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Music Industry Professionals Drop in on Bloomington, Indiana’s Lotus Festival

More and more people from around the country are discovering the specialness of the Lotus World Music and Arts Festival in Bloomington, Indiana, the “world music capital of rural America.” Lotus is unique in that it is not in a large city, nor at a destination location like a farm; it’s right in the center of a small town. It’s not unbearably crowded like an urban festival, but it’s curated with top notch international touring artists. Last September, several professionals attended, and we collected their thoughts on what it was like.

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(photo: Michael Redman)

Carlos Tortolero, curator, World Music Festival, City of Chicago :

My first experience at Lotus was surreal given my role as a world music presenter in Chicago. I couldn’t help but compare and contrast the city-wide, multi-venue model of World Music Festival Chicago versus the college-town, proximate, multi-venue model of the Lotus Arts Festival. But as a casual observer, it is hard not to fall in love with Bloomington and the tight-knit community that is on-hand to see all these amazing world music concerts within close proximity. The range of venues that are utilized is impressive: churches, parks, clubs, performing arts theaters, and outdoor venues. Additionally, I really enjoyed being privy to the family atmosphere on-hand coupled with the college students that were moving from show to show. Very cool!

The concentration of participating venues really enables the Lotus Arts Festival to have a vibrant, cohesive festival atmosphere that emits a great feeling of unity, understanding, and positivity, which is crucial in light of the cultural context of each show. Given that festival tickets are very affordable, it really allows for everyone to take part and gain from these quality productions.   

Mel Puljic, Senior Agent, FLi Artists (Los Angeles, California):

The reason I like Lotus Festival is it feels like a European plaza or town square. When I travel to Europe, I hang out in city centers, walking around. You get a sense of the people and the music right there in the streets. It's a vibe thing, which you can't create unless you have a compact city center with venues so convenient to each other. Lotus Festival is like the Montreal Jazz Festival but a more manageable size. And because it is in the early Fall, it's not hot. 

Which of the other Midwest towns of that size have such a thriving livable downtown with everything accessible to pedestrians? I know when I was in another small city in Ohio two years ago, it didn't feel like that. There isn't a density of population near the venues in the city center. Bloomington is so unique. And that makes Lotus special. 

Steve Heath, Artist Representative, Alma Artist Booking (Detroit, Michigan):

It is truly a community-based event.  It’s clear that the city (quite small in comparison to Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, etc.) really supports the event in a large way.  Not just with their attendance but by volunteering and becoming part of the whole experience.  It’s also an indoor/outdoor festival which works well, because the majority of their events are unaffected by weather issues.  Although, it was a perfect weekend so someone was smiling down on them.

Broad community support partnered with a strong charismatic leader like Lee Williams make this a successful event.  They exploit what is unique about their city (great ethnic food all around town was a nice added benefit) and make everyone welcome.

Sunny Jain, Dhol player/bandleader, Red Baraat (Brooklyn, New York):

We played the first time back in 2010 and it was great to return the second time this year. Each time, the audiences at Lotus Festival have never failed to display their love for music and to shake it for us nonstop. Both times, we had teenage girls rushing the stage dancing with us during the finale! This really is a standout festival for me and the band. The crowds at Lotus are awesome. Lee Williams and the rest of the Lotus crew have clearly put their heart and hard work into developing the community, free spirit vibe that this festival is drenched in.

Glenn Peoples, senior editorial analyst, Billboard Magazine (Nashville, Tennessee):

My first Lotus Festival was a fantastic experience that any music lover would enjoy. The programming featured a wonderful array of artists from around the world that represented the traditional, the modern, and mixes of the two. 

I’m fortunate to have such a great festival just a short drive away — it’s certainly easier than traveling the world in search of musical discoveries. Bloomington may be two states away from Tennessee, but it’s not very far from Nashville. In fact, it’s not far from many bigger cities. People would be wise to make the journey to Bloomington to experience a great festival without the fuss often incurred with travel to other cities. Music lovers would be shocked to find out how much music they can experience with so little effort. 

The compact nature of downtown Bloomington lends itself to a good, comfortable festival. The proximity of venues allows one to sample a great deal of music with little walking. Lotus has a lively, appreciative crowd but didn’t suffer from the long lines often seen at other music festivals. It is a great setting for anybody who loves music and likes to experience other cultures. 

This year’s Lotus Festival is scheduled for September 18-21 in Bloomington, Indiana. More information at www.lotusfest.org.

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