical Indian music, many of the instruments were similar — or at least produced similar tones — to the ones at the Rumi celebration. Both times, the music forced a packed house into a semi-conscious trance, the kind that happens right before you fall asleep but when you still are actively thinking. Melodies, harmonies and rhythms wafted throughout the entire room, weaving threads of emotions that got stacked on top of one another like bricks. The virtuosic musicians — two of non-Middle Eastern descent — played in perfect unity and precision. When they finished and we all snapped back out of the musical haze, it was like waking up from the most refreshing nap of my entire life.
The second half of the performance showcased the whirling dervish, a mystical Islamic practice of spinning accompanied or unaccompanied by music. Although the live musicians left the stage, the two men partaking in the dervishes spun as a Sufi group, maybe Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, played in the background. Despite the fact that it was recorded, the music was powerful because of the sacred act performed alongside it.
I love music, and like every other farewell columnist, I have to thank the people who helped to make it a part of my life at The Sun. Peter and Julie — where the hell are my checks so I can go to more shows? (Editor’s Note: That’s it? After all we’ve been through?) Tracy Zhang for encouraging my music writing. All the Daze staff that contributed music reviews when I edited. My own groups, Funk Apteryx and Xoctopox, for filling the void with groove. Rebecca for the mixtapes we used to trade. Sammy for almost forming a band with me. And of course, big Jonny L. himself, my old Daze partner-in-crime, fellow male stripper, interviewer extraordinaire and music blog kingpin. Thanks for keeping the music alive.