People love music. I bet you love music.
Whether it’s a Jimmy Buffet concert, bluegrass, reggae, or a night at the symphony, you probably tap your toes and hum along when music strikes a chord within you (see what I did there?) TRF has some of the most talented musicians around. You may not hear them at the Toyota Center or Jones Hall, but they are amazing, nevertheless.
Most of our musicians play instruments you’re familiar with: guitar, drums, violins, maybe even bagpipes; but a few of the music acts on our stages and paths play instruments that you may have never seen in real life.
rank DellaPenna, the creator of Cast in Bronze, plays the magnificent carillon located in the Enchanted Forest. I will never forget the first time I beheld this instrument. Its first year at TRF it was stationed at one end of the joust arena, and I had never seen or heard anything like it. The Carmina Burana by Carl Orff rang through the entire site, brought to life by a man in a mask, banging his fists on the keys. Soon after, a dedicated stage was created so that the carillon could be sheltered from the elements, and it remains one of the most popular attractions at the Festival.
I love what Frank has to say about his journey and the connection of humanity:
“I learned to play the carillon in France at the French Carillon School. I never thought that my education on such an unknown musical instrument would result in any sort of success. Yet, the power of the instrument, the musical selections, and the performance have pleased audiences for more than 24 years. And no one is more surprised than I am.
The carillon was very much a part of medieval life, playing music and announcing important events for the community. It has always been an instrument of the people, often capturing the soul of the community.
I learned to play the carillon in France, where the carillon is known as the ‘Soul of the City.’ The carillon player has to know the inhabitants of the city, their hopes and dreams, and convey that to them through music. It was this training and history that enabled me to create Cast in Bronze, hoping that I could help people understand that we are all connected… I have lived my dream, and witnessed people whose lives have changed because of my work. For anyone, it doesn’t get any better than that.”
If you come through the front gate after the opening cannon, you’ll be aurally greeted by the melodies of the Gypsy Guerilla Band. In fact, their music is how I know a faire day has started! They play in the lanes, rather than on a stage, so you can find them all over the Festival at any moment- it’s like walking up on a sonic surprise! In addition to floating on the lanes, they play for the formal proclamations and for the Dance School.
The group describes their style as “a high energy blend of folk, country, and court dance music.” Joyce Lillquist strums the autoharp, Antonio Albarran beats the drums, and Jim Lillquist plays the hammer dulcimer, an instrument ancient enough to have been mentioned in the Old Testament. When not playing music, the Lillquists can be found gardening at their forested home.
Another band I love to visit on site is Coal Black Rose. I remember when they auditioned. They surprised and delighted me with their musicianship and their instruments. In addition to accordion, banjo, mandolin, and other instruments, they had a washtub and a SAW! I had never actually seen one played. It’s amazing, and if you have not watched them play, you’re missing a treat. The group includes Chris Puente, Lena Wieland, Jimi Torrey, Amanda Kitchens, and Erin Marie Kost, who approach music with a “peasant traveler’s perspective.“ “Greensleeves” might be played on a washtub bass, or “Romanza” on a saw. They play chanties, cantigas, and classical pieces with a vivid folk bent that hearkens to old English villages or American Appalachian communities.
If you happen to visit other faires, you can catch them at the Michigan Renaissance Festival and Sherwood Forest Faire.
When asked to share a bit of trivia unrelated to Coal Black Rose’s gig at TRG, Chris shared this inspiring story about his physical and musical recovery: “In the spring of 2006 my legs and arms involuntarily curled up while driving. Three weeks later, doctors removed half of a 5cm tumor from my brain. It was too dangerous to remove the rest. Recovery was intense. I had little control over my right arm, trouble speaking and severe memory loss. Resolved, I began practicing guitar for hours a day. Slowly, I regained the ability to play and relearned my songs. Unable to easily walk, talk, or drive myself, but determined and with the help of my friends, I returned to the road and performing by the end of the very same year, and haven’t stopped since. Life is good.”
Life is, indeed good.