Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Songs of, by and for Baguio - Notes on Open Spaces - the 1st Baguio Music Festival

Two hours before the scheduled opening, we still didn’t have power. We were running all over the place buying cables and other electrical gizmos to upgrade the Botanical Garden’s (now known as the Baguio Centennial Park) electrical capacity to accommodate the lights and sound needed for the event. A man in his late 60’s lugging a guitar on his back approached me and introduced himself: his name was Mang Renato Cabasa, a jazz guitarist and vocalist and he was asking if he could perform. I politely told him that although we already have quite a full line-up we will see what we can do. He smiled and sat himself down on one of the monoblock chairs.

Venue of the festival at the Baguio Centennial Park
At 4:15PM, 15 minutes past the scheduled opening time, the lights finally went on and the speakers came to life - we were on. In an instant the first batch of featured  musicians were onstage plugging in their guitars, tuning the drums, checking the microphones. They were members of Fusion, one of Baguio’s foremost jazz bands. De facto band leader, master photographer Ric Maniquis, informed us that they will be performing “probably” five to six songs - a roughly half an hour to 45 minute-performance. After the welcome remarks from the festival chair, Baguio City Councilor Richard Carino, Fusion played their first number and Open Spaces - The 1st Baguio Music Festival, formally opened.

Kevin Cawiding of the Pinsao Cultural Group
Open Spaces was a runaway train after that - it felt like we weren’t running the festival, its energy was what’s pushing us to go on. Fusion kept going way beyond the projected five to six songs - the original seven musicians who went onstage kept growing and growing as friends of the band who were in the audience were called to jam with them who included festival chair, Councilor Richard Carino. The first day was dubbed, “Bandang Baguio,” and it featured some of Baguio’s better-known bands such as Deja Vu, Daluyon, Powerpuff Corn, Blugraz  along with veteran folk singer, Atty. Bubut Olarte and rocker Bong Dailo.

We had a lean audience due to the “bigger” events happening elsewhere in Baguio, but that didn’t stop Baguio’s musicians from committing themselves - mind, body and soul - to every riff, drum beat, bass line melody and harmony.

Ethnic rock band, Petune
If you weren’t there, you should have been - the production design was really simple: plain black platforms, a few plants here and there, basic stage lights  and sound system. But we did have a magnificent backdrop - the park’s towering pine trees that peered in and out of Baguio’s afternoon fog. We did have an LCD projector screen in the background where images of Baguio’s open spaces were shown, and every now and then, words that encouraged the viewer to help protect and preserve these remaining albeit slowly disappearing treasures of one of the most beautiful hill stations in the world.  

No head banging, hardly any alcohol or whatever mind-altering substances - but I did see a lot of people with eyes closed as they took in every note played, every word sung, every story told. It was quite a high, really.

The second day, “Classical Melange,” featured local classical and musical theater artists. Tenor John Glen Gaerlan opened that afternoon’s line up with well-loved arias, followed by theater actress Raye Baquirin who spectacularly sang solos from various Broadway musicals. After surviving the Panagbenga traffic, soprano Kay Balajadia-Liggayu finally arrived and went directly on stage and a hush fell over the park as her beautiful voice, singing O Mio Babbino Caro, soared effortlessly on that chilly Baguio afternoon.

The rest of the evening belonged to Baguio’s budding classical artists and veteran theater actors - baritone Lloyd Virgo-Cruz set the tone with a powerful rendition of Nessun Dorma, his voice conquering the whole of the Baguio Centennial Park which merited a thunderous applause from the audience. Is he from Baguio? a flabbergasted  tourist asked. Yes, he is, sir.    

Abby Clutario of Fuseboxx with CJ Wahu
The third day started a bit earlier than the usual with an open forum attended by local musicians. Under a canopy of pine trees, we talked about where the local music industry is now, where it’s been, and where we hoped it would be tomorrow. The artists shared their heartaches and triumphs through the years. Then guests from out of town arrived and asked if they could share their music with us, and while the afternoon was supposed to feature only original works by Baguio artists, we thought it would be nice to have visitors played as front act to local musicians instead of the other way around, for a change. And we’re glad to have made that decision, for soon after the ethnic musicians and dancers of the Pinsao Cultural Group lead the people to the performance area,  the quartet composed of Indian musician, CJ Wasu, Taiwanese Luo Chao-yun, together with Filipino artists Abby Clutario and Eric Tubon performed music that added much more color to the festival. Then Jun Utlieg took center stage, performing original folk songs that paid tribute to the beauty of Baguio, followed by Petune, an ethnic rock band, and Binhi. Our group, Open Space, performed excerpts from our musical on Baguio’s history, Kafagway: Sa Saliw ng mga Gangsa. The groups Yin Yang Theory and One Mic capped the three day event with their very own masterpieces. And while One Mic was performing their last number, I walked over to Mang Renato Cabasa, who have been patiently waiting for three days to go onstage, and informed him that he’s next. With a big smile on his face, he unpacked his weathered guitar and started tuning it.

And while we thought of ending the festival with a bang - perhaps a rock band? A hip-hop crew? A drum circle? - we couldn’t have found a better final act than Mang Renato. Softly, calmly, he plucked his guitar and his soothing, quiet voice filled the air - there, out in the open at the Baguio Centennial Park, at the end of the 3rd day, it was just him, his guitar, his music under the stars and the trees.

We thank everyone who helped make the 1st Baguio Music Festival a huge success: The Baguio Flower Festival Foundation, Inc., the Office of the Hon. Richard Carino, Beneco, the University of Baguio, the FRB Foundation, Ms. Cynthia Tabora-Tuason, Luisa’s Cafe, Sunstar Baguio, Cordillera Today and of course, our very own artists whose passion for their craft and love for Baguio are truly remarkable. For three days on February 25, 26 and 27, 2011, it  wasn’t about any one person, or one band, nor was it about who’s better, who’s more popular, who’s bigger - it was all about love - for music, and for Baguio. 

This is just the 1st, we all agreed in the end - and as long as there are people who will listen, we will continue to sing of, and for Baguio.

No comments: