Asian Moon Festival, 06-13-04
On Sunday, we went down to the Festival Grounds at the lakefront for Asian Moon Festival, the first of the ethnic festivals we usually get to during the season. I had expected a heavy turnout due to the excellent weather (a change for Asian Moon, which for years has suffered through weekends that were rainy or cold or both--) but I was surprised to find free parking on the street, and the pay parking lots near the festival grounds were virtually empty. As it appeared, early turnout was quite light, but the grounds filled up to a respectable level as the afternoon went on. Some of the reason for this was apparent in the schedule, which was only a half-day for Sunday, and the festival had put its major attractions, Japanese jazz pianist Hiromi and a DJ/dance act called Karma Sutra, on Saturday evening. Nevertheless, what we came for were the more purely ethnic attractions, shopping, and, of course, food.
We found the most interesting events to be at the Potawatomi Stage, starting with the Okinawan Taiko Drummers of Wisconsin. This is the second time we have seen them, and it appears definite that Okinawan Taiko is a different style than the Japanese drumming made famous by Kodo and played in this area by the Chicago Buddhist Temple group. Okinawan Taiko is primarily a movement-based art form, more like dance or drill team work. The group uses only two drums, a small hand drum, and the familiar quarter-barrel sized drum, and only one drumstick each. They move and beat the drums to accompany pre-recorded music with vocals. They are fun to watch, but if you want the intricate and hypnotic drumming of Japanese taiko, you will be disappointed.
For hypnotic music, we had the next group up, billed as Indian Music Ensemble. Consisting of sitar, tambura, and drums. This group played short pieces and excerpts from Indian Ragas—classical music compositions that can be hours long. Georgie was particularly fascinated by the intricacy of the music. I have enjoyed sitar since my initial exposure to it in the 70’s, and was very impressed by the quality of the performance.
Then we went to eat, and got food from two new vendors, Peony and Indus Valley. Indus valley had some of the best samosas we’ve had, and the Peony pork buns and pot stickers were also excellent. We topped off with a combo appetizer plate from Phan’s Garden and were very well fed, indeed. (We think Asian Moon has the best food of any of the festivals.) While dining, we were entertained by Dujima Sanojo, performing traditional Japanese dances on the Miller Stage.
After that, we went back to the Potawatomi stage for a group called Yellow River Performing Arts, which was a Chinese variety troupe. The first number we caught was a woman singing in a very beautiful and powerful operatic voice. She was followed by a very lyrical demonstration of tai chi chuan set to music. Then, there was a theatre style song-and-dance routine. Next, a young woman played a couple of songs on an instrument similar to the Japanese ‘koto”. The final number was a medley of regional dances. These were very interesting, since it appears that mainland Chinese culture has analogs to surrounding regions, which made one wonder where they actually originated. One costume looked very Korean, one set very Mongolian, and movements in one dance strongly reminiscent of Balinese dancing. Another used paper parasols one is used to seeing in Japan, but the costumes were clearly from Southern China.
Ironically, Asian Moon Festival is still one of the smallest festivals in Milwaukee, even though it represents all of Asia and fourteen groups get together to put it on. We always find it fascinating—and delicious.