Mount Shasta Herald, August 6, 2014
Generally, people go to concerts to hear music. But this is not entirely true with the Japanese art form known as Taiko.
One does not hear Taiko. You experience it. You feel it viscerally. It touches you someplace between your gut and your soul. And it's not just the heavy drumming that touches you. The softest flute notes stir as deeply as the giant drumbeats.
This was exactly what happened in Shastice Park this past weekend when Shasta Taiko hosted ShastaYama - Taiko Summit.
This concert featured Taiko Grand Master Seiichi Tanaka and San Francisco Taiko Dojo, Kenny Endo Ensemble, Masato Baba, Michelle Fujii, Toru Watanabe, and Shasta Taiko with Russel Baba and Jeanne Mercer.
Each of these groups and individuals put on extraordinary performances. But what made this a remarkable concert overall was a segment of the audience not usually seen in large numbers at Taiko concerts: children, youth and teens.
Shasta Taiko reached out specially to attract these new Taiko fans. This outreach expanded the cultural horizons of young people who otherwise might not have experienced this soul-stirring art form.
How do I know how young members of the audience felt? I asked some young friends who worked as parking assistants. They got the opportunity to see a good portion of the concert. It was one of them who said, "This isn't music like we're used to. It's like you feel it inside. You don't just hear it."
Thank you Russel, Jeanne, and producer Mario Rubino for bringing Taiko to our community and to our community youth.
There are those moments where when the blessings of where we live and the talented people that make up our community truly shines forth.
The ShastaYama Taiko Concert this year was certainly one of those.
To be able to attend a gathering of the premier American taiko performers without driving off to some distant city, to relax in beautiful Shastice Park and witness that level of talent and creativity, to participate in the energy and joy of these amazing musicians was a highlight of the summer.
You gave us a unique concert worthy of any venue on the planet, and it was right here under our mountain.
Many thanks to Jeanne Mercer and Russell Baba for their dedication and effort to bring us such a superb event each year.
Mount Shasta, CA
Mount Shasta Herald, July 30, 2014
by Deborra Brannon
Taiko drumbeats and melodies rose into cloudless skies at the base of Mt. Shasta last weekend at the ShastaYama Taiko festival.
ShastaYama 2014 drew a large enthusiastic crowd of long-time, first time, and "hey I couldn't wait to come back again" taiko fans to Shastice Park on Saturday evening.
Shasta Taiko and its directors Jeanne Mercer and Russel Baba have been producing the event for about a decade.
This was ShastaYama volunteer Aaron Cena's sixth year on the festival security staff.
"It's so nice to see the event growing every year. This looks like the biggest crowd so far - or at least a match to it," Cena said.
Asked what draws him back year after year to volunteer, he said he "really likes the people who put it together - Jeanne and Russell."
And what draws him to the music?
"I love the precision," Cena said.
This year's event brought together some of the most renowned taiko musicians from the west coast and Hawaii, including Grand Master Seiichi Tanaka, with whom Mercer and Baba first studied years ago in San Francisco.
Tanaka performed with members of his San Francisco Taiko Dojo and with other performers during the evening's grand finale. Some Dojo members wearing costumes, masks and wigs; at other times wearing nothing buta a groin strap.
Dunsmuir resident Vern Spikes has been a taiko fan since he first heard the music while serving in the U.S. Navy years ago.
"I was stationed in Japan and used to go to this little club to hear taiko. I love the music," Spikes said.
Videographer and taiko fan John Cumming has attended every outdoor ShastaYama festival and his production company, Silicon Sorcery, has filmed all but the first one. He connects deeply with the power and the passion of taiko drumming.
"The drumming is like the heart beating. It's a primitive element that reaches your soul," Cumming said.
The upper field at Shastice Park was already densely populated in front of the stage a half hour before the show began. Long lines of parked cars radiated out along the streets near the entrance to the park.
First time festival attendees Brandi Barnett and Aaron O'Brien drove up from Redding "just for the excitement."
Ryan and Michele Rider and Rene Orum also drove up from Redding for the show.
This year's festival was their second taiko event.
"The music is soothing and relaxing and fills you with good energy," Michele Rider said.
Orum said she had surgery a few weeks ago but still insisted on attending.
"I'm actually still recovering but I came anyway - that's how much I wanted to bear this music again. It energizes my soul," she said.
The evening's program included performances by Taiko Master Kenny Endo, with his Taiko Ensemble from Hawaii and other special guests.
Masato Baba, a member of the On Ensemble and the Taiko Project, and his wife Courtney Deguchi, a member of Taiko Project, came to the ShastaYama stage from Los Angeles.
Like Masato Baba, ShastaYama performer Shoji Kameda grew up in Mount Shasta, is a founding member of On Ensemble, and has gone on to stardom in the wider world of taiko.
Near the end of Saturday's show, Kenny Endo praised Shoji and Masato for "taking taiko to new heights." He referred to Shoji as "an amazing artist," and called Masato "a major talent...great composer, performer and teacher."
Michelle Fujii and her husband Toru watanabe, founders of Unit Souzou in Portland, traveled from Oregon to perform.
Berkeley resident Fran Mullen sat close to the stage with her grandson and one of his friends as the music began Saturday evening.
Mullen had already planned a visit to her Mount Shasta area home for the weekend, and a friend had told her about the taiko festival.
"To tell you the truth, I didn't know what taiko drumming was. But from the poster, it looked like something 13-year-old boys would love," she said with a smile.
As the music filled the air with powerful rhythms and the stage lights began to pulse with rainbows of color, it seemed likely she was right.
Note: Look for more photos of ShastaYama 2014 and video clips at: mtshastanews.com