There’s a special place in North Carolina, where once a year (or more, perhaps), hundreds of tribal belly dancers and musicians gather for about four days of classes and workshops that run the gamut of everything we could dream of. Onça O’Leary, the hardest working woman in show business, runs it. I started going a few years ago with my dear friends from the Keshvar Project and Dante’s Gypsy Circus. It’s called TribOriginal, and it’s a little what heaven must be like.
Here, I met Madame Onça and became completely captivated by her presence: her commanding voice, dramatic stage character, down-to-earth true character. So back in Cincinnati, when I heard that she also ran what we affectionately refer to as ABSfest – the Americana Burlesque and Sideshow Festival – I began making plans for another road trip to NC. This was about a year ago, as I write.
Ms. Laura, one of my nearest and dearest friends, agreed to take the trip with me. We hopped in my car with questionable directions, a huge bag of Twizzlers, and an MP3 player loaded with eclectic tunes. It was a strange trip down…at one point I gave Laura the wheel, and as we cruised down through the mountains, talking and enjoying the ride, we got pulled over. The first place to stop was a cemetery, and we didn’t think too much about it as she put the car in park. But then she looked over her shoulder, out the window, and saw a headstone just next to us that was bearing her last name. Not a good sign.
Yes, she got a ticket; but we tried not to let it get us down. We continued on our journey into Asheville. Our first afternoon there, we fell in love with this city. It’s full of hippies, and there was an enormous drum circle right in the middle of downtown; folks hula-hooping, dancing, hanging out. We felt like we were home!
And that night we caught our first ABSfest show, which was held inside an intimate little theater that sat about 50 people. It knocked out socks off – a duet called Sidetracked made us laugh until our sides hurt, Ballyhoo Betty made us cringe. One of the performers did something I’d never seen before; it sort of changed my life, and it was caught on video (only true freaks may understand). Paolo Garbanzo threw knives at someone; Several of these people happen to make up the Accidental Circus, and I’ll get to them again in a bit.
The following morning I took a dance workshop from Princess Farhana, and Laura hit the town. While out and about she found a mega-cool store, and I was summoned to meet her there as soon as class was over. We tried on outrageous outfits (I came home minus $100+ and plus a kick-ass costume piece), and were invited to the store guy’s house for a bit. We fed his chickens, made feather earrings, and ate leftover mushroom something-or-other-kind-of-quiche.
Fast-forward again to that night, the main show for ABSfest. Whoa. This venue held 300, 400 people easy. Vendors lined the walls, every seat was filled, and the energy was bouncing. By the end of the show, the MC had us all on our feet, swinging our arms like elephant trunks to the theme song from Dumbo. We were delirious.
The show was over, the lights went up, and we started walking toward our car. Just two blocks from our car, the store windows just in front and just behind us shattered. We’d been shot at from someone in a car passing down the street. Un*fing* believable. We ducked and ran to the nearest public place, called the police, and somehow Laura held it together while I had a complete meltdown. The police were even a little shocked, considering the neighborhood. It seemed so unfair.
Somehow the night passed, and the next morning – Sunday by now – we went to the ABSfest networking brunch, where we met some wonderful folks, as well as saw the Cheeky Monkey Sideshow, where Mab Just Mab laid on broken glass right before our blurry eyes. Incredible stuff. Next we booked it to another workshop – this one on stage presence – and after learning some wonderful information, came away feeling like we were on the right track even though we had a lot to learn. But then, who doesn’t?
Here, I’d like to share Laura’s own comments about the trip: “Through the sticky and scary obstacles that we had to bear, this trip changed our lives and inspired us in ways unimaginable. It pushed us out of our comfort zones, and introduced us to a new level of the art of performance, dance, comedy, music, costuming, and so on! It taught us to push ourselves, and to be all that we can be, multiplied by 11. In light of the horrific happenings, and all that we shared with each other, ourselves, and complete strangers, I left this trip feeling so alive! It was magical.”
Thank you, Laura. ‘Nuff said. 🙂
And so, I feel very proud to announce that Madame Onça, Paolo Garbanzo, Mab, Just Mab, Sidetracked, drummer Darbuka Dave and singer/accordion player August Hoerr will be saving me another eight-hour drive to NC, and coming to our very own Ludlow to perform. On May 18 they’ll be at Circus Mojo; May 19 Madame Onça will teach two dance-oriented workshops in the same venue. So, you can drive up to half-an-hour, or take the long way, but you must see this group.