Grammy-nominated Grupo Fantasma, the funky 10-piece Latin orchestra from Austin, Texas, will launch the three-day da Vinci Days celebration with a genre-bending blend of Anglo, Afro, and Latino music on the main stage at 9 p.m. on Friday, July 16.
Touring in support of its recently released album, “El Existential,” Grupo Fantasma’s live show has drawn rave reviews across North American and Europe.
The band has been together for a decade and is made up of Adrian M. Quesada, guitar; Beto Martinez, guitar; Gilbert Elorreaga, trumpet; Greg Gonzalez, bass; Johnny Lopez III, drums; Jose Galeano, timbales and vocals; Josh Levy, saxophone; Rodolfp “Kino” Rodriguez, percussion and vocals; Mark “Speedy” Gonzales, trombone; and Matthew “Sweet Lou” Holmes, congas.
Deeply rooted in the Texas music scene, the majority of the band hails from Laredo, San Antonio, Eagle Pass and Copperas Cove. The only exceptions are timbales player Jose Galeano from Managua, Nicaragua, and the trombone player, Speedy Gonzales, who hails from Philadelphia.
Past CDs have included “Sonidos Gold” in 2008, “Comes Alive” in 2006, “Movimiento Popular” in 2004 and “Grupo Fantasma” in 2001.
The band was a 2009 Grammy nominee for Best Latin Rock and has toured for soldiers in Iraq and Kuwait.
Earlier this week, bass player Greg Gonzalez was reached by phone while on tour in North Hampton, Mass.
The band is touring like crazy this summer, according to Gonzalez. “It’s pretty schizophrenic routing,” he said.
The band will perform in Europe, Canada and the Caribbean later this summer.
Looking back on Grupo Fantasma’s tour to the Middle East in 2009, Gonzalez recalled, “It was pretty intense. A life-changing, life-altering experience ... and a really appreciative audience, that really wanted to be there for the music because it represents home. They were very gracious for the small sacrifices we were making to tour there. It was very touching.”
Grupo Fantasma was excited to join Nat Geo Music earlier this year.
“They’ve been featuring World Music and they’ve got a great roster of talent,” Gonzalez said.
The new album, “El Existential,” was recorded in a house in Texas dubbed “Level One Studios” between November 2009 and January 2010.
(It was) pretty hectic during the holidays,” Gonzalez said. “Still, it was more time than we’re used to having in the studio.”
Gonzalez is particularly proud of a song he wrote called “Montañozo.”
“It was a sketch that I had of a few different ideas that I wrote over a long period of time and everyone added their own little flavors. It’s just nice when you write something and it surprises you like that,” he said.
After summer touring wraps up for “El Existential” the band will step into its alter ego, the band Brownout, what Gronzalez calls “the yin to Fantasma’s yang.”
In the meantime, they’ll be on the road. “We’ve got to,” Gonzalez said. “We’ve got to pay the mortgage.”
Dirty Dozen Brass Band
The following night, festival-goers will be treated to a performance by The Dirty Dozen Brass Band at 9 p.m. on Saturday, July 17 on the main stage.
Famous for revitalizing the brass band tradition in its home town of New Orleans and around the world, the seven-member ensemble has been featured on albums by a diverse group of artists that includes David Bowie, Elvis Costello, Dr. John, Norah Jones and the Black Crowes.
In its current incarnation, the band features Roger Lewis, baritone saxophone; Kevin Harris, tenor saxophone; Efrem Towns, trumpet, Gregory Davis, trumpet; Kirk Joseph, sousaphone; Jake Eckert, guitar; and Terence Higgins, drums.
Baritone sax player Lewis was reached by phone in New Orleans earlier this week. He co-founded the band in the late 1970s.
The band recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of its first album, “My Feet Can’t Fail Me Now,” with a newly remastered version.
“It’s been wonderful because of all the younger audiences that haven’t been exposed to it,” Lewis said about the release.
“Music is a feeling,” Lewis said. “The gospel in the music, that spiritual thing.”
After Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc in their hometown, the band found itself looking for ways to express the pain and hope of people after the storm.
They created a song-for-song cover of Marvin Gaye’s 1971 album “What’s Going On?” and released it in 2006 as a response to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina that struck New Orleans exactly one year earlier.
“I really was impressed with that record,” Lewis said. “I wouldn’t say brilliant – I don’t like to brag.”
The album struck a chord and was heralded by National Public Radio and others. The success of the album was a surprise to the band, which is used to testing out new material on the road before recording.
“A lot of that music was created in the studio,” Lewis said. “It just came together really nice.”
Lewis said the band is working on a new album that will be a tribute to The Rolling Stones.
Last September, the band played a gig with a much larger band, the Colorado State University Marching Band during a halftime show in Fort Collins, Colo. It was part of a fundraising effort to rebuild homes for displaced Louisiana families.
“That was the first time we ever did anything like that,” Lewis said. “It was a real treat to be backed by 200 pieces ... really an honor, privilege and a pleasure to be able to do that.”
“That’s a real good feeling to know that you have that sort of influence (on young musicians),” Lewis said.
The band is widely considered to be unofficial cultural ambassadors for the city of New Orleans. They were also official Goodwill Ambassadors for the United States on a tour of Asia and Micronesia years ago, according to Lewis.
For their show in Corvallis, the band plans to play a little bit of everything from their years as a band.
“We have about 15 albums out,” Lewis said. “If somebody makes a request, we’ll play them.”
After 30 years together on the road, Lewis joked about the relationship with his bandmates.
“We’re married to each other,” he said.
Next up, the Dirty Dozen will be on tour in Italy and Spain starting on July 22.
This year’s festival also will feature an artistic exploration of space by The Cabiri, a Seattle-based troupe that performs awe-inspiring aerial dance on a customized platform they’ve named Daedalus, after a mythical Greek engineer.
The troupe will be setting up the Daedalus as the festival opens at 5 p.m. on Friday and dance performances will be held throughout the day on Saturday and Sunday.
“There’s nothing else quite like it. It’s able to support six aerialists, but it also can fit in a small truck,” said artistic director and founder of The Cabiri, John Murphy, who was reached by phone at his Seattle home.
Murphy founded the performance group in 1999, as a branch of the The Anunnaki Project, a curatorial organization that seeks to preserve the mythologies of cultures that have passed into antiquity.
“We’re going to have our touring company, which is six people and a community component of 16 to 20 people (at da Vinci Days),” he said.
The troupe, which rehearses six days a week, is in the middle of an incredibly busy season.
“With outdoor shows, our intention is to provide a spectacle to interest audience members to come and see our full theatrical performances,” Murphy said.
“We want to inspire people to see live theater, live dance, anything that is live. Lure people away from seeing the current Jerry Bruckheimer,” he said.
Murphy appreciates da Vinci Day’s themes of art and science.
“It has a very intellectual component — engagement of the mind and individual.”
“Being able to get Daedalus out in the public is a way to inspire people,” he said. The troupe’s goal is to transport audiences to worlds our technology-focused society has lost sight of under modern-day stress.
What do homemade dance moves, eight treadmills, geese, the Notre Dame marching band and an enormous Rube Goldberg-inspired machine have in common?
Web sensation OK Go will screen a selection of its newest music videos at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, July 17, at the Majestic Theatre as part of an exclusive event for the festival.
OK Go members Damian Kulash, Tim Nordwind, Dan Konopka and Andy Ross have crafted Internet campaigns and self-directed music videos that have set records and won the band a Grammy award.
OK Go’s latest album, “Of The Blue Colour Of The Sky,” was released in January.
A song off the album, “This Too Shall Pass,” debuted as the second-most downloaded song on iTunes and at No. 40 on the Billboard alternative chart. It’s the third single to chart for the band since “Here It Goes Again” and “Get Over It.” The band made two videos for “This Too Shall Pass” — the first filmed with 130 members of the Notre Dame marching band and a second video, which was shot inside a warehouse that was packed with elaborate Rube Goldberg-style devices created by OK Go and Syyn Labs engineers.
This da Vinci Days event is not included in the regular da Vinci Days admission fee, and general admission tickets for the event are $12 in advance and $20 at the door. Tickets can be purchased online at www.majestic.org or at the theater box office.