LIVE REPORTFIELD OF HEAVEN8/22 SUN
Veteran Folkies Came Here to Rock
Despite the rain, hundreds of people in ponchos and raincoats gathered in front of Field of Heaven; the most physically far-flung stage of this year’s Fuji Rock festival. The MC drew attention to the yellow pegs on the ground in front of the stage, and told the audience that they were markers to remind people to respect social distancing.
As Begin’s members walked out on stage, and the lead singer introduced the band, the hundreds of fans braving the rain applauded Begin heartily. The lead singer then joked that his group was made up of “sunny men,” and so the rain didn’t scare them; because they knew it would pass. He also said that the band threw out their set list, and drew up a new one, in light of recent events. That last comment drew laughter from as far back as the sound technician’s tent. The band’s lead singer then went on to say that watching a band on screens is fine, but nothing can replace hearing music live. And, as he said so, the rain seemed to lighten up. He then concluded that live music is what Fuji Rock is all about, and that it was thanks to fans like those in attendance that events like this could happen.
He then started the first song by singing a traditional Okinawan song a cappella, as the respectful audience listened attentively. Then two of the musicians joined in, seemingly playing a small harp, as well as an Okinawan sanshin; a lute-like instrument. The bass and drums then entered the mix, and augmented the intensity of the tune slightly, but without taking anything away from the delicate beauty of the original song.
In between the next two numbers, the lead singer delivered a renewed plea for organic music. He explained that, yes, recently, even he records albums digitally, but hearing things in an analog way is the whole point of live music; like that which those in attendance were listening to today.
As the band delivered another Okinawa-fueled song, the adoring audience applauded at the end of every virtual paragraph; obviously Begin is a band whose messages are paramount to their listeners. During a breakdown, the Okinawan influence came through even more strongly, as the members of the band let out rhythmic chants that are signature of Okinawan folk music. And, as with every song on their set list, as this number came to an end, their fans applauded heartily.
As they stared off their signature hit, “Umi no Koe,” (“Voice of the Ocean”) the audience applauded with happy appreciation, and then swayed from side to side, applauding at the end of each section of the track. Some members of the audience – seated on camping chairs to each side of the sound tent – nodded as if remembering childhood memories. And, others fell asleep as if soothed by nostalgia.
With less than thirty minutes left in their set time, the lead singer strapped on an acoustic guitar and said, “I’d now like to play you a song from over thirty-five years ago,” to which the audience applauded in support. This also being one of their most classic numbers, it garnered some of the warmest and longest applause.
After a false start on a song that the guitarist forgot that they had cut from the set list (which got the audience laughing happily) they launched into a mid-tempo feel-good number which had the entire audience swaying from side to side. During the chorus, after each classic timeless phrase, the members of the crowd threw their arms up in support of this beloved band, and all clapped on the twos and fours during a shredding rock’n’roll solo. As a plethora of bubbles coasted through the air, and the song wound up to a dramatic “sixties” ending, the audience unanimously applauded over their heads.
Begin’s second-to-before-last song consisted of a heavy hybrid of Okinawan folk music and rock instruments, during which the audience of thousands danced with traditional Okinawan movements. In the middle of the song, the band stopped, and the lead singer said, “There is no alcohol allowed at this festival, so I can’t ask you to raise your beers. But, let’s raise our hands as if we were each holding one!”. He then told them that he understands that a lot of people had to get part-time jobs in the past year in order to pay for their trip to Fuji Rock, and that he really appreciated their efforts. He then yelled “Cheers,” before the band enthusiastically dove back into the song, and the entire crowd resumed their lively Okinawan festival dancing. And, as the audience applauded at the end of the song, the sun once again shone down on Fuji Rock.
During the before-last number of the set – yet another song heavily infused with Okinawan traditional music – the audience cried out “Hee-ah Sah-sah!”; a traditional Okinawan musical chant. Then, as the guitarist on stage left tore into an appropriate solo on his Statocaster, the audience applauded warmly. As more and more large bubbles floated through the air, the song broke down to the piano and the singer’s voice, before picking up again for the pre-chorus, and then building up to the triumphant chorus, during which the whole audience enthusiastically threw their arms up in Okinawan dance movements.
As the lead singer announced the band’s last song, the audience applauded warmly, and the vocalist then said, “I guess this is being broadcast on YouTube, so I should watch what I say!”. He then went on to discuss the fact that many people said this festival shouldn’t happen, while others argued in its favor. He used this as an analogy for everything in life saying, “we often deal with situations where we just don’t know what’s coming next,” and that perhaps it’s good that they were having Fuji Rock this year, because Japanese people might not get to have any traditional festivals this year. They then played “Nada So So,” an old Okinawan folk song that is bound to stir the heart of anyone, regardless of their ability to understand Japanese. As the band wrapped up their last song, the audience gave them a standing ovation like a tropical rain storm, and then the former’s members disappeared.
[Photo: 10 All photo]