It is with a mixture of joy and sadness that I attended my last event as part of the fabulous Spinning Wheel Festival last night at BRIC — joy because this was an incredible experience and sadness because it is nearly over. (The first two events I attended are reviewed here.) This two-week multimedia festival was created by hip hop theater artist Baba Israel — and his talented collaborators — to celebrate the life and times of his father, performance artist steve ben israel. Last night I continued my exploration of the countercultural world of steve ben israel’s time with a fascinating screening of the documentary film, Radio Unnameable, by filmmakers Paul Lovelace and Jessica Wolfson. This film follows the life of Bob Fass, whose iconoclastic late night WBAI radio show by the same name chronicled his generation. His open, free-form programming — and open door policy — invited young performers like Bob Dylan and Arlo Guthrie to come by and play live. He also gave voice to the social unrest of his era (Abbie Hoffman of Yippie fame was a frequent guest.) And then there were wonderful gatherings such as the Fly-In at Kennedy Airport, which exemplified Flower Power at its best. A spirited panel discussion of new media followed the film, moderated by Baba. The panel featured Tasty Keish (creator and host of TK in the AM on bondfireradio.com); Anthony Riddle (Director of Community Media at BRIC); Manny Faces (creator of The New York Hip Hop Report); and Bill Weinberg (creator of ww4report.com.) My take-away was a deep appreciation of the value of independent media, both past and present, and an awareness that we should support it and never take it for granted. As for Bob Fass? He is still airing Radio Unnameable (with co-host Bill Propp) on WBAI on Thursday night/Friday mornings from 12 am to 3 am.
To back up, I attended a fascinating chat with Baba Israel and Oliver Trager last Wednesday (also a part of the festival.) Oliver, author of Dig Infinity! The Life and Art of Lord Buckley, was a fascinating speaker and performer. He literally brought Lord Buckley to life for us. Lord Buckley was an eccentric performer who deeply influenced not only steve ben israel, but also such comedians as Robin Williams. After the talk, we were treated by a performance by The Lottery Orchestra, which was interspersed with poetry and performance that grooved perfectly with The Spinning Wheel exhibit. Oliver Trager even performed the Lord Buckley piece that gave this festival its name! So cool! A hat was passed for donations. At the end of the evening, one of the musicians’ names was drawn and the “lottery” proceeds went to the lucky winner! Brilliant!
You can always tell how good a festival is by the events you could not attend — but wish you could have. With this festival, I missed as much as I saw. Case in point was this past Saturday: there was a performance by The Living Theater of excerpts from the play, No Place to Hide, written by their co-founder, Judith Malina. I was bummed to miss it, but I hope to catch a performance of the entire play someday. (I joined their email list so I can get advance notice of events. You should too!) And to Baba, BRIC, and every single person involved in the wonderful happening that was called The Spinning Wheel Festival? Thank you thank you thank you thank you! Really. You created a whole universe — one I am sad to leave. I hope you can recreate this event in other cities. It needs to be experienced by as many people as possible. I wish you luck!