Unique ShastaYama Festival mixes community and professional arts

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald
ON Ensemble, a special guest artist for this year's ShastaYama taiko concert in Mount Shasta, features Kris Bergstrom, Masato Baba, Kelvin Underwood, and Shoji Kameda.

When Russel Baba and Jeanne Mercer started Shasta Taiko in 1985, they had no idea that 20 years later they would be presenting one of the most ambitious outdoor taiko festivals in the country, which they named ShastaYama Taiko Festival.

With the encouragement and expertise of Mario Rubino of Shasta Mountain Playhouse, they took a chance and transformed the upper athletic field of Shastice Park in Mt. Shasta into a breathtaking venue, with flowing banners, luminous lanterns, professional stage, lighting and sound, against the spectacular backdrop of majestic Mt. Shasta. 

Add to this setting the performances of world-renowned guest artists and the creative talents and vision of Baba and Mercer, and a unique cultural event was born.

By the 3rd ShastaYama Festival in 2007, over 1,000 concert-goers from all over were in attendance. This year’s festival will be held on July 26, 7:30 p.m., in Shastice Park.

ShastaYama 2007 guest artist, American Taiko Master Kenny Endo, called the event “the Woodstock of Taiko,” and he was impressed with the overall artistic quality of the music and presentation.

Grand Master Seiichi Tanaka, the founder of taiko in America (and Russel and Jeanne’s teacher), was ShastaYama guest artist in 2006. He was inspired and enthralled by the setting and indicated he wanted to return in the near future.

ShastaYama 2008 will feature the electrifying and ground-breaking young group from Los Angeles, the On Ensemble, whose unique sound has been praised as “completely original and brilliantly conceived.”

Modern Drumming Magazine calls On Ensemble “an exciting taiko ensemble looking at new ways to apply traditional Japanese drums.”

Two members of the On Ensemble trained with Russel and Jeanne as young children – their son Masato Baba and Shoji Kameda. Both have gone on to become highly regarded professional taiko artists and musicians.

The other two members, Kris Bergstrom and Kelvin Underwood, add their considerable skills and artistry.

All four have studied traditional music and taiko in Japan.

Also featured is Michelle Fujii, who returns to grace the ShastaYama stage for the 4th time, enthralling audiences with her creative fusion of taiko and dance.

“This is one performance you don’t want to miss for sheer technical brilliance and raw energy,” says Jeanne Mercer.

Mt. Shasta’s own Shasta Taiko, under the direction of American Taiko pioneers Russel Baba and Jeanne Mercer, will offer an inspiring set of original compositions, collaborating in several numbers with members of the On Ensemble and Michelle Fujii, and in one number with local young virtuoso jazz saxophonist Ted Taforo.

“This is a unique festival,” says Russel Baba, “because it is such a successful mix of community and professional arts.”

Adding to the festival atmosphere is the pre-concert entertainment starting at 5:30 p.m., featuring popular area groups Kazango Jazz and Allison & Victor, and food and refreshments by Sengthong’s, Red’s Cajun Cooking, Wild Thyme Café, Brown Trout Café, and Food Arts.

Tickets are $20 for ages 13 and up, $15 for ages 5 to 12, and free for ages 4 and under. They are available at Village Books and at Soul Connections in Mt. Shasta, Yreka Chamber of Commerce, Bogbeans Books & Music in Redding, and at the gate.  For credit card purchase, call 800-926-4865 ext. 203, and online at www.shastayama.org.   

Blankets or lawn chairs for seating on the grass, and jackets and flashlights for after dark, are advised. For more information, call 530-859-8686 or check out www.shastayama.org.

ShastaYama 2008 is supported by Russel Baba and Jeanne Mercer, Shasta Mountain Playhouse, Mt. Shasta Chamber of Commerce, Mt. Shasta Recreation District, local businesses, and individuals.