More info: The "Ohio Valley Indigenous Music Festival" Facebook page
For those who have enjoyed the SunWatch Flute Festival in Dayton over the last several years and rued its demise, fear not. This weekend, it reopens at a new venue, with new sponsors, and a new name: the Ohio Valley Indigenous Music Festival.
Award-winning Native American flutist and festival organizer Douglas Blue Feather says it has been a challenging road but also, he hopes, a blessing in disguise.
“I wanted to start my own nonprofit, but since we didn’t find the park (Patricia Allyn Park in Springboro) until March, it was too late to apply for grant money,” he said. “So we had to rely on GoFundMe. The new location, unlike SunWatch, has easy access, and our committee has been able to accomplish more than was possible at SunWatch in terms of fundraising, advertising and promotion. We’re very close to meeting our expenses. We hope to make it bigger and better than what was at SunWatch.”
The two-day festival will feature a full lineup of Native American flutists of diverse cultures and styles. Blue Feather is largely credited with modernizing the Native American flute. Since 1997, he has released seven CDs of flute music complemented by a new age sound.
“The flute is a limited scaled instrument that can only be played in one key,” Blue Feather said. “Modernizing it means they get tuned to an orchestral pitch and are made in numerous keys so it can be played with other instruments. I find the flute to be a perfect fit for new age, which is soothing and meditative.”
Most (but not all) of the performers have some Native American heritage. Blue Feather himself was born Douglas Bonnell in Akron and described his heritage as Hispanic, European and Cherokee. He took an interest in his Native American roots at the age of 5, when his mother informed him of it. He changed his name to Douglas Blue Feather in the 1990s at the age of 44.
“I met some very spiritual Native American teachers from New Mexico on the 90s,” he said. “After being involved in the spiritual aspects and ceremonies of Native American culture, I became interested in the music.”
In addition to the live music, the festival will feature arts and crafts, food (Indian tacos as well as hamburgers and hot dogs), flutes for sale, workshops on flute-playing and flute history, the didgeridoo (the haunting Australian instrument you hear on “Survivor”) and flint knapping (shaping rock into stone tools such as arrowheads).
After several years of popular success at SunWatch, Blue Feather anticipates more of the same for his newest festival, which he attributes to the rising popularity of the Native American flute.
“When people think of Native American music, they think of the drum, the singers and the flute,” he said. “It’s gotten a lot more popular in the last 15-20 years partly because it’s an easy instrument to learn. You don’t need any musical training. It’s a ‘heart’ instrument. Once you learn the fingering pattern to create six simple notes, you just close your eyes and play from the heart. You can trace it back 2,000 years, to its use as a courting instrument.”