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Lisa Mandelstein: Press

Grassroots Reunion: Kansas Musicians Gather for Concert to Commemorate 25th Anniversary of Climax Festival
By Jon Niccum, May 23, 2008

Climax Music Fest 25th Anniversary
with Lisa Mandelstein / Scott Stuewe & Friends / Bluestem / Lila / and more…
* When: Saturday, May 24, 2008, 7 p.m.
* Where: The Jackpot Music Hall, 943 Mass., Lawrence
* Cost: $5 - $7


On her first trip to Climax, Kan., fledgling songwriter Lisa Mandelstein ended up with the worst seat in the city.

She was accompanying Doug DuBois, a pipe organ technician/engineer with Reuter Organ Company, and had the laborious job of assisting him while he tuned an organ. It involved sitting at the instrument for hours.

“‘E flat below middle C’ Doug would call out, and I would hold the key down while the organ wheezed out a note and Doug would bang, clang, file, knock the note into tune,” Mandelstein recalls. “You had to have a lot of patience to be the organ tuner’s assistant.”

But that patience paid off. Later that night — after a few rounds of whiskey shared with friends — and surrounded by “dark fields with cows” and “wondering about the fragility of life,” the Climax trip served as the story line for one of Mandelstein’s first-ever compositions: “Jay and Linda’s Song.”

That night also helped inspire the musicians to create the Climax Festival.

The small Kansas town — 100 miles southwest of Lawrence — became the setting for a 1983 concert/recording session that still enjoys reverberations in the Lawrence music scene.

BuBois’ “pipe dream” turned into a reality after he rented an old schoolhouse in Climax for the Memorial Day weekend, in addition to an eight-channel, open-reel recording console which he set up in the building’s kitchen. Then he spread the word.

“They were mostly grassroots acoustic musicians from the Lawrence/KC-area music scene,” DuBois says. “We invited everyone in that vein we could think of, and a musician friend in Wichita invited people he knew in his community. The event itself became very unifying for these communities, creating a regional musical family from a bunch of scattered musicians who otherwise may not have ever interacted.”

Many of these same folks will be gathering a quarter century later when the Climax Festival 25-Year Reunion Concert is staged at 7 p.m. Saturday at The Jackpot Music Hall, 943 Mass.

“When the idea of the 25-year reunion hit us, it didn’t take long for the idea to swell to epic proportions. It was gonna be outside, at least two days duration, with a band contest on one night and a multi-act concert the next,” says DuBois, a 30-year Lawrence resident who co-founded the Alferd Packer Memorial Stringband in 1979, the Euphoria Stringband in 1988 and recently the old-timey act Peghead.

But after many months of pondering, DuBois decided on a single-day indoor gathering that would be “much easier to manage and probably just as fun.” It also would be structured around one crucial criteria: Every act that performs must feature at least one Climax alum.

Organ donors

On that Saturday in 1983 — which occurred the same weekend as the notoriously disastrous US Festival — DuBois recalls being one of the first two people to arrive at the empty schoolyard in Climax. But gradually tents began popping up, and an estimated crowd of 130 people piled into the venue.

“The ’83 festival was infused by a very palpable feeling of enthusiasm and magic, and the buzz got very strong on Saturday night,” DuBois says. “The weather got stormy, and we all found ourselves inside the large main room of the schoolhouse. People were singing songs and dancing when the power went out. In darkness, the music continued uninterrupted. This was a very high point.”

“That was what I loved about the first festival especially: that it was just a bunch of friends, and friends of friends — not something you bought a ticket to or heard about on the radio,” says performer Mandelstein, who relocated to San Francisco years ago and has contributed live backing vocals to The Grateful Dead.

Various selections of music were showcased at the debut event, typically featuring combinations of acoustic guitar, fiddle, dulcimer, mandolin and upright bass.

But the most unusual instrument wielded was a “human pipe organ” under the direction of Mandelstein.

Because of DuBois’ job at Reuter, he had a personal collection of old organ pipes. He hauled them to Climax and passed them out to a dozen or so participants.

“We must have had some sort of sheet music, because it was a hymn (“We Gather Together”), and being a Jewish gal myself, I wouldn’t have known to choose it,” Mandelstein recalls.

“It was like a bell choir. Everyone had their pipe and got in order from lowest to highest. I stood in front and pointed out the melody. ‘Blow when I point to you’ was probably the technical terminology. ... It was a bit haphazard, but a lot of fun!”

Measuring tape

What kept the “fun” immortalized was the meticulous half-inch tape recordings that were made of the evening’s sessions.

Tracked, mixed and engineered by DuBois, John Barger and Jay Brown, the music was released as a 27-song, 80-minute cassette album. (These songs are digitally available at www.ljworld.com.)

“We rented and borrowed equipment, and hung scavenged shag carpet on the walls for acoustical treatment. Recording-wise, we barely knew what we were doing, to boot,” DuBois recalls.

Fortunately, by the next year, DuBois and company understood a bit more how to approach things. So they decided to stage another festival and release another tape album.

Still calling the event the Climax Festival, the concert migrated to a secluded home north of Lawrence. Organizers built a “big top” tent, which provided shelter from the torrential downpour that transpired. Yet attendance was nearly double. This time the legendary Ramona Studios assisted with the recording.

Reasons to stop

In 1986, after taking a year off to recover from the financial drain of staging Climax, the gang returned to the rural Kansas schoolhouse. No recording was made this time.

Unfortunately, the ’86 festival was not without its share of drawbacks.

Apparently, some locals in a pickup truck decided to take a late-night joyride through the area.

“I remember waking up in my tent to loud engines and seeing lights driving through the campground,” says Lawrence musician Deborah Pine, whose band Lila will play at the reunion.

“It was very freaky to say the least. I thought they were going to run over people’s tents. They came very close. Hey, we were just a peaceful, music loving group of people — I guess a little too strange and hippie-like for their taste.”

DuBois adds, “It was certainly a factor in not having another event in Climax.”

Thankfully, it’s rather unlikely that some gear-grinding yokels will attempt to steamroll the reunion crowd inside the Jackpot. Instead, audiences can expect 14 bands, one juggler/fire eater and a whole lot of nostalgia.

“I have so many personal memories — probably best left unshared,” Mandelstein says. “But overall from the actual festivals, I have a snapshot in my mind from the very first Climax Festival. We were there out by our tents in the sunshine and grass, working up a tune and I just remember being so happy that the whole thing was happening.”

Originally published at: http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2008/may/23/grass_roots_reunion/
A tribute to Jerry Garcia marking the tenth anniversary of his death was held at The Greek Theater on September twenty-fourth. On this special evening, Hamza el Din was invited to play the beautiful and moving song “Pllin Arrageed,” accompanied by Mickey Hart as well as members of our community, taking part in handclapping, drumming, and singing. Lisa Mandelstein brings us along with the band for an unforgettable evening. (editor)

“Comes a Time,” A Tribute to Jerry Garcia
by Lisa Mandelstein

When Jerry Garcia died, I sent prayers of thanks for all he had given, along with my wishes for a safe journey to the other shore. I mourned the end of an era, called friends, reminisced, and wondered what would come next. In the passing years since his death, many current bands and musicians have been influenced by his unique sound, prolific songwriting, and improvisatory gift. How completely right to remember, honor, celebrate him at the tenth anniversary of his passing, his urs. The word went out - all the bands and musicians invited to play would have s direct connection with Garcia or The Dead, and the night would benefit the Rex Foundation’s many charitable projects (rexfoundation.org). The show sold out almost instantly. “Comes A Time” captured the purpose and became the title of the evening. And what a remembrance it would be!

The Gathering

It’s Monday night before the event and people are arriving for the rehearsal of Hamza’s piece at the home of Fazl and Nur Malika Olivier, a huge former firehouse filled with trapezes, circus art, and toys. We were gathering for the first time to assemble a piece to be shared at the tribute. Karim Baer was asked to organize the percussive accompaniment, which included Mary Ellen Donald, highly respected in circles of Middle Eastern drumming, and others, like Shabda Owens, who had drummed with Hamza in the old days. We meet each other and begin trying out the 48-beat handclapping cycle:

X X X X X X X X
- X X - X - - X
- - X - - - X -
X X - X - X X -
- X - - - - X -
- X - - - - X -

Hearing how the tar and clapping parts weave together is tricky, especially with all the excitement and nervousness in the air. And then Hamza arrives with his wife, Nabra. He calls us into a circle and simply begins playing. We are to join as we hear the patterns. Some are counting doggedly — 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 — as they try to perform the clapping patterns against the tar drum. Hamza and Shabda try to get us to feel the bigger macrobeat and how everything just ‘fits.’ We must be able to find the groove where the clapping and drumming become one part all together. Then Hamza asks, “Where is the choir?” and we all look around to Karim, who is looking around too. There was no choir part on the CD! But then Hamza and Shabda are singing a refrain that will reoccur the last 16 beats of each cycle:

- X - - - - X -
h’Allah, h’Allah, h’Al- lah, h’Allah h’Al- lah
- X - - - - X -
h’Allah, h’Allah, h’Al- lah.

After much hard work, Hamza gives us a break while he tells a story about his own early days when he was very young and kept stumbling over parts: “They were very kind and let me play anyway,” he says with a twinkle and we all relax a bit. But, we want to get this right. We want to honor Hamza and the Sufi lineage as well as Jerry Garcia; honor their connection. The piece Hamza is teaching us traditionally would be played at a wedding whenever it is the first marriage for both the bride and groom. Hamza — laughing — wants to know: “Who is getting married? Who is getting married?”

Hamza, The Dead, The Sufis, and me

Hamza was born in Nubia, studied in Egypt and Italy, then came to America in the early sixties. Soon after, Hamza performed at the Newport Folk Festival and U.N. Human Rights Day in 1964, where he met and began working with Mickey Hart, the Grateful Dead percussionist. The result was the recording Eclipse, (produced and engineered by Hart), which became perhaps the best known of Hamza’s fourteen recordings. Talking about his friendship with the Grateful Dead for an Amazon.com interview in1999, Hamza related that it was through Mickey Hart that “I met the Grateful Dead family… I found in them a quality of friendliness that made me encourage them to visit Egypt. We played in front of the Great Pyramid at Giza, at the foot of the Sphinx, in 1978, at the same time that Sadat and Begin were signing a peace agreement at Camp David. I have kept their friendship until now and they are all very warm whenever we meet.”

The Sufis and The Dead have equally long ties. Allaudin Mathieu, director of the original Sufi Choir, remembers the night the choir performed with the Grateful Dead at Winterland in 1973. It was the first real concert the choir ever gave and the sound system wasn’t working properly. He remembers “Sri Ram Jai Ram” being sung against the audience chant: “We want the Dead, We want the Dead!” There was a short interlude of the Dead playing with the choir on the third song and then it was “The Grateful Dead” for the rest of the evening. It was from this connection that Vasheest Davenport got the job of writing out the lead sheets for the Dead’s music; something he did for years to come.

So much has been written about the Grateful Dead and their followers. So many others know much more than I do of their history, the discography, the shows, and the set lists — and I leave those things to them. I only know how the music called to me, how the looping, swirling celebration of sound helped me understand the beauty and necessity of imperfection and chance, gave me a glimpse of unconditional love, that being just as I was could be good enough.

The Phone Machine

“Thursday, 10:52 AM” my phone machine mechanically intones and I hear simply: h’Allah, h’Allah, h’Allah, h’Allah h’Allah, h’Allah h’Allah h’Allah – X. Over and over the tune spills out to me and I am grinning even as I’m singing and clapping along; hitting the repeat message button and doing it again, again, again. The show is in two days. After the Monday rehearsal, we had been debating how to get the chant to folks who only had Hamza’s “A Wish” CD (its version of “Nagrishad” didn’t include the sung refrain). MP3s, iBook downloads? We all had forgotten the (now old-fashioned) phone machine, all but Mika Scott who was calling in the tune.

Friday Night Sound Check

“Greek Theater — 6:30 PM — Wear your white robes” are the instructions. Fazl and I drive up at the same time as Hamza and Karim, and we all meet backstage. Fazl greets Mickey and hears the stage managers calling for “the drummers, are the drummers ready now?” We all go onto the great outdoor stage, filled with drumsets, risers and music stands, microphones and amplifiers, racks of guitars, a grand piano and several keyboards. In the dusky autumn light the steps of the theater wait quietly.

Looking out from the stage there is a focus and intention in the air. Mickey Hart is greeting Hamza, introducing him lovingly to each person he passes. Howard Cohn, longtime manager of the Dead, offers deep appreciation. Folks on the stage crew momentarily stop their work to touch Hamza’s hand, look into his eyes. Donna Jean Godchaux-McKay (who sang with the Grateful Dead for several years) comes up to say, “I don’t know if you remember me but I was in Egypt” and Hamza is saying “Yes, yes!” I see the great respect everyone holds for him. I feel so honored and blessed to be a part of all this.

We’re organizing ourselves, trying to fit onto the tight riser spaces, deciding how long the song will go and who enters first as The Dead adds improvisations to the traditional chant. Bob Weir is listening and finally bursts out: “You gotta get these people on and off – this could go all night and we only have ten minutes!” It’s true, we could sing and clap all night. The spirit and tradition is strong! We’re laughing and then refining the arrangement, condensing and strengthening. Singers are trying to catch where to come in, and finally Shabda Owens calls back “just watch me.” Mika is humming the pitch from Hamza’s drum. We’re getting in tune.

The Greek Theater, Berkeley CA, September 24, 2005

Finally it’s the day of the show. After one last short rehearsal at Fazl and Nur Malika’s place, I head over early to enjoy every moment. Walking to the theater, surrounded by relaxed smiles, flowing colors, and intermittent pleas for tickets, I reflect on “…what a long strange trip” indeed! it has been for me. In 1983 I was on the steps of the Greek Theater looking for “a miracle” with my dear friend Surya (a fellow “Kansas Girl” who later would go on to direct the Lama Foundation). Somehow we got in to all three of the Grateful Dead’s 20th Anniversary shows. Now tonight, I would walk on stage and, in some small part, add my voice in this gift of remembrance — of times past, remembrance of an amazing musician who inspired so many, remembrance of God, Allah, Life.

Backstage in the relaxed, warm air of late September, couches slouch by tables dressed with starry candles, polished stones, and red rose solitaires. A beautiful altar has been assembled. Above, paper lanterns and twinkling lights float in the last remnants of a sunset filled with high clouds. Flurries of people in everything from designer jeans to scrubby Levis, old Clash t-shirts to glittery gowns and feathers, savor organic chocolate pepper truffles and sip soujou cocktails, meeting and greeting old friends. Even the famous folks are excited. The wives snap pictures as younger musicians hug their musical elders and sit to talk under the open sky. Kids tumble by, pulling their moms on invisible kite strings. Out front undulating rainbow throngs of dancers flow in concert as Bob Weir’s band “Ratdog” cycles into the next song.

Twenty-five or more of us, most in white flowing robes, are gathering at the doorway, taking hands, standing shoulder to shoulder. In the center is Hamza El Din, bringing us closer, tuning us for the music to come. Those who know it chant the Islamic Fatiha. “Start the zikr, start the zikr,” Hamza calls, and Karim begins – “Allah Allah Allah Hu, “Allah Allah, Allah Hu.” We add our voices, tilting our faces slowly left and right. Karim’s drum finds the pulse, pulling us in and in and farther in. Hamza is singing in Arabic over our prayers. I hear a man walking by behind me “. . . best show ever . . . .” his voice fades away as our energy strengthens and expands. I imagine a clear white glow that begins to permeate the backstage area. Others walk by and become peaceful, smiling. “Allah Allah Allah Hu, Allah Allah Allah Hu” changes into the simplest, most fervent call from the heart – “Allah, Allah” – moving from chant to whisper to thought. Then we are simply standing in presence. And it’s time.

We are walking into the stage area, single file. Nur Malika whispers prayers of encouragement and grounding as each one passes. Jerry Garcia’s daughter is speaking and then Hamza and Mickey enter from opposite sides of the stage, tars shining in the lights. A whole line of tar players forms a semi-circle behind them like a crescent moon cradling their starry presence. The clappers and singers mount risers on either side of the stage, watching for our signal to join. Shabda Owens turns with urgency and I begin in a clear strong voice – h’Allah h’Allah h’Allah . . . and we’re all clapping X- X- X- X- X- X- X- X . . . Bob Weir’s guitar sings out with Hamza’s words, next the bass enters and then organ, finally the bass drum kicks in and the audience lights go out. A huge cheer comes up from the crowd of nine thousand people! My heart thrills and my feet stay strong, in connection with the ground.

As The Dead ramp up into the opening song of a two-hour finale, we sufis in our white robes fade gently away, even as our words hold in the air. I stand close-by on the stage and feel the powerful support flowing between the musicians. The rest of the night continues the deeply joyful celebration.

I’m overflowing with gratitude. Mickey Hart echoes the advice he gave ten years ago at Jerry Garcia’s wake, to take this spirit and positive energy and “do something with it.” “Touch of Grey” ends the evening; everyone singing the refrain “We will survive.” And, shining out to all in the audience from behind the performers is a simple red guitar pick with the palm print of Jerry’s picking hand. Jerry’s right hand with the top of the middle finger gone, spread open like a benediction, like it was givin’ everyone the love.
* * * * * * *
Lisa is a wonderful musician/songwriter in the midst of our community. You can visit www.LisaMandelstein.com for information on her music and performances. She invites you to her upcoming concert in Larkspur where she will share an evening of original songs with Jeannie McKenzie, violin; Daniel Fabricant, bass; and Michael Arrow, percussion.

Larkspur Café Theatre
500 Magnolia Ave in downtown Larkspur
Friday 1/27/06 * 8 PM * $15
all ages welcome * doors open at 7 PM
415-924-6107 for information and tickets
Lisa Mandelstein - The Sound (Jan 5, 2006)
Pumped for pumpkins


BY DANIELLE GILLESPIE,
CANYONVILLE — Along Main Street in Canyonville, hay bales and pumpkins line the sidewalks outside of storefronts. Scarecrows made out of straw greet customers.

The decorations are a sign the community is preparing for the first-ever Pumpkin and Music Celebration Saturday at Pioneer Park.

“I think the whole town is kind of getting excited,” said Michelle Muir, co-owner of the Feed Lot Family Restaurant, who has her business festively adorned.

The business with the best decorations will receive a $100 prize the day of the celebration. There will also be five bands performing and hay rides along with carved pumpkins, scarecrow, pie-eating, pumpkin weighing and seed-spitting contests.

Canyonville resident Patti McCollum came up with the idea for the celebration after being asked to oversee the city’s annual pumpkin weighing competition, which offers a $500 grand prize. She thought Canyonville needed more yearly festivities because Pioneer Days in August is the city’s only annual celebration.

“We want people to participate from all the surrounding communities,” McCollum said. The event is free.

McCollum thinks the celebration will help the community grow because it will add to the city’s appeal.

To figure out what types of activities would attract people of all ages, McCollum, a self-employed real estate investor, looked online at what other communities offered at their festivals. She then went to the community’s businesses and organizations with her ideas. Everyone was enthusiastic, she said, and she rounded up about 60 volunteers.
The majority of the event is paid for by contributions from local businesses and organizations.

“We put this together as a community,” said McCollum, who’s also a city councilor. “It really is a joint effort.”

On Saturday, attendees can tell their own three- to five-minute tall tales in a contest with the top three being chosen to share their stories on the main stage at Pioneer Park. They can enter a pumpkin cooking contest with homemade dishes and desserts. All entries must incorporate pumpkin or pumpkin seeds, and they’ll be judged by Seven Feathers Hotel & Casino Resort chefs.

Those who participate in the cooking contest are asked to make a second entree for a bake sale. Money from the bake sale will offset the cost of the event and be set aside for next year.

Some funds also will be donated to Safe Place for Kids, an after-school program in South County. In addition, proceeds from a raffle will benefit Safe Place for Kids, which is hosting children’s activities at Saturday’s event. Wildlife Safari will have animals on display for the children.

Throughout the day, attendees will be able to listen to local bands Skeleton Crew, The Meadowlarks and Michael Fowler Band as they play the blues, bluegrass and classic rock, respectively. They can catch a performance by the Lisa Mandelstein Trio of San Francisco, which has performed folk music all along the West Coast. Businesses, private citizens and organizations sponsored the bands.

There will be a beer and wine garden serving fare from Champagne Creek Cellars in Roseburg, Wild River Brewery in Grants Pass and Deschutes Brewery in Bend.

At dusk, attendees will light jack-o’-lanterns, which they’re asked to bring with them.

To make the event annual, McCollum is working to set up a nonprofit organization, which could host it every year. She thinks planning for this year’s event has gone smoothly.

“I’m very, very proud of how all the citizens have pulled together to make this happen,” McCollum said.

Autumn Stevens, co-owner of Gordon’s Pharmacy, said she hopes the town becomes known for the celebration. The pharmacy is one of the main sponsors.

“Anything that is a yearly recurring event is an excellent idea,” she said.


• You can reach reporter Danielle Gillespie at 957-4202 or by e-mail at dgillespie@newsreview.info.

raves

Lisa Mandelstein has written the soundtrack to a heart on the mend, three days past anger, depression and regret. Lisa's songs are about falling in love with the ordinary day-to-day of living and finding beauty, art and reassurance where you can . . .""
Patrick Simms - ICAN (Oct 15, 2004)
“Lisa Mandelstein's songs have high artistry and profound heart. Like Joni Mitchell, her words are mighty prose poems. Like few others, she has found her own voice -- and ours."
W.A. Mathieu (Sep 5, 2004)
“It has been fun to watch Lisa grow as a performer and songwriter. That clear, strong voice was always there, sure. It’s her songs that get better and better --- no accident there, given her dedication to good songwriting. She’s able to express with vivid clarity what’s in her head and her heart and isn’t afraid to reveal what’s there. ”
Les - owner, Bazaar Cafe (Nov 15, 2004)
“Timeless songwriting never goes out of style.”
Patrick Simms - ICAN (Oct 15, 2004)