Come! Up go, let’s play!
Andy here – yesterday we left Seoul to travel south to Jeonju for the Jeonju International Sori Festival. Beautiful mountains, countrysides, and big apartment buildings flew by as we zipped across the country.
We arrived at a traditional Korean residence, where we sleep on mats on the floor under pagodas. After a quick change into our swank gig clothes, a quick drive to the festival brought us to an epic amphitheater area with steps that seemed designed to make you fall if you’re not looking. The theme of the festival was “Come! Up go, let’s play!” which is apparently a very clever play on both Korean and English words.
We had a great tent area to warm up and get our instruments out, and were able to meet with Kim Hyung Suk, a producer, composer, film-scorer, one of the chairs of the festival, and THE K-Pop Wizard! He was a great vibe and we really enjoyed talking to him about music and the music business. After a sweet jazz orchestra, we played one set and had a ridiculous amount of fun playing with all the positive energy flowing back at us from the audience.
After our set, a saxophone group was followed by a beautiful collection of traditional Korean musicians, playing a combination of bowed strings, plucked strings, flutes and buzzing reed instruments, guitar and drums. Their musical interactions were transfixing and they sat in a semi-circle, legs crossed, creating quite a spiritual vibe.
In a nearby theater, a huge production of a folk story, done in a new way, infused korean trad. music and dance with a pop band and orchestra of traditional instruments. This featured incredible expressive, gritty, soulful singing, and epic dancing, characters, and a sensory overload of fog, lights, sound. One of the singers was a national treasure, and it was truly a pleasure to see this performance.
Exiting the theater we were greeted by a traditional Farmer’s dance music parade featuring drums, gongs, flying streamers and incredible costumes. For me, it seemed highly reminiscent of the Banished Fools parades in Providence over New Years! As the group worked its way down the steps towards the stage, they began circling in a giant pulsing ball of incredible energy and some of the crowd including us made it down and danced with all of the performers. As we were catching our breath, one of the most amazing fireworks displays I’ve ever seen shot off of a nearby roof. Are you kidding me? This was an amazing experience.
As if the arc of the night couldn’t possibly get more insane, the festival after-party featured delicious food, and super loud cheers we couldn’t fully comprehend, though we appreciated their enthusiasm! The vibe was celebratory as all of the volunteers made the whole festival possible and we can’t thank them enough for their help. On the spur of a moment, we grabbed our instruments for a raucous acoustic encore and that rounded out the night for us to return to our comfy pagodas.
Today was a great day for food – we got up early for traditional Korean breakfast of rice, spicy beef, kimchee, fish, fermented miso soup and a more! Lunch was a vast array of the most dishes we’ve seen put on a table so far with bulgogi – marinated beef with mushrooms and onions as the centerpiece. We followed all the amazing food with a cultural exchange where we listened to music from Ladies and Gentlemen, a Korean Indie-Rock band, as well as their fusion with traditional music. We shared our music and then listened to an unbelievable Gayageum player, who taught us Arirang – a popular Korean folk song. What a day what a day! I’m sitting here in our little pagoda village with Stash and Eric, editing videos and writing this post. I hope you enjoy!