Seminole Tribal Fair 2008: Bigger, Better, Faster, More

Story/Photos by Sandra Hale Schulman
Hollywood, Florida (NFIC)

“We supersized this year,” said a laughing Max Osceola, tribal chairman, as the fireworks display over the lake on the fairs third night went on for close to an hour. It was almost too much of a good thing – every time it seemed the sparkly red, green, blue, white squiggling, popping, screaming boomers were at a crescendo, they merely reloaded the barge on the lake and another dazzling round of pyrotechnics ensued.

When it finally ended, the air was filled with powder smoke and the crowds hearts were pounding in their chests.

“Shoot first, ask questions later,” Max said.

The whole fair was like that this year Now that the Hard Rock Live’s Arena is complete, the fair expanded it’s concert and powwow to four days.

Robert Mirabal
Starting the festivities with some fireworks of the musical kind in the arena was Robert Mirabal on his In the Blood tour. A mesmerizing performance that combined “technicality that enhances our spirituality,” Mirabal’s new show is a deeply personal journey that melds, for the first time, his two lives.

“I grew up on the Taos Pueblo Reservation as a dirt farmer,” he says. “It was all my family did, all they knew. My grandmother managed to grow the sweetest watermelons this side of heaven, no small feat at 7,000 feet elevation. I tried for decades to do that, it took so long to find the right hybrid seed that would grow, and now I have! My corn is tall and my pumpkins are full and ripe.”

That Mirabal – an international artist who has won Nammys, Grammys, been showcased on PBS, toured the world and is also known for his exquisite handmade flutes – is so proud this shows how deep his roots are. Mirabal won a second Grammy three days later for his solo Johnny Whitehorse Totemic Flute Chants album.

“This record is the first time I have been able to synthesize my life as a farmer and as a musician. It was always two separate worlds for me, I was fighting it. Farming keeps you rooted, while music takes me out into the world, so I couldn’t get the two together. Finally I realized this was in my blood, this is a co-existing spirit.”

A stripped down band comprised of a funky Brooklyn guitar player; Patrick Mirabal, Robert’s brother, on percussion; and a jazzy keyboard synthesizer magician, Robert took turns playing a multitude of flutes (including the ever bizarre nose flute) and drums while he sang, chanted, and danced his songs about the depth of roots, the importance of wings, the cycles of life, Mother Earth, Father Sky, and the best fertilizer of all – love.

Beautiful images of clouds and stars and horizons and the weathered faces of early pueblo dwellers flowed continuously behind him on the screen. His hypnotic dancing – hair, feathers, and fringe flying – was balanced by hysterical moments of him and Patrick on dueling 6 foot didgeridoos, which then turned into stick ponies as they mounted them, grabbed the guitar players cowboy hat, and galloped around the stage.

He quoted Sitting Bull, planted mock seeds from his palm, raged at the sky, prayed for rain, flirted like a pro, and drummed his paws off singing off-the-cuff “Snagging Songs.”

During the final song “A Brave New World,” he came off his field of musical dreams pulpit and went row by row, hugging every single person in the audience of several hundred. It was a remarkable moment that lent a feeling of connectedness you rarely experience in a production of this size. When he closed the show by saying “I wish you peace, I love you all. It is all nothing without love,” you knew he meant it like few artists – true, rare, in the blood artists – do.

There was more music in the Main Stage tent outside from Black Hawk Blues Band, a healthy rocking Derek Miller, Martha Redbone and Indigenous.

Redbone, just back from a trip to Africa where she sang with Y’oussou Dour in Senegal, Redbone and Aaron Whitby, her musical director, said they are also close to finishing their third independent album.

An expanded vendors tent showcased top quality jewelry, beaded moccasins, music and DVDs, herbal ointments, and clothing from Rez Dog and Litefoot’s Native Style company. Litefoot, who did not perform, was manning the booth with his gorgeous Native Honey wife Carmen, and it became the fairs most popular meet up and hang out spot. His new shirts say Living the Native Dream, and they were soon seen on nearly every Seminole at the fair.

A big, bucking, bronc and bull riding rodeo took place on the far side of the lot. Dapper cowboys and cowgals showcased their fast-paced, often dangerous skills for buckles, money and bragging rights.

The Arena was the scene of the powwow, the Grand Entry was as grand as could be, and featured four national drum groups. The authoritative voice of Dale Oldhorn narrated the colorful, prideful event. Oldhorn pointed out that unlike other powwows at school gyms that had time restrictions, this one was being held in a venue owned by the tribe, so they could stay and dance all night if they wanted to.

Behind the main stage was a display of the Seminoles old way of life with it’s modest chickee huts, gators prowling the lake, hand carved canoes, and stoic men dressed in old style Seminole clothing and face paint. One of the men – in loincloth breeches, red striped face, and whimsical feathered tophat – came out of his hut to dance in front of the stage while Redbone wailed her bluesy, urban tales. It was a fascinating clash of the old and the new, the roots and the wings. As Mirabal had said during his show, “Look inside for the possibilities of life. Ten years ago this reservation was a trailer park with a concrete bingo hall and a cigarette drive-thru hut. Now it’s a joyous place with beautiful music and a prosperous people.”

Love was all around at the fair, indeed.