Little Big Band: Tribute to the Spirit – a review

Because I’ve never been to a Native American performance, my mind got the best of me. I was thinking big drums, totem poles, wild dancing, maybe even a bonfire. But since this was in Meany Hall, I dropped my expectations a bit and let go of the idea that a bonfire would take center stage.

So I was quite please with the first hour of the performance. It felt like a combo of Night at the Apollo meets A Prairie Home Companion meets Native American culture. Gene Tabagan was the host of the evening and told humorous short stories through music. Reminding us “to breath” I assumed this entertaining yogi who sang tales of his family was going to pave the way for the rest of the show. His sidekick, the violinist, Swil Kanim, was remarkable and you felt his energy through every flick of the string.

From funny to serious, we all paid our respect to our veterans, past, present and tomorrow. One vet came to the stage and was given the most beautiful blanket that seemed to represent an appropriate blend of Native American roots with the American flag of today. Not only was the gift breathtaking, but I’m pretty sure I heard a few soft tears in the house.

Then we were treated to a band by the name of Silver Jackson. Straight out of Alaska, this young group could easily open for Vince Mira. With songs about craziness, cops and love, this toe-tapping intermission was music to my ears – so to speak.

But the last hour turned out to be quite different than the first. Not that this was good or bad – it was just different. The Little Big Band was a melting pot of ethnicities/cultures/musicians, slapping us in the face with their points of view. Their performance was personally not my cup of tea, but as I looked around I saw a lot of receding hairlines and wrinkles that seemed quite pleased. 

During one song, Gene dressed up in Native American garb and danced around the stage as a bird while the singer jazzed her way through a song about domestic violence. I didn’t much care for the song, but the dance was a much appreciated reminder of the first half of the show.

Personally, I think this soul/funk/cuban/middle-aged folk band would’ve fit perfectly smack dab in the middle of Folk Fest, but in the middle of Meany Hall I was confused. What finally made me leave was when the band played a song that basically screamed at us to STAND UP. After the chorus told us to do so about 50 times, without a hint of anyone actually following their orders, my friend and I took that as our queue to stand up and walk out.

What we had come for – the wild dancing, drums and maybe even a bonfire, we pleasantly got in the beginning and then quickly lost by a very big band with lots of opinions. Again, maybe my expectations got the better of me, but overall I’d give this show a passive B-.

If you’re looking to experience more of the Native American vibes, you can still catch The Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition: Indigenous Voices Reply at the Burke Museum. On display are historic objects and photographs from the 1909 fair with contemporary artwork by 16 Native artists. This special exhibit ends November 29th.

1 Comment so far

  1. Wicahpi (unregistered) on December 7th, 2009 @ 11:07 am

    TO: Barrie Arliss….OR the person belonging to Blog name: “yayunicorns”.. (I dont know whether to laugh at your blog name or say ahhhh that explains a lot).. It seems they allow any freak a BLOG these days how scary & pathetic is our world with that sort of freedom?

    As the Lead singer and front woman for “The Little Big Band”, (who by the way, are not middle aged), Im not even 40 yet but thanks.. I’d like to personally thank you for your review! I will add that you are the first audience member I personally have encountered in four years with this band, to ever NOT enjoy one of our concerts. Does that sadden me? Not one bit. Does your review threaten me, or dash my hopes that our inspirational messages of strength, and 21st century awareness of a new a kind of spirituality getting through to our Seattle Audiences? Not in the least.

    I suppose your first mistake was that you had any expectations at all of Indigenous entertainers. The shallowness that you bear in regard to thinking that WE all should stick to the script of being “good little Indians” and entertain in the way that is expected of us, was not just ignorant but alas the WHOLE reason why as a band, are together making this music.

    I read your words, your opinion of our performance clearly, I instantaneously knew “there is a woman who does not get what we are about”.. And that’s fine! I am in no way attacking you. I am here to educate you, for future reference!

    Most of our audiences for four year nows do enjoy what we are all about! Most come with zero expectations and walk out with an opinion that is FAR different from yours.

    People were on their feet that night because they wanted to be! Not because I SCREAMED at them to rise like some overly hormonal world leader. I was merely singing my lyrics that prompted people who were listening and awe-inspired to stand up. Did I ask then too? Not at all.

    “Stand Up”
    Is a song about human rights. To take a stand for what you believe in. ( Hence my returned note to you).
    To fight for something of great inspiration and importance for all human beings who are looking for something that is missing in their lives. Like having a “BACKBONE”. Which by the way, is another title of one of our songs. Your overly opinionated rant, not review feels clearly threatened by the fact we sing about issues that are prominent in society today. Issues that we have been taught, generation after generation to not to speak of… Like Domestic Violence!

    Human beings can and WILL change things for themselves if they so desire to, and if they are inspired to do so. However those who do not wish to hear the truth will merely continue their vicious cycle of life.

    “Stand Up” is about not allowing society and its written laws and rules to dictate to us what we all should feel and do. More importantly, how we should act upon our feelings of discontent for the way our worlds spins today! Please do explain to me how it is possible we can walk around with expectations regarding something we know nothing of?

    In that of its self, while viewing this monstrous band of ours. That make up a number of EXTREMELY talented award winning Native and NON Native human beings who have made tremendous personal strides, and contributions to their communities, and to their own Indigenous people for many many years! But had you bothered to look any of us up, you would know that to be true. In fact it may have explained that of which your found hard to understand. It;s okay your human you make mistakes.

    If you would have done your homework, as others have done when reserving a simple ticket to come see us perform let alone give your review.. You would KNOW the purpose behind our line of creativity, and our inspirational messages sung with great power, conviction, and perseverance, not screamed to our fans and audiences abound…

    Is it for everyone? Not at all. Was Jimmi Hedrix for everyone?

    In closing..
    Your “review” is that of a very closed minded, and in some way a very, sad, ignorant individual who yes, has her opinion and has every right to it. One that I can only pray you do not get paid to give. Next time you review a highly sought after professional band. May I suggest you do your homework? Chances are you may not have wanted to come at all. If you saw fit to find out what Little Big Band is all about. However to aimlessly try to denounce us to all who will read your little boring, untruthful hodgepodge of review, as a legitimately viable group of successful entertainers who do this for a living.To call us middle aged? Is down right cruel. Perhaps there are some older members, however I as the FRONT WOMAN am no where near middle aged!

    The reason why we were asked to perform at this event held by the BURKE MUSEUM.. It was and is indeed in need of educating the masses, especially someone like yourself. In that Indigenous peoples will not relive and exist to glorify our past! We will not be pigeonholed into what is expected of us as entertainers. We will in fact break that barrier to smithereens.

    If we offend, or threaten people in the process. Well, this is America. Allow me to utilize my 1st constitutional amendment, right along with you!

    Why is it that Indigenous peoples cannot break free of this life long imagery that is known to be are “trade mark”, and has sadly become expected of us when the thought of catching a Native American Concert Event comes to mind.
    By the way we have played Folk Life Festival, two years running, their AUDIENCES LOVED US! Thank you! ;o)

    Is it because we are highly educated now? Highly successful? We can speak eloquently? Does our intellect and our ability to stimulate, and communicate, and cultivate the minds of the masses threaten you?

    I apologise.. I can only surmise, this is the reasoning behind your cold hearted, uneducated, un-welcomed review!


    2008 NAMA Song Writer of the Year
    2008 Native E Music Award Winner
    2006 Native GRAMMY Recipient

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