Tickets to this year's Summer Solstice party/concert at the Cleveland Museum of Art sold out in a hurry. That's just one sign that the festival has become a signature event not just for the museum, but for the city. "The first Solstice in 2009 was to celebrate the opening of the East Wing as a major milestone," says Tom Welsh, the museum's Director of City Stages. "It was just supposed to be a one-off to celebrate that moment and it turned out to be such a success, we realized we needed to do it annually. Each year gets bigger and bigger and the demand gets stronger and stronger. It feels good. We think we hit a nerve." We met up with Welsh at XYZ Tavern to have a few beers and get his take on the line-up he put together for this year's event.
DJ Afrika Bambaataa
11:30 pm—1 am | Atrium Stage
Bambaataa is the big star. His landmark record is Planet Rock and his melding of Kraftwerk with Bronx-based hip-hop beats was revolutionary. He's the godfather of hip-hop and a legend. This is a big step forward for us to present a bona-fide legend. He's been at it long enough that he's the godfather to everyone in hip-hop and electronic music. Last year, he played at MOMA in New York. I watched him play at that. I realized he would be great at Solstice. He still threads in his own hits from the day. He works the turntables with a couple of MCs with him. To have him as our headliner is a thrilling moment for us. I think it's a new level.
The Crystal Ark
11:45 pm—1 am | South Terrace Stage
This is a guy named Gavin Russom. He's a visual artist and musician. Most recently, he was the keyboard player in LCD Soundsystem, so he comes out of that eclectropop background. This is even harder dance music with this abstract disco idea. He plays synthesizers and programs beats. There are go-go dancers and the whole thing. It's really cool. It's dance music but there's a lot going on inside of it. It's really sexy and totally fun. There's been a lot of chatter about bands putting together live disco bands. He's a visual artist and percolating as a fast-rising contemporary artist. I saw the band in Detroit earlier in the year. There was no one at the gig but me. They were great. They're strongly in the New York hipster vibe. They're smart musician but unpretentious.
Burnt Sugar Arkestra
10:15—11:25 pm | South Terrace Stage
This is Greg Tate's band. He's a music writer and critic and wrote for The Village Voice for years. He's a great writer and musician. He put together this band that is somewhat amorphous—fundamentally soul and funk—that has flexibility to it. It's somewhere between Sun Ra and Miles Davis with a sharp left turn toward James Brown and David Bowie. They write a lot of their own music, but they also cover James Brown and David Bowie. I love this big, wooly open-ended nature. I'm not sure how many guys are really in the band. Greg Tate will perform and conduct. [Living Colour guitarist] Vernon Reid plays with them but he won't be there. It's a bit of a collective and all these New York thinker/player types are in there. It's Afrocentric and kicks ass. I hope they do something between Arkestra abstraction and Miles Davis abstraction, with James Brown as the backbone. If you updated Parliament, you'd have something like Burnt Sugar.
9:30—11:30 pm | Atrium Stage
She played at the 2009 Solstice. We've tried not to repeat ourselves, but she's so terrific and everyone loves her, so I thought she should come back. She's a bhangra DJ. She plays traditional Indian dance music fused with hip-hop beats and electronic beats. I find it totally seductive and effective. She's terrific. She's in New York and of South Asian heritage. I feel like I've been a fan of hers forever. She is the prime mover in the whole South Asian dance scene in the U.S. She's a pioneer. I suppose I felt a bit of nostalgia when I called her and asked her to come back.
9—10 pm | South Terrace Stage
This is a South Asian band. It's a live bhangra band. It's a combination of Indian bhangra music and American funk from the South. Half the guys are Indian and live in New York. It's also tuba and trombone. Very kinetic show. It's nine guys on stage. It's upbeat, fun festival music. They've been around for several years and their star is rising. Bhangra has never broken through here, even with the success of Slumdog Millionaire. There was this moment when it was going to break big but it never went big-time. It's certainly been a pulse, especially in dance music. It's fair to say that the South Asian population has made a huge impact in the culture but maybe not the mainstream. This band makes me think the music has some staying power. This is a really fun band.
8—8:50 pm | South Terrace Stage
He's a Colombian harpist who's playing extremely groovy improvised jazz harp based on South American folk music and his life in New York City. I've never seen anything like this where he redefines the instrument. It's not so much angels in heaven folk music as it is absolutely cool jazz from Columbia. A friend of mine who is a Brazilian filmmaker in New York told me to check him out. I've been listening to him for several years. I always wanted him to come to Solstice and this is the year. The reason why I like artists like him is because the music we want to do at Solstice has what I refer to as a contemporary cosmopolitanism and international intelligence. It's roots music from all the corners of the world informed by electronics or improvised music or beyond. Edmar is that guy. He has the folk tradition but he's not bound by it. At the same time, your grandparents would love it because it has a nice swing to it.
8—9:30 pm | Atrium Stage
These are two guys from Cleveland. They've been doing a radio show for 10 years on WRUW and in a way they're the backbone of the scene here. They have guests on their shows. They DJ under the name Beatmatrix. For the local component and as a tip of the hat to how important they are to the scene, I invited them to join the bill. They're on early, so I just told them to establish the vibe.