Somewhere, there’s a place where exotic belly dancers shimmy in hypnotic tempo to the supportive ululations of onlookers, where ribald pirates ask what do you do with a drunken pirate before launching into a heartfelt rendition of the Nine Inch Nails classic “Hurt”, where dancing artists twirl, and circus sideshow performers walk on broken glass, lie down on a bed of nails, and bend steel in their bare hands.
And it happens right here where I live in Greater Cincinnati.
This conglomeration of artists, freaks, dancers, and musicians came together this past Saturday under the banner of The Dramatic Rhythms Experience, a blissed-out and immersive audiovisual encounter cum nouveau cirque happening. The event was organized by Dramatic Rhythms, a world fusion musical arts & belly dance group devised by local drummer, DaShane Starfox Watkins. I’ve been to a few Dramatic Rhythm events before and have always enjoyed it but this particular event blew me away.
Saturday night’s event at the Southgate House Revival in Newport, KY, had a Viking theme and featured music by Noyse Merchants and local favorites Band of Pirates, as well as dancing from Troupe Roja and circus antics from Blue Moon Circus, as well as a costume contest, henna tattoo artists, and vendors galore before culminating into the event proper, a performance by Starfox. The event was emceed by BoP’s own Loren the Black.
The evening started off with a performance by the manic Blue Moon Circus, a two-person team whose motto was “We bring the danger, then we bring the safety.” Charged with warming up the crowd and easing everyone into a night of weirdness, BMC featured a strong woman bending frying pans and rebar, unicycle hoop jumping, climbing a ladder of machetes barefooted, and having large cinder blocks smashed upon a person lying down on a bed of nail, not to mention a bizarre game of Ring Around The Wiener (I’ll let you imagine what that means).
Next up were the Noyse Merchants, a band that was new to me featuring guitars, lutes, and a hurdy frikkin’ gurdy! Comprised this evening of Michael Zaret, Larry Brown, Jackie stevens, Tina Gutierrez and Rob Dorsey, Noyse Merchants performed the Classics, and by that, I mean that they performed songs from Baroque, English Renaissance, and the Middle Ages. Describing their set as “music to plunder a village by,” this exceedingly entertaining ensemble produced some very beautiful and mellow music.
Following a brief intermission, local favorites Band of Pirates took the stage. This six-piece set of rowdy ramblers are always a crowd pleaser and never fail to entertain. Opening with the traditional “Blow The Man Down”, the Pirates played the hits of the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. weaving from The Muppet’s Treasure Island hit, “Shiver My Timbers”, Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”, all the way to “Yo Ho (A Pirate’s Life)”. No doubt about it, every time this band performs, they manage to bring the house down with their polished sound and banter. Having seen BoP from the very beginning, the evolution of their sound from the original four-piece of Rob Dorsey, Loren “the Black” Muzzy, Dave Francy, and Larry “Captain Jack” Sparrow into a multi-instrument six-person band — with Julie Langenderfer on the accordion, Starfox Watkins on drums, and Sparrow switching guitar to the cello and violin — has made BoP more than just a band that does pirate songs.
Interspersed between acts, dancers took to the floor to prerecorded music which helped to maintain the positive energy amongst the audience.
One note on the venue: The Southgate House Revival venue is located at the old Grace Methodist Episcopal church in Newport. Around about 2012, it was renovated and dubbed with its current moniker, a continuation of the original Southgate House (now called the Thompson House). The new locale has three separate areas, which means three different events can be pulled off in one night. As such, the Dramatic Rhythms Experience took place in the largest room, dubbed the Sanctuary and located in what was originally the main temple of the church. Visually, it’s stunning with much of the old stained glass serving as a backdrop to the stage as well as the upper level above the stage (a kind of green room for performers) and the bar in the back is nestled below the large organ pipes. Size-wise, it is the largest of the three rooms and aligned cosmically correct with the event that was happening that evening. The stage lights bathed the performers in green and purplish blue lights, giving the entire event a very mellow and beautiful ambience.
After another brief break, it was time for the titular group to hit the stage. A typical Dramatic Rhythms performance, if such a thing can be described as typical, can be comprised of a continuous hour-long piece of music, the foundation of which is prerecorded, accompanied by Starfox Watkins and his collaborators, who play a variety of instruments live and with these prerecorded tracks. These include guitars, drums, singing bowls, cello, mandolin, didgeridoo, chanting, assorted chimes, bells, and other instruments, depending upon the track. On this night, Starfox Watkins was joined by Mr. Dorsey, a vocalist, as well Watkins’ parents for an even extra special performance. Serving as the music for multiple performances by Troupe Roja and other dancers — which included an amazing and, at one point, heart-stopping aerial dancer — the experience created by all of these incredibly talented people was the coup de grace for what was a terrific event.
All in all, The Dramatic Rhythms Experience produced a spellbinding evening of music, dance, and weirdness.
This article has been updated to add two photos used with permission from local photographer Scott Stolsenberg.
More photos from the Dramatic Rhythms Experience can be seen by visiting his Facebook page. Thanks again, Scott, for the use of these photos. — Brian