sublime and tender...

We have been in Ottawa at their Jazz Festival - and it was a most blessed event. In addition to hanging in this great city, we heard three incredible performances:  Lisa Fischer and Grand Baton, Bruce Cockburn and The Roots. This was soul food, people: sweet, tender soul food that strengthened the spirit and nourished the heart for compassion and community. 

And what a holy gift to share with us? In the wake of grief and anger over the Charleston, SC shootings, each of these artists opened their hearts with us so that together we could weep and mourn, laugh and pray and renew all that is sacred in our everyday lives. They were intentional about this even though these concerts were never intended to have deeper significance. But each artist let themselves be opened so that their talent might nourish the greater good. It was as if T.S. Eliot's words had become flesh for a moment in time.

I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith, but the faith and the love are all in the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

If you get the chance, please make every effort to see Lisa Fischer and Grand Baton: they are musicians of stunning ability and finesse who reinvent songs you've known all your life in ways beyond the imagination. And when they closed Friday night's gig with "Gimme Shelter," after Ms. Fisher said something like, "There is so much sorrow and pain in us right now... but it hurts too much to stay sad..." the heavens opened and our stillness did became a dance through grief into love. She wept as she sang, her bass player wept as he played a lament, she wept as he played and the 700 people who gathered in Ottawa at this place wept in awe and gratitude.

On Saturday we started off at Bruce Cockburn's gig with another 700 closely packed people who gave him a standing ovation before he started to play. He is one of my favorite singer songwriters - an activist, a mystic and a lover - who is also a kickass guitar player. It was too hot to endure more than 45 minutes in the tent so we slipped away shortly after "Lovers in a Dangerous Time." (That title and song, by the way, strikes me as the essence of the new band I want to form on the flip side of this sabbatical:  lovers of all that is holy and human making beautiful and challenging music together for these dangerous times.  More on that to come...)
So we sat and sipped fresh lemonade and made our way towards the main stage for The Roots. En route the PA was playing funk songs from the 70s and 80s - and when we got to our spot Cameo's "Word Up" was groovin the festival. Now I LOVE me some "Word Up" and started to dance and sing. And at just that moment the woman behind us - who bore a striking resemblance to Angela Davis - smiled and started to dance and sing with me. It was a total gas as we shook our aging booties to that funk. (see photo above) Then we settled in for The Roots.

Truth be told, I am not a huge hip hop fan - but damn if these cats can't make it happen! For 30 minutes Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter rapped and grooved while the band played every style of rhythm you might imagine. Not only was it emotionally engaging and intellectually satisfying, you could not help but shake your ass, too!  Now, for the entire first 30 minutes, two very interesting sociological events were taking place: 1) the older white folk (40+) were fleeing in droves; and 2) the younger people (18-30) of a variety of races were packing the festival. I wished I could have taken a photo of real white flight in action. And, I get it aesthetically: if this music doesn't touch you, you really have to work at it to get anywhere.
So we were determined to hang tough - and am I ever glad we did. After the hip-hop these cats took on some wild Herbie Hancock jazz funk that included moments that carried me back to the days of George Duke and Frank Zappa. The next 45 minutes mixed James Brown and the Ohio Players with Guns and Roses, Zep and sounds from the islands. They worked the crowd into a fever pitch - Black and White, young and old, male and female - until like Funkadelic proclaimed: we were one nation under a groove. It was brilliant - and totally unexpected by me. But I'm going to see these cats again, too!

The power and potential of sacred soul music grabbed me again this weekend, beloved. Now we're back home in Montreal - and it is time to get back to my practicing!


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