Much to my delight, Blue Ear Books’ 2014 republication of Live at the Forbidden City: Musical Encounters in China and Taiwan seems to have triggered a spate of musical experiences similar to those described in the book. While any tangible connection is tenuous at best, I like to think that this is the sort of serendipity that characterizes Blue Ear and its family of authors.
First came my participation in the memorable MuzEnergo tours of Russia and Siberia in 2014 and 2015, followed a year later by my first-ever gig in England at Sonic Rock Solstice 2016, described in a previous blog on this site. Most recently, my band Moraine was privileged to enjoy an eye-opening visit to Mexico to play at the 12th edition of FestivAlterNativo in the attractive city of Queretaro, located about three hours north of Mexico City. Devoted to “avant-rock” of various stripes, FestivAlterNativo proved exemplary in every way – warm hospitality, a historic venue (the civic museum), respectful presentation, excellent musical company (great bands from Chile, Jalisco, and Queretaro), and most importantly, a full house of truly enthusiastic listeners, the likes of which Moraine rarely sees in our own hometown. We delivered one of our best sets ever and came away with an energetic spring in our step and a lasting impression. Hats off to our most excellent hosts Francisco Paco Lucas, Juanjo Salas and Begona, and Julio Sandoval, all the volunteers who make FestivAlterNativo one of the finest events of its kind anywhere, and the many new friends and fans the band made in Queretaro.
While I had failed to arrange a public gig for Moraine in Mexico City due to poor timing, a key introduction to Mauricio Sotelos Vargas led to an even more satisfying ‘concert’ of sorts, a live-streamed video broadcast of Moraine in a completely improvised meeting with Mauricio’s band, Mexico’s premier “avant-folk” unit Cabezas de Cera. It was very unusual for Moraine to merge with another band in a jam session, and anyone’s guess what the result might be, but happily, it was magic from the first note. We emerged with a 90-minute recording of inspired collective interplay and new friendships with Mauricio, his brother Francisco, and the marvelous guitarist Eblen Macari that we hope will endure for years to come.
Setting aside music, Mexico itself was a major revelation to me. Previously, I had never ventured beyond a couple of U.S. border towns, and never realized the extent to which my views of the country had been jaundiced by slanted reporting. But after visiting the gorgeous hillside city of Guanajuato, Queretaro, and the unjustly maligned grand metropolis of Mexico City, I immediately fell in love with the country and its people and am eager to return for further explorations, musical and otherwise. In many ways, the U.S. doesn’t benefit from the comparison.
Looking back on all the above, it occurs to me that a sequel to Live at the Forbidden City is shaping up nicely. By now it seems clear that my calling in life is to play unusual music in unusual places and live to write the tale, so look for a fresh collection of musical travel tales to emerge on Blue Ear Books in the not-too-distant future – stay, um, tuned…