Sunday, May 22, 2011

Did You Hear Something?

Atlanta's Oakland Cemetery is one of the oldest and most historic in the city. It's something of a destination for historically inclined tourists; there's guided tours and notable graves include golfer Bobby Jones and former mayor Maynard Jackson. But even though I've lived in Atlanta for over 30 years, I've never visited until today.

The cemetery is one of the largest greenspaces in the city, laid out in a Victorian garden style similar to Mount Auburn Cemetery in Massachusetts. It' not an unpleasant place to spend a day - as long as you're not mortified by the idea of being surrounded by about 70,000 dead people - and there was a sizable crowd this afternoon.

Quite a sizable crowd. As it turns out, and the real reason that I finally went there today after 30 years of staying away, is there was a music festival in the cemetery, cleverly titled Did You Hear Something? It was a 2-day festival with a number of bands at multiple stages, each of which was shielded from the sound of the others by the natural topography of the cemetery. Below are a couple pictures of the Atlanta band, Mermaids, playing at the Pretty Ambitious Stage, named for a local record label.

There was a variety of music scattered throughout the park, but the cool kids were all playing at the Pretty Ambitious Stage. Here's a busker in front of a mausoleum:

And a little country twang at another stage:

But over at Pretty Ambitious, Lucy Dreams took over after Mermaids.

Oakland Cemetery is adjacent to an elevated MARTA line, and it is a truly unusual sight to see live music in this transit-poor city with a train in the background. Of course, for the people in the train, it was even more unusual to see a crowd rocking out to a band in the cemetery. A few trains actually stopped and checked us out before moving on (the cemetery is next to a station, so the trains could pause a moment as they pulled out without disrupting the lines too much).

It was a hot and sunny day, in the mid 90s and not a cloud in the sky. The audience spent a lot of the time huddled in the shade of the occasional trees or mausoleums, but leave it to the jazzmen to find a shady place to play. Here's Atlanta's Fourth Ward Afro Klezmer Orchestra (or 4WAKO for short) at the Voice of the Arts Stage.

Here's a little taste of their sound:

I even got the chance to run into my friend, David, a dharma brother and part of the group that recently split off from our sangha, who caught me up on some of that group's news. Apparently, they've formed a new Zen group and are meeting weekly in some rented space. No one has yet emerged as the new "leader" (i.e., teacher) yet, but I think that's probably just a matter of time. I'd love to be proven wrong on this, but given what both karma and human nature are, soon enough attachment to recognition, approval, and power will lead to disagreement, which will lead to argument, which will escalate to fighting, which will result in shame and dishonor. But enough about that.

Meanwhile, after hearing 4WAKO, I found Waldo.

While 4WAKO were playing the Voice of the Arts Stage, Atlanta's Coathangers were playing the Pretty Ambitious Stage.

It's not every day you see a post-feminist rock band playing in a graveyard.

It was too hot to dance, but that didn't deter this young lady.

Despite the heat, the Coathangers put on a great show of raucous, girl-band punk-pop (I've previously posted a video they shot at The Goat Farm, the site of yesterday's event, here). Eventually, the drummer and the guitarist switched instruments for the final song of their set.

After their set, the band literally collapsed in the nearest shade, leaving their instruments on the stage as they recovered from their energetic set.

By the way and as a reminder, all of this was going on in a cemetery.

The day's headliner was Athens, Georgia's Twin Tigers. I couldn't describe their sound any better than the explanation provided by NPR Music, "While the band's dark and explosive sound might recall the distortion of Jesus and Mary Chain and Sonic Youth as well as neo-psychedelic groups like The Black Angels, they filter their influences well, pushing into territory all their own" (descriptions like that are the reason NPR writers get the big bucks).

Twin Tigers played a blistering and exciting set, but by the time they had set up (6 pm) the day's heat got the better of the crowd, who stayed about 20 yards back in the shade of a mausoleum. The only people braving the sun and the heat, other than the band, were a pack of photographers who brazenly got right up in the band's faces and snapped away (examples below).

A late afternoon performance by Thomaston, Georgia's Intergalactic Cowboy at the English Acoustic Stage.

Atlanta's undergoing a bit of a renaissance right now, not an economic renaissance by any means, but a rediscovery and a re-appreciation of its urban core. After so many decades of the population, jobs, new development, and money fleeing for the suburbs, the people are coming back, and rather than tearing down the old urban infrastructure and replacing it with "modern" amenities, they're embracing the old brick factories of the west side (e.g., The Goat Farm) and neighborhoods like the Old Fourth Ward, Cabbagetown, and Fairlie Poplar. The Beltline's certainly a major part of this, but so are some enlightened developers and urban planners. It's an exciting time to be living ITP.

It was a great day to spend in a cemetery. While the day will inevitably come when I'll be spending a loooong time in Oakwood or elsewhere, one afternoon per 30 years was enough for me (unless they make this an annual event).

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