Out of the Blue: The rhythm will not be contained

The Festival of the Arts made an unwise decision last Saturday to restrict people from dancing in front of the stage during the rousing performance by Poncho Sanchez and his Latin Jazz Band.

There was open space that screamed, "Come dance!" and people tried — but they were rebuffed by security, who told them they were blocking the view of seated people. This made the audience appear to be a bunch of old, repressed white people. And we know that's just not the case in Laguna!

By the second set the surge was working, to borrow a phrase from George Bush. Security could no longer prevent the infectious salsa rhythms from entering the synapses of the assembled and involuntarily sending them to the stage, where they writhed in ecstasy. Poncho flashed a big grin, and all he could say was "Where you been?" This ratcheted up the intensity of the whole performance, which is of course the whole point for musicians who play dance music.

I mention this because we have a special love for Poncho, and he for us. Several times he exclaimed, "It's great to be home." He had been touring the world, but you could sense the love he has when performing with many of his family in attendance, on the beautiful lawn and stage at the Festival grounds. It was a wonderful atmosphere. While Poncho is actually from Norwalk, he regularly makes Laguna a tour stop. And a few years back I had a special encounter with Poncho here .

Exactly 10 years ago I was doing the marketing for a drumhead company called Remo. Some may recall their iconic logo on Ringo Starr's bass drum during the Beatles first appearance stateside on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964. It put Remo on the map. And I'm proud to say they still manufacture all their products in Valencia, California, USA. Imagine that. Anyway, Poncho is the star "signature" artist for their line of congas, meaning they produce a line of congas with his name on them.

One day in a client meeting we were bemoaning the fact that Remo had no good pictures of community drum circles, and they needed to visually express the great feeling of participating in one. The only problem was, they didn't want to spend any money to assemble a large group of people for a photo shoot. So I mentioned that I was about to have a birthday party on the sand in Laguna, and that if Remo provided food for my friends then surely they would waive their appearance fees and participate in the shoot (my friends are easy — just feed 'em).

So Remo used the opportunity to schedule a shoot with Poncho as well. He brought along two other percussionists from his band, and a great Laguna drum circle was imagined — with Poncho laying down the grooves. There was such great energy I had to restrain some folks from leaning over and hitting Poncho's drum while he was still playing.

Here then is the iconic photo from that shoot. Much to Poncho's delight, there were tons of beautiful Lagunans dancing to the master conguero's rhythms, only we didn't use those pictures because they obscured the drums. Though it's a bit blurry — on purpose (to convey the kinetics of drumming) — if you look closely you might see some Lagunans you know, particularly the recently departed Eric "Redz" Morton playing his trusty cowbell.

Remo went on to use this iconic picture that launched a thousand drum circles. It is featured in posters, catalogs, brochures, and online. Poncho told me it was the most fun photo shoot he has ever been a part of. And you must agree this is a tasty portrait of the power of music to convey joy, passion, and well being, especially when Laguna is the star attraction. Just like last Saturday at the Festival of the Arts.

BILLY FRIED is the chief paddling officer of La Vida Laguna and member of the board of Transition Laguna. He can be reached at billy@lavidalaguna.com.

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