Ditan Folk Festival 2012 Day 1 Review: Lotsa Fun, Good Times and a Little Less Pizzazz

I make no qualms about Ditan Folk Festival Being one of my favorite days of the years. As I wrote before, it’s the perfect day to bring together all the musos and non-musos alike for a whole day in the park relaxing. This year, despite a less than stellar lineup, it was no exception. We got there early with the crew so that we could stake out a good spot on the grass and so we did, just left of the stage, giving us a good perspective on everything happening. Much like the previous editions, this was a chilled event with people bringing in their picnic supplies along with a stand in the back for emergencies. I love that it’s all about music and no pressure.

Talking about the music, day 1 was a bit lackluster, at least in the beginning. The performances by Ma Di, Song dong Ye and Co. were less than overwhelming, partly due to bad acoustics.
To be honest, i didn’t care about any of those first acts even though i tried but it did make for good background music. It wasn’t until mid-afternoon that a voice wrapped itself around me like a lasso and dragged my attention back to the stage and away from the hoola hoopers: I found out later that their name was Polad & David, hailing from Shanghai. The simple mix of suave/riveting voice with deep low guitar strokes came in time to remind us that there was a huge music element to the festival and it was time to pay attention to it. I loved their soulful performance and i wasn’t the only one. The crowd that gathered there begged for an encore that never came despite the band trying. Sound issues…

The Randy Abel Stable came up next for a decent little set of originals much to most of the laowais delight… They’re seasoned veterans and know what they’re doing.. They managed a good set even though i thought they should have added a few covers. Midnight Special seems to go over quite well with the local audiences usually and it’s always nice to capture them with something familiar every so often.

The ever polarizing Xiao He came on stage armed with a guitar and no laptop… oh yeah! He proceeded to do what Xiao He does best, screaming, beating the guitar, making funny noises and more. I think for the first time ever, I found myself defending him and his music which is a weird change, but that only happened in the beginning when he decided to squeal like a pig being slaughtered. That said, I really loved the end of his set with a funny little song about Beijing, waiting in line, going to the bathroom and more sarcastic topics. I really have to try and find it.

Zhang Si An was up next doing his solo stuff, all acoustic and no vocals, armed with a guitar and pedal. It looked and sounded very improvisational which it was. Funny thing is that since he got back to playing rock n roll with AIS, he is sounding heaver. He did an interesting nirvana-esque 3 minutes of strumming that poor guitar for all it was worth. Decent showing and the crowd liked it.

At this point, I was nicely into things and Dolan came on. I was excited to finally get to see them live for a whole set but I must admit i didn’t come out of it too impressed. Sure, it’s throat singing and Mongolian rhythms but I’ve heard both done in much better ways before. From where I stood, they were completely out of sync with each other and losing electricity/sound for a 2 minutes in the middle of a song didn’t help. I don’t mind seeing them again but not if they’re headlining.

Soundscape came on to get the crowd ready for Shan Ren. Their band members included the aforementioned David and Polad along with a few others. They played some interesting world music but at that point, there was more of a dancing vibe going on which they didn’t seem to fit. I would have rather enjoyed a second set by the duo.

Finally, it was Shan Ren time! After an afternoon fueled with lambrusco, laughs and raspberry vodka, it was just what the doctor ordered. The mountain men came, they played, the sang and they conquered for what was one of their last shows in Beijing until December 2012 presumably. The crowd was up in a frenzy, jumping, hopping and singing along as much as they could throughout the whole thing. As I mentioned before, Shan Ren has gotten many labels: Minority Music, Folk, World Music, tractor Metal… one thing is for sure, they’re 100% fun!

Overall a good – if not outstanding- outing at Ditan day 1. The music was there, the friends were there and so were the good times.
– I’m hoping that the sound problems that plagued the festival improved on day 2 but even then, it was not a huge factor in my book. Folk music in an outdoors setting is hard to control unless you’re blowing heavy volume non-stop. Jonathan, from Not There, was evidently more bothered by the issue than i was which is fair enough.. read his take on it here.
– Another bizarre thing I thought was the fact that there seemed to be more foreigners than locals at the gig. I’m not sure how that happened to be but I hope it was just a weird anomaly.
– As I mentioned, the lineup was lacking a bit. I would have hoped for a few bigger names but with it being a festival weekend, a lot of them were otherwise occupied elsewhere.
– It wasn’t a bad turnout I thought considering just about everyone i know bought tickets for this. Even the ones that could ask freebies would rather not to and support the efforts of Dong.

As far as I’m concerned, all i gotta say is: Thank You Dong.. See You Next Time.

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2 Responses

  1. I was very critical of Ditan this year, but only because I love the venue and I want to see our scene continue to grow.

  2. Beijing Daze says:

    I have no doubt about that… I didn’t think that the sound was that much worse than usual though. Seriously, 3 years ago, there was so much buzzing at some point it felt like a horde of mosquitoes coming through.