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Manitou: In the Garden of the Gods     Blaine Street Records     BSR 309

manitouFor a number of years, starting around 2007, I had been attending a folk festival put on by the Ford family in Manitou Springs, Colorado. Every year Bud III would lend me a Vespa motor scooter from his collection and I would putt the few miles up to the Garden of the Gods Park to spend time in that wonderful, unique, spiritual place. In one part of the park, between two towering, blade-like red spires, was a natural amphitheater. How fun, I thought, it would be to record here using the natural echoes.

One year my friend, Rick Laurenzi, was making a movie. He had cameras and remote, in-the-field recording gear. The stars were right. I asked several friends I had been playing with over the years to record with me in that spectacular place. Four dulcimer players-- Quintin Stephens, Bud Ford III, Bing Futch (and myself) along with Dave Batti on bass, Roger Zimish on guitar and Judy Piazza on hand drum (and any other thing she could lay her hands or feet on during the session) all said, “Yes!”

We got up at seven in the morning to get to the Garden and set up equipment. By nine we were recording. By noon, with the hot sun now banishing the cool shadows of our alcove, we were done. Rick had left the Mac computer running the whole time. Camera crews circulated and shot footage. We went from one song idea to the next, no rehearsal, just diving in on themes with our varied musical interests and backgrounds turning the session into a world-music fusion of acoustic folk jazz.

What strikes me about the session is that we were all there to listen to each other-- not just to create riffs for the others to follow. Everyone there had previously played with someone in the group but we had never played all together. We set up and went about honoring the place in song. In the Garden was cut one. During the next tune a young boy wandered in, sat down and listened-- Boy on Rock, cut two. We were coming to understand each other musically. We were Learning to Dance, cut three.

These first tunes were all in major keys. Then out came the didgeridoo, flutes, bells and tambourines. Moving into the minor with Invocation, we opened ourselves up to the spirit (manitou) of the surroundings. We invited ourselves to participate in the experience of being on hallowed ground. Next, in Convocation, we affirmed. We came together. We played assured in the knowledge that everybody there was holding everyone else up-- supporting, inviting, encouraging, empowering. We had surrendered to the simple certainty of the natural world, allowing the red rocks to sing through us.

We had reached perihelion and were like kids in a candy shop. Charging back into a major key we rode one of Quintin's funky-riffs with a pervasive, contagious sense of fun-- a Celebration. After ten minutes we found we could not let go of the experience. Everytime the tune tried to wind down someone would tentatively pick up the theme and we were off again for a coda, and another coda-- a Coda Coda. Finally, serenity settled on us. We reflected gently with one last melody, Sweet After.

It was noon. Some of us had to be back at the Mountain Music Festival to do our set. We posed with our instruments in a retro, “rock album style” and Vince Hudkins took a group photo. As the others were packing up Rick came to me and said, “I think I lost it. I can't find the file.” My heart sank. Then I saw it for what it was-- an unduplicable spiritual excursion. Those few hours were beyond magical. So be it. Many times I have left an amazing concert wishing it had been recorded.

Back at the house, Rick called one of his tech gurus. Since there had been no subsequent overwrite, after hours of sifting electrons, the multi-track audio file was rescued and restored-- one more miracle in a day of miracles. Over the next several months Roger and Bing listened to the music and, in the context of the tunes, mixed in the individual voices as they rose and fell in the musical conversation.