|Perhaps the greatest compliment that can be paid to any performing band is to be "booked up" and have a constant flow of offers to play their music. In the summer of 2002, WCBTs Lotus Band was not only fully booked, Lotus actually had more gigs that it really could handle. This is, of course, a tribute to the growing performance skills of the bands members. However, it also caused problems for the group.
It may seem surprising, but in May, 2002, the Lotus Band had a mandatory, "emergency meeting." The meeting had been called to decide which of the upcoming gigs we would do. The issue for these teens was the amount of time required. And, though we had already committed to some of the gigs, they had become understandably dismayed to find that, if we actually did all the gigs, it would mean a total of 9 rehearsals and gigs in the space of about 5 or 6 weeks! As one of them put it, "There goes the summer."
On top of this, due to last-minute schedule conflicts, we had just discovered we were going to be short-handed at some of these gigs. Due to the problems with juggling rehearsals aroundand even just contacting them was getting increasingly difficultI was frankly thinking maybe we should cancel all the gigs. Im not exactly sure why, but at the meeting, we decided to go ahead and do all the gigs. And, now that the gigs are history, Im very glad we didnt "give up on Lotus."
Getting through these gigs and practices required a lot of extra work and time, but if Lotus had ended in May, I wouldnt have witnessed the personal best performances that I did in these gigs. Because of this realization, the name "Lotus Band" has taken on a deeper meaning to me. As we know, the lotus only blooms in dirty, impure pond water. The lotus is a symbol for awakening in Buddhism because awakening (symbolized by the beautiful lotus) is only received through our encounters with difficulties and adversity (symbolized by the dirty pond water). We receive wisdom in Buddhism only through "growing up." In a similar fashion, I think it is true that the outstanding performances I witnessed in these gigs were not in spite of, but because of the difficulties we faced and got through together.
A good example is the Seminar III gig at Camp Morningstar, June 28, 2002. OCBCs Rev. Harada had invited Lotus to perform and had asked me to integrate their music into a Dharma talk, similar to what we had presented at OCBCs "Buddhism and Music" classes back in February and March. However, amongst other problems, we were short-handed without singer Allison Haraguchi. For singer Lindsay Ogino, I think the challenge of being on her own was one of the best things that ever happened to her. It was scary to sing by herself. Its a bigger risk. But by taking the risk and getting through it, she grew and got stronger. Lindsay sounded great on Colors of the Wind and Time of Your Life, and that was despite the rather intense campfire smoke in her face. Smoke is obviously a pretty awful thing for a singer to deal with...but she was a real trooper. I dont think its a coincidence that ever since this gig, Lindsays stage presence, confidence and ability to emote onstageto make you feel somethinghas really grown.
Most significantly, if Lotus had not done this gig, we would have all missed experiencing the great audience response to Time of Your Life at the end of the performance. This was by far the most receptive audience Lotus has ever played to. The teens were standing, dancing, clapping and singing along. We all had a fantastic time together. It was one of the great moments in the history of the band. We were all apprehensive about going up there and playing "in front of peers," and yet the result was the opposite. There was nothing to be afraid of. Were grateful to Rev. Harada for inviting us to make this presentation!
A few days later, Rev. Harada called me and expressed his appreciation for our presentation at Camp Morningstar. He said the feedback he received from the teens he talked to was that they really enjoyed it and all got something out of it. And he thanked us for showing that theres "more to life than just basketball." He added that Lotus is uniquely wonderful, not only for the quality of its music, but because it makes the teachings accessible to young people through music.
The following Saturday, July 6, we had a mini-rehearsal and soundcheck for the WCBT Obon Gig in the morning. One difficulty at this gig was that we almost didnt have a PA! Fortunately, WCBT's Rev. Ken made a special trip to the Betsuin that morning to borrow their PA speakers for Lotus. Sensei didnt even think twicewhen he realized the situation, he immediately offered to go get them for us.
For this gig, Lotus played seven songs. All the songs sounded very good, among them a very good rendition of Sukiyaki. But I think I personally was especially happy to hear our new song, Hyde Park. This is because, not only do I like it, but the other difficulty we had to overcome was teaching it to Allison, who had just returned from a three-week vacation in Hawaii (and was suffering from jet lag), right there in that morning mini-rehearsal! We were really kind of "winging it" by performing it so soon. But the audience loved it! I remember that another highlight was that in the ending of Colors of the Wind, there was some rather unusual "early applause." The audience had begun clapping right after Lindsay and Allison sang their last harmony vocal lines but before the song had actually ended. I think the audience applauded because they just couldnt wait for the song to end to express their appreciation. The harmony of Lindsay and Allison was so perfect and wonderful.
I dont usually report on our rehearsals, but I have to say that the rehearsal for the Nishi Obon on the following Thursday, July 11, was possibly the best one weve ever had. At the emergency meeting, I had suggested that maybe Lotus should cancel the Nishi gig when we found out featured saxophonist Amy Sakaue couldnt make this gig after all. Nishi had asked us to play an hour, meaning that our instrumentals would be a key part of our set. However, we now had to make a set minus the 18+ minutes of instrumentals in which Amy plays the melodies and solos. In addition, we were facing the possibility of having to cut Time of Your Life and Sukiyaki since she solos in those tunes also. Clearly, at this rehearsal, we had our work cut out for us. However, the mood was surprisingly upbeat and positive, and the rehearsal turned out to be extremely productive.
For example, we were able to successfully do Sukiyaki with Kevin playing flute. I showed him the solo and it sounded really good. The flute kind of matches the "Japanesy quality" of the song. Plus, Kevin does have a very nice flute sound. We were successfully able to make adjustments to several of our other songs so that they worked without the sax. I think this rehearsal was a great experience for the four Lotus members present. They realized that, even short-handed, they still sounded great because of how much theyve grown as musicians and singers.
A couple of days later, on Sunday, July 14, we played the Nishi Obon Gig. The set started with I Want It That Way. Besides the strong guitar work of Kevin and Kyle, this song featured a wonderful lead vocal performance by Allison, with great support from Lindsay. Then, in Sukiyaki, the singers did an absolutely excellent job. Of course, thanks very much to Kevin for playing the flute solo. It sounded great! Then we played Three Treasures. OK, we dont normally play gathas "on the road," but it sounded great! We followed that gatha with Kevin and Kyle playing Metallicas One...thats something only the Lotus Band can do! Both guitarists were very impressive on this song. I liked Kyles solo and Kevins Santana-ish tone on his solo!
Next, we did Ill Be, which really sounded great. The emotional, sustained harmony of the singers in the bridge got a real response from the crowd! I think they all gasped at the same time Lindsay and Allison gasped (for air) after sustaining the last word of the bridge for 4 bars! Ill Be was followed by Colors of the Wind, which was also outstanding, and received an outstanding response from the audience. Then, we did Never Had a Dream Come True. Lindsay sang a killer bridge! Special congratulations to Allison on her verse...it sounded great! For the last number, we did Time of Your Life. Besides a great job by the singers and guitarists in general, Id like to commend Kyle on his very nice "thematic" soloing. Time received rousing applause. Many thanks to Nishi for inviting us. All the Nishi people were really nice and treated us very well. Lindsay and Allison even had their own personal dressing rooms, complete with lighted mirrors and showers!
Overall, Im very proud of the "Nishi Four" for going ahead and doing this gig short-handed. It showed me how much these four have improved in the last two years, which is something I wouldnt have discovered if we had cancelled like I had suggested initially. Foolish me!
The following Sunday, July 21, we all got together to rehearse. First of all, it was a long rehearsal, but we did manage to go over almost all of our songs for the upcoming Betsuin Obon (9 songs!). Then, later, in the WCBT Obon Service, besides performing Three Treasures in the service, we gave a mini-concert of 4 songs. There were good performances all around. One highlight was the new arrangement of Ill Be, which sounded just great all around. With the new solo and bridge parts, this song sounds really strong. Lindsays entire performance on this song was absolutely convincing. And regarding Time of Your Life, I think its radically different than it was even just a few months ago and sounds a lot stonger than before. It really kicks. But even more importantly, I think weve finally gotten it to sound "like the Lotus Band." There is no other band around that can play it like this band does. Its uniquely Lotus. Thats great.
On the following weekend, Saturday, July 27, the Lotus Band finished the Summer 2002 "Obon Circuit" by performing once again at the Betsuin Obon. The set began with a very strong performance of I Want It That Way. The vocals were very good. Both Allisons lead vocal and Lindsay bridge lead vocal sounded great. What really distinguishes this song is the twin "chunky-funk distortion" sounds of Kevins and Kyles guitars. Really good stuff, guys.
Next, Sukiyaki sounded great. Vocally, this was easily one of the top Sukiyakis Ive ever heard, maybe the best ever. Its hard to say since Sukiyaki has been so consistently good lately anyway. We followed it with Hyde Park. Several people commented afterwords that they really liked this new song. It sounded very good. And, as far as instrumentals, this one really works for Lotus because all five members are onstage. Overall, it sounds "full," not to mention that it looks great too. Next, we did Weekend in Monaco. Amys sax work, and especially her last two choruses, were her best ever and gave the song a great finish! Also, congratulations to Kyle on his note-for-note execution of Russ Freemans solo!
Ill Be was the next song and featured a great lead vocal by Lindsay! Her execution, phrasing and feeling were excellent. Allisons sweet high harmonies really put the song over the top. Her voice blended so well with Lindsay in the choruses and bridge! Kyle took another nice guitar solo, and there was excellent rhythm guitar support from Kevin. The sax and guitar unison line in the bridge was definitely killer. Our bridge is better than the one on the original record, in my "humble" opinion. Once again, Lindsay and Allison demonstrated great breathing on their sustained note in the bridge. It was truly a "breathtaking moment!"
The set then segued into the Lotus standby, Colors of the Wind. Weve been doing this song almost from the very beginning (only Sukiyaki is older), but I never tire of hearing Lotus do this song. Maybe Im biased (maybe?), but this song sounded great. And, because we had the amps miked, the guitar volume could be "cranked" in the bridge, which made the bridge sound fantastic. Lindsay and Allison really delivered on this song. They are both really "singers," not just "people who sing." Also, Amy did a nice job on soprano sax. This was very likely the best Colors the band has ever performed.
The challenging funk-jazz instrumental, Always There, was up next. This song features Kevin on flute and Amy on alto sax. Actually, I wasnt sure if we should do this song, since we hadnt rehearsed it the week before, and havent been playing it much lately. But Im very glad we did it, because, overall, I think it was the strongest of the instrumentals we did. How strong? Quite a few people came up to me afterwards and commented about the impressive flute and sax work. For example, I remember jazz aficionado Bob Leong very enthusiastically comparing Kevin to Hubert Laws! Hubert (Hubert is the brother of tenor saxophonist Ronnie Laws, the composer of Always There) is "only" the best jazz flutist around today. The Lotus instrumentalists were very impressive on this song.
The set then reached a high point with Never Had a Dream Come True. Quite honestly, Ive never heard Lindsay and Allison sound better. Both of them did great jobs on their verses and choruses! And in the bridge, the entire Lotus Band sounded great, guitars were absolutely kicking, the sax was the icing on the cake, and I have to say, after hearing Lindsay sing the bridgeand the way the band all dynamically "released" into the last choruswow!...I absolutely felt like I could just "go ahead and die." Their performances were truly outstanding.
Lotus then finished the set emphatically with Time of Your Life! What a great song this is. I love its message. I think the audience loved it too. Of course, at the Betsuin Obon, we passed out all of our extra shakers amongst the audience, which really seemed to get the audience involved. I wish we had a whole box of them! But the best thing is the way Lotus has made Time into their song. As I said before, this song is now uniquely Lotus, and it sounds fantastic. Kevin and Kyle were totally "in the zone!" (i.e., nirvana-land). I also think Amy played one her best Time solos ever. It had a spontaneous and exciting feel to it! Lindsay and Allison did great jobs. And Lindsay...that is the way to "cut" the end of a song!
I shudder to think we almost didnt play the Betsuin Obon. Around the time of that emergency meeting in May, I remember sending a special letter to the band saying that if they wanted to cancel a gig due to their being "burned out" with all the rehearsals and gigs, that the Betsuin Obon was the one we could cancel because it was the only one we hadnt yet committed to. I sure am glad the band members didnt listen to me! Without a doubt, this was an exceptional gig in the Lotus Bands history. I witnessed some of the strongest and most polished performances the band has ever given.
In conclusion, regardless of what the future holds for the Lotus Band, I want to take this opportunity and sincerely thank everyone who has supported the group over the past two years. This includes of course, all the great Lotus parents, our own Rev. Ken and Rev. Harada of OCBC. I especially want to thank the band members for everything theyve contributed to Lotus. Yes, there have been many great times and maybe some tough times as well, but actually, the tough times have just made me appreciate the great times that much more.
To Lindsay, Allison, Amy, Kyle and Kevin: I dont know what the future holds for Lotus, but Ive had a lot of fun working with all of you, and I have also learned a lot along the way. I hope you have too. I will never forget the two years weve spent together.
left to right, Kevin Hata, Lindsay Ogino, Allison Haraguchi, Kyle Kagawa and Amy Sakaue served up a very tasty Sukiyaki at WCBTs Obon Festival, July 6, 2002!