Kailin Yong was once a violinist. Now he’s a fiddler. The difference won’t look huge to the general public — a violinist is a virtuoso en route to mastery of his instrument, a fiddler is a folk performer with the people on his mind — but to a musician, the conceptual leap can be enormous. In Yong’s case, it’s central to his whole story.
Folk music is music from the people, for the people, about the people,” Yong says. “That is one of the big reasons why I don’t call myself a violinist, as much as a fiddler. Because a fiddler is a musician for the people. So a lot of my music is about that sense of community, that sense of like, ‘I am with you. I am on the same level as you. We are all humans, and we are all getting along.’”
Though Yong is likely best known locally as the fiddler for the neo-roots group Boulder Acoustic Society, his Peace Project, a large, revolving collective of his diverse musical comrades, is his most personal statement, his evolving musical manifesto.
Foremost, Yong wants his music to promote peace. The idea came to him at the age of 14. He was performing in his native Singapore, where he was recognized as a child prodigy on the classical violin.
“It suddenly dawned on me that all these people are here, united, in this location, because of music. Music brought all these people together,” he recalls. “It just dawned on me that this is not about me; it is about the music. People are here to see the music. Whether they are conscious of it or not, they came because they wanted to be transformed. Transported and transformed to this place where there is no difference, where there is eternal peace, where people can forget their worldly troubles.”
Years later and continents away, Yong is still fueled by this realization. He’s carried his mission through a Technicolor life story that contains compelling stops and starts: from playing in youth orchestras in Asia to classical training in Vienna to busking as an undocumented immigrant on the streets of San Francisco to turning away from classical music and immersing himself in folk and world music styles in Boulder. In 2004, Yong’s motive for peace received a kick of momentum when he won the Daniel Pearl Memorial Violin. The award is given in honor of the Wall Street Journal reporter who was slain in Pakistan in 2002. Pearl was also a
violin enthusiast and a believer in music’s power to bridge social divides.
Not long after the award, the Kailin Yong Peace Project was born. The blueprint is his debut solo album Bowing With The Flow, a primarily instrumental document of the past 10 years of his life. Led by Yong’s elegant violin playing and featuring a skilled supporting cast of Front Range musicians, the record primarily weaves inflections of Middle Eastern, Celtic, Brazilian, Asian, classical European and American jazz sounds.
The title refers to the openness and spontaneity of Yong’s Taoist spirituality, and the music is a testament to his sizable musical dexterity and curiosity. Amazingly, the project never crumbles underneath its ambitious menu. Unlike some bad fusions out there, which, like a novice cook, throw in disparate ingredients without knowing how the spices interact, Yong and company create an appetizing sonic meal.
Yong’s long-term ideal for the Peace Project is a moveable feast: to travel the world, inviting local musicians to add their own flavors along the way. The Project has already evolved since a Daniel Pearl World Music Day performance last fall; Yong now includes an Indian music selection, with sitar and tabla, as well as a dancer and a handful of new compositions.
Of course, noting the musical and social ambitions of the Peace Project, it’s natural to get diagnostic about a musician professing to play for causes as nebulous and head scratching as world peace. For all the Stings, Bonos and John and Yokos, despite music’s most powerful purveyors of songs against war, pollution and vanishing critters, there is still horrible suffering on our planet, caused largely by our own greed, hubris, misunderstanding and just plain nastiness. What, you may ask, can a concert do to mellow
In the liner notes of his CD, Yong’s mentor Cameron Powers attempts to address the issue. Like most humanitarian movements, the idea is to start small, for each individual to change himself or herself, one person at time. Surely, if you are this far along in an article about music, you’ve been changed by song before.
“Believe it or not,” Powers writes. “History has seen more festivals than battles. Most folks would rather be invited to a party than a war… it does not matter if we speak English or Turkish or Chinese — rhythm and melody provide a common ballroom. Music is the magic carpet upon which all can meet and dance together.”
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On the Bill
Kailin Yong performs at 8 p.m. on Friday, July 3, at Swallow Hill’s Daniels Hall, 71 E. Yale Ave., Denver, 877-214-7013.
Sort of lost, sort of found
The Samples reunite for the first time
by Dave Kirby
We’re not sure if anyone in Boulder lit any candles or held any services at the time, but in April of 2008, after a run of 22 years, Sean Kelly finally disbanded the Samples.
Kaput. Done and over.
The fact is, they hadn’t really been a “Boulder band” for a few years by that time anyway — Kelly had moved to Vermont a few years before, and Boulder’s local scene had evolved into something quite different from the polished, FM-friendly reggae-rock that the Samples were known for.
Of course, long-tenured locals will remember that the band was one of the cornerstone acts of the Fox Theatre’s early years, returning as conquering heroes from H.O.R.D.E. tours in the early ’90s, sharing billing with Big Head Todd and Leftover as flagship ambassadors of a Boulder music culture roused from its ’70s heyday hangover.
After a year on ice, Kelly is re-staging the band in Boulder pretty much by invitation of the Boulder Theater, and pretty much only because they were going to be in the area anyway, doing a pre-fireworks Fourth of July gig at the Rapids game in Denver.
“That was going to be a real quick thing, a 20-minute show and that’s it. And while we were setting that up, we were contacted by the Boulder Theater, who were like, ‘Aw, come on, come up and do a show,’ so…we’re doing it, y’know? No harm done. It’s not like Phish breaking up nine times.”
Kelly moved to California last fall to be with his girlfriend and her two kids, and has been spending much of the last year doing solo, mostly acoustic gigs. Private parties and functions, that sort of thing. He recently sold a song for an upcoming major film due out later in the year, and is curently working on a solo record — technically his second (he cut one for W.A.R. years ago), but his first since not having the Samples to fall back on as a safety net — and planning to assemble a full band to tour it.
Far from the image of a retired bandleader fending off post-spotlight decline, Kelly says even in this sclerotic economy that has strapped music audiences, withered the entertainment industry and levied huge burdens (like extortionate gas prices) on touring musicians, times are pretty good for him.
“Doing it on my own has been so much more lucrative, so much appealing to me. I have more freedom over what’s going down. It’s been an incredible learning process. I’m making money now for the first time in 22 years. I don’t have a manager, I don’t have a booking agent, I don’t have a publicist, and I’m finally making money.
“I didn’t make anything in the Samples. Never owned a car. I didn’t even have a CD player. I did it for the cause. I really, really believed in it. It’s like a movie, you know? The good guy always wins in the end? It just never happened with the Samples.”
And it should have. On the strength of relentless stage time and their impressive 1989 debut, the band immediately gained the attention of corporate heavyweights like MCA, initially, and Arista some years later. But it wasn’t necessarily the band’s work ethic or output they were eyeing; it was the sizable audiences they had created as an indie band, doing their own advance work and business, learning the game — and then rewriting the rules.
Once they did sign up with the majors, it all changed. They had video support yanked, or were held hostage to song changes.
Contracts cancelled. Tour support cancelled. Lawsuits. Almost as if they were co-opted for their enterprising pluck, and then promptly flogged for it.
“Yep, I think you nailed it. They say that success has many parents but failure is an orphan, and as we succeeded, people were looking around saying ‘Who landed on them? Who’s got the Samples?’ Like a Monopoly game. ‘Oh, you need us. You have to show everyone else how to do this.’” said Kelly.
“A lot of people were studying us, trying to figure out what we were up to. Back then, I remember I went skiing with Dave Matthews up in Snowmass, he was trying to figure how to do what we were doing.”
“Part of it is bittersweet, but it also brought me to where I am now, and that I own. And that’s a very sweet place.
“Music is like wine. It just gets better. I still get e-mails from so many people, telling me how much they love the music. They get it.
And in the end, that’s what you’re really trying to do anyways.”
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On the Bill
The Samples perform at 8 p.m. on Sunday, July 5, at the Boulder Theater, 2032 14th St., Boulder, 303-786-7030.
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