By MARY LOU ALESKIE
Let's face it. The Festival really is all about free stuff. So much stuff that if I took the time to tell you about every detail here, we wouldn't have time to actually organize the Festival.
The New Haven Green is the center of gravity for the International Festival of Arts & Ideas....has been that way since our founding 14 years ago. While we do hope you will make time to see as many ticketed events as possible, we have scheduled our program in a way that allows you to actually experience everything. Oh, you may have to miss an Ideas program or tour here and there but you can actually see all of the ticketed events and not miss a night with one of our extraordinary cornerstone artists visiting the Green.
And we have made it even easier for you by mapping it all out and bundling it into a "See Everything" ticket package - click for the details and schedule. It really is the easiest way to get as much as possible out of the Festival.
And there really is a lot to enjoy.....
There is "Noon to Night", the daily celebration of music and dance by artists from around the region. Lunchtime bands, afternoon family performances and early evening music on the Green keep our downtown animated and full of life throughout the Festival. Back this year but with a twist is "Village of Villages" on the afternoons of the middle weekend of the Festival. This year we'll celebrate World Cultures (June 20) and American Heritage (June 21). Look for some interesting new encounters there.
Then there are those special cornerstone evenings...those nights that stay in our memory for years to come and stand out as the thing we remember most about that year's Festival.
Well this year is not different and I am personally excited about the variety and global fun in our offerings.
Opening the Festival on June 13th on the Green is a pairing of artists only the Festival would bring together. It's a Global Dance Party with an accordion beat! Fiery gypsy brass! Soulful Balkan anthems! Hip-grinding American soul! Brought to you by a 9 member band of incomparable musicians from Eastern Europe, Mexico, and Asia laced together with American soul and a gypsy beat. That's Slavic Soul Party! What a treat! They open the party that continues into the night with Buckwheat Zydeco as he celebrates his 30th anniversary tour which kicks off in May at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Buckwheat brings us the best of Louisiana Creole as he "leads one of the best party bands in America," says The New York Times.
Sunday June 14th is family free for all day at the Festival. The day is jammed packed with family friendly tours, talks and film. Headlining this day of fun for kids of all ages is Grammy Award-winning, platinum selling rock duo They Might Be Giants! I mentioned this in passing at the playground the other day while out with my daughter. The squeals from parents and kids alike were deafening. The concert starts at 6pm so pack a picnic dinner and enjoy!
The Festival doesn't take things lying down. On June 20th, Mavis Staples will be at the Festival. How can I say this with so much confidence after the disappointing opening night rainout last year? Well because this year she is staying the weekend. In fact, she is not just performing on the New Haven Green Saturday night, but she will be in conversation that afternoon at 3pm at the Yale University Art Gallery with poet Elizabeth Alexander to share stories of her music and her family's historic role in the Civil Rights marches of the '60s. Should the weather gods turn against us again on Saturday, she has also graciously agreed to stay through Sunday to be sure she gets to perform.
And then there is our Grand Finale....
On Saturday, June 27th our fantastically festive fifteen days comes to a close with two extraordinary ensembles. Bio Ritmo, internationally recognized for its commitment to "salsa classica", opens the evening's celebration with its original Nuyorican-style salsa with a contemporary sound. Energy charged and spiced with electronica and more, this band is more than a dance band. It's a celebration of history with an eye toward the future.
History is actually an important part of this evening. Headlining the night under the watchful eye of our statute of Sengbe Pieh, the Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars will make their New England debut. This extraordinary band of refugees from Freetown met in a camp in Guinea after rebel attacks forced a mass exodus from the city. Their particular brand of spreading peace and joy in music which brought hope to fellow refugees now ignites the hearts of listeners around the world. The Amistad story and our deep shared history with Sierra Leone is truly a tale of Global Identities/Local Heroes.
The last night of the Festival is always bitter sweet for me. It is a moment of celebration I look forward to for so many months but once it is over, the lights are dimmed, and I know the music will stop, at least for awhile. I can't help but feel a sense of loss. So for me these last moments of the Festival are so important. They must last. They must remind us of the joy and the possibilities. They must remind us that you can stand shoulder to shoulder with strangers and be united across any and all differences. That's what those memories on the Green mean to me. I think this evening with Sierra Leone's All Stars will live on. Can't wait to see you there.