My story of my experiences as a Guitarist - Part 5 - Stoned Package

04.12.2001.

The great Rock-Show.

One of the best events that helped fledgling rock and dance bands rise up in the business of music was the Simla Beat Contests in the later 60s. A Tobacco company sponsored these, the makers of Simla mentholated cigarettes. Obviously, the sponsors targeted the new smokers who picked up the habit in college. As mentholated cigarettes, they were quite popular with those who did not want parental authority to discover their new found smoking habit and it was not necessary to chew on a mint sweet or bubblegum before reaching home. Except for a few adopters who made Simla “their brand”, the effect of this promotion lasted but a few weeks after the event. All the audience at these shows were given free cigarettes, which everybody, smokers that is, defiantly smoked inside the auditorium even though there were large “No smoking” signs posted all over. A few pockets even emptied out the tobacco filling it up with marijuana to make joints to pass around. The contests were held at Rex theatre on Brigade Road through the encouragement of the Kapurs who owned it. It would be on a Saturday morning, the usual morning show movie cancelled. Saturday mornings were cool for those students whose parents remained in the fond hope that their wards were attending Saturday classes.

I wonder how these events would fare now, given the current bandwagon of the Anti Smoking lobby.

I had attended the Simla Beat Contests for the last five years before 1971 and had enjoyed all the shows. At the last one, Hot Rain, a band from RC College of Commerce had won and went on to Bombay for the finals. There they were to perform for a week at one of the earliest discos in Mumbai (then known as Bombay). The Human Bondage from Bangalore had settled down to a years’ contract at the Disco (today known as the Raspberry Rhinorsurous) and Hot Rain would be the guest Band.

Prem Naidu, the exuberant drummer of Hot Rain, thoroughly enjoyed his stay at Bombay. He “discovered” the biggest drug dealer Karim Lala’s den in Dharavi, the world’s largest slum and settled down for a week psychedelic haze of “Bombay Black” an equal mixture of Hashish and Opium. The Hot Rain band were particularly lucky when, unexpectedly, two real rock superstars Jimmy Page and Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin dropped in one day and “jammed up” with the local boys. Years later, Prem loves to brag about “ When I jammed with Zeppelin….”

Not all the bands were however, enamored of playing at Beat Contests. In 1970, Hot Rain had piped the Spartans, favorites to win the Simla Beat Contest at the Post and the Spartans sincerely believed this had hurt their market value. The real reason they didn’t win was because the Contest had been open only to amateur college bands and the Spartans were almost semi-professional. It had said so in the small print of the entry form that they hadn’t bothered to read. The Mustangs were considered professional having cut their own “disc” three years before. The Lightnings from Hyderabad were already touring the Night Club and Cabaret Circuits in Bangalore, Madras (now called Chennai) and Hyderabad playing professionally. These bands avoided beat contests judiciously.

My band, the Stoned Package had missed out the Simla Beat Contest of 1971 since nobody had told us about it and we never got the entry forms.

In October 1970, Andy, who was usually updated on these things, got hold of the entry forms for a new Beat Contest sponsored by Estella Batteries. We filled in the forms and mailed them. There were many skeptics around. Especially those who weren’t part of the Band itself but had retired “voluntarily” and hung around as advisers and self appointed critics.

“ Never do a contest,” advised Nanda. “You’ll loose your reputation and market value if you don’t win. Look at what happened to the Spartans.”

The Stoned Package had, till then, logged just one “paid” gig – my neighbor Mr. Lalwani’s lunch party. Pragmatically, I thought, we haven’t even started getting a reputation or any market value, so we shouldn’t have anything to loose.

“ Learn to play well, first,” advised Sriram, “The Void have also filled in the forms and they have Gussie Rickye on lead guitar.”

Well, we would have to put in a lot of practice, I decided.

One more reason why I filled out the form was that the rules said “Enter names of all Band Members. Any changes in your Band’s line-up must be intimated to the organizers at least a month before the event.”

I felt that this would cement the band and the five of us would stay together at least till the contest for which no future date had yet been set. Too many bands were breaking up and reforming with regular frequency. Now, I thought, the guys are committed at least till the contest is over.

We started practice in earnest in the room allotted by the Youth Secretary Mr. S.R.Vijay to us. Actually, after the Lalwani lunch gig, the band had gone into limbo and though we did meet in the Youth Center at Kanteerva stadium, it was more to smoke grass and listen to music on the record player than actually practice. Besides, there were always a couple of band members missing every day.

“Now, that we’re going to take part in the contest,” I told them, “everybody comes for practice regularly, or else.”

It took a couple of days to get all the required gear together. Guitar cables were soldered and the “amplifiers” got ready.

Actually, we didn’t have any real amplifiers but used old radios bunched together in series. The radios of those days were mostly valve tube sets. Each of them was equipped with a “line input” to feed in the signal from a record player. They also had a “line output” to feed to an external speaker. These were usually at the back of the radio with the legend “PU in” and “Ext.Spk.” over two sets of sockets for “banana plugs”. We used three radios and fed all the guitars and the improvised “mike” into the “PU in” of the first radio and took the output from the “Ext.Spk.” output into the second radios’ “PU in” socket and repeated the procedure for the third. The final output was put into a bank of half a dozen speakers of all sizes and shapes, which Nanda had collected, from the defunct radios and transistor radios of various friends.

Thus boosted up like a supercharged formulae one racing car the sound was quite deafening, the speakers were overloaded, and the guitar sounds came out in a jarring fuzz-box like distortion, which would have justice to Jimi Hendrix’s guitar. The worst culprit was my bass guitar, which when played drowned out everything in an animal growl. The speakers rattled in their cabinets, the speaker cones ever threatening to come loose from their housing and come flying out.

Later, we got a separate “amp” a huge World War II RCA Radio with a massive 12-inch speaker. At five watts. It just about competed with the jarring cacophony from the other two guitars and the suspended mike that was being fed through the bank of three-radio supercharger.

As a stand alone, at least the bass did not leak electricity and give the players a rude shock. This happened for the others, probably because the three radios were of disparate makes – one American, one Russian and one a local “Murphy.” So we fashioned a set of wooden boards on which to stand while playing, avoiding “earthing” the circuit by foot and each of us had to stand at least a yard away from the next person. Even then, there were often nasty jolts experienced by all, especially when Andy’s nose touched the metal rim of the small speaker suspended from the ceiling which acted as a microphone. Sometimes, I would reach out to point out finger placing on Adrian’s guitar and be confronted with a wild yowl from everyone as 220 volts leaked through to whoever had contact with the metallic parts. Since the instruments and guitar were connected “in series” any “earthing” gave an electric shock to everyone.

Being Valve tube sets, all the radios being used as amplifiers had a tendency to heat up after about a couple of hours. This was usually indicated by an increase in the jarring sound or smoke curling up as the radio cabinets – mostly plywood caught fire. Sriram or one of the other non-players had to be deputed to keep an eye on this. We had to eventually dismantle the charred cabinets and leave the radio chassis open to cool. Later we got a small table fan to blow air over the hot valve tubes.

“Talk about ‘Air-cooled engines’”, said Nanda,” you’ve got an air-cooled sound system.

Sriram quite engrossed in listening to the music and having smoked quite a few joints was not always vigilant. One evening, one of the radios went up “foom” in an erupting blaze just next to Sriram’s nose who jumped back colliding with Adrian and getting everybody earthed and jolted by a massive electric shock. Luckily, the radio blew up and the subsequent shorting blew the fuse at the main distribution transformer down the road leaving half the neighborhood in darkness for the next three days till a lethargic Electricity Department finally replaced the fuse and restored power.

The radio, I had borrowed from Mark Suarez, one of our college mates. Though we did not tell him anything, he got wind of it and demanded back his radio claiming it had sentimental value as it dated back to 1921. Nanda and I scoured all the old electronic shops in Bangalore in vain to find replacement valve tubes. Mark came from a family of professional boxers was quite a beefy fellow. I had to spend the next few months judiciously avoiding him till my grandfather, who Mark complained to, settled matters almost amicably by giving him a brand new transistor radio.

For the next few days, without electric power there was no question of practice. When power was restored, we found the surviving two radios of our battery of radios not up to the mark in terms of volume. We kept meeting regularly to listen to music and smoke dope, but this too relapsed as other affairs – the plays, the student strike started occupying more of our time. In about a month, the Stoned Package had gone completely dormant.

Late in February, Parvez finally received a letter from the Estella Beat Contest organizers. It was quite elaborate. Also, it was Thursday. I’ve always received my best mail on Thursdays, maybe there’s something in that.

The letter informed us, in suitably haughty terms, that “after a deep scrutiny, our band, the Stoned Package had been selected to perform at the audition session to be held on the Saturday succeeding. Five bands would be selected for the finals to be held on Sunday, the next day. All bands which wished to audition must report by 9.30 am on Saturday and register themselves. Loftily, the letter warned us that failure to reporting time would mean we could miss the draw by lots for our chance to play the audition.

“There may be twenty bands,” said Nanda, ever the pessimist, “All better than you buggers”.

“Or only three.” retorted Sriram, ever the optimist.

14.12.2001.

“ We haven’t had practice for three months,” advised Adrian, “We’ll make a fool of ourselves on stage, and it’s not even at Rex Theatre which seats only 900. It’s at the Lido which seats 1,500.”

But I secretly really wanted to take part in the contest. The arguments continued through the next two days, should the Chod Gang put up or not put up their show at the Estella Beat Contest? Then we got news that the VOID had also entered and were going to make a very strong bid to win the contest. With Gussie Rickye and Vinod’s imported drum kit they definitely had the odds on them.

“I can’t see how the organizers could give them the entry,” observed Sriram from the small print of the contest rules, which allowed only amateurs. “Vinod’s band Pebbles were on contract in Delhi South Extension, besides he’s not even in college now and works in an office.”

The Void had also played at a couple of the “jam session” parties at Bowring Institute as a fronting Band for the Spartans – who were the main Band. They had been paid too, though not as much as the Spartans.

Ravi Rao, rhythm guitarist and lead vocalist of the Void was a tall handsome lad. At all their recent shows, they had surrounded themselves with a bevy of the college girls – all budding groupies. Ravi went around acting as if he’d already won the lead vocalist prize – yes there was to be one for that besides unspecified other prizes.

“Let’s go at least for the audition, Chod,” said Parvez. “We can at least wangle passes for the finals.” We reached Lido theatre at 10.30 a.m., well after the deadline for reporting.

There a scene of utter confusion greeted us. The main organizers from Bombay had just thrown out the local volunteers. The reason – not enough bands had come. Sure enough, the Void was there and had already usurped the right to play first. They were running around looking very professional, till someone reminded them that the power connection was off. The Sound System, which was to be supplied by Ajanta Sound & Light House, had not arrived. Proprietor Mr.Gaffar bhai as very much there trying to get the maximum amount of cash. He wanted 100% advance and refused to budge.

He argued volubly, bilingually: “Ee collage hudoogaru ganja odhitare. Chinal pulis kuthon aa gayeen tho humka maal chinalke le leke jayenge so.” (These college kids smoke Ganja. If the police come to raid, they will seize my equipment.)

The other band that had meekly shown up to audition was the Fatherland Front. The band fronted Konarak Reddy (Kookie) then just 13 years old, yet showing all signs of growing up to be a most accomplished guitarist. His Bass guitarist Stanley Joseph was only twelve, but already imitating his own great namesake Stanley Clarke. Kookie had already announced he was not going to do any “covers” or songs by popular bands, but his own compositions which included touches of Indianized Raga Rock.

Prem of Hot Rain was there. “Why should we audition,” he argued with the organizers, “our band just won the last Simla Beat Contest and we don’t need to prove ourselves.” But later, seeing the large audience of girls – mostly the fan club of the Void presented, Hot Rain finally got on stage and played two numbers.

The Naidu brothers of the Sonics were there, but not to play. “If they let us, we’ll do the finals. But I came mainly to hear what numbers the Void are going to do so that I can drop these from my list.”

Though it was supposed to be a close door audition, the Void had filled the hall with their very vocal supporters. Mr. Gaffar bhai of Ajanta Sounds had been finally mollified and the equipment set up. The Void played a long session doing all the songs they had prepared for the audition and five more including a long drawn out “Do what you like” by Cream in a complicated 5/8 beat. They made it quite clear that they would have an even stronger contingent of supporters the next day. One of the fans had even worked a stage get-up for them. Ravi and Vinod would be in resplendent sequined green silk overcoats and Fiaz, the bassist, would be in a Pakistani Sherwani ensemble complete with embroidered “mojri” sandals. Fiaz was immigrating to Pakistan shortly, later I heard he did play with some leading Rock Bands there too.

An announcer came on stage and paged our Band – the Stoned Package. “Anybody from the band Stoned Package of Central College is here? Please meet the M.C. Ms. Meher Mistry.”

Now, Meher Mistry was a former Beauty Queen, a leading ramp model and already a celebrity in the fledgling Indian Fashion world. She turned her most charming smile on Parvez when we showed up back stage. “But you guys had filled up the form. I can’t understand why you don’t want to participate.”

“We haven’t practiced for months,” said Parvez, “The other bands are much better prepared and we’re sure to loose.”

“There’s lots of prizes, young man,” said the beauty queen, “come here and I’ll tell you a little secret.” She led Parvez aside mysteriously into the stage wings.

“We’re going to do the show, Chod,” said Parvez when he came down. I’ve promised Meher Mistry. “She said she assures us of at least one prize if we play tomorrow.

“I thought,” said I, “she promised you a smooch up. Where are we going to get the gear? You know the radios have blown up, we have no amps. And what about practice? We’ve only got the rest of today and the show is on tomorrow. Besides they have drawn us to play first.”

“I’ll pawn my watch.” Said Parvez, pulling it off his wrist dramatically. “We can hire a couple of small amps from Gaffar bhai and practice till late night. We need only do five numbers. We can select our best, including Hendrix’ Purple Haze which no other band is doing.”

“Yah, yah man.” I said. “ You’ll do anything for a pretty smile. Come let’s go to Ajanta sound first and then we can go to college and get the others together.”

We got the sound all right from Gaffar bhai, whose shop was just next door to the old lady who sold the ganja packets. Which was very convenient, and some portion of the proceeds from Parvez’s watch hock was invested in “sufficient stash for a vigorous marathon practice.” Gaffar bhai also promised the most powerful and largest bass guitar set up for the show especially for me.

After dumping the gear at the Kanteerva Stadium youth center, we reached college. There our troubles began. “It’s too near the exams, man,” Adrian protested. “My chic said she’ll ditch me, if I dare come on stage” declared Andy. “I’ve forgotten all the songs,” concluded Nandu, “I’m going to miss all the rolls.”

It was, in fact too near the exams. My grandfather had banned all “extra-curricular” activities till the final exams including practice with the rock and roll band. This I had, in fact complied with, since the band had already gone dormant for a couple of months. But I had not informed him that I was unlikely to be allowed to appear for the Third year degree exams when I still had one paper and all thirteen to clear from the First and Second years.

Somehow, we dragged Nandu and Adrian, who came along with their own sympathizers and told Andy to land up by three o’clock in the afternoon, by when we would have put together the five songs we were going to play. “No jamming today,” I said, “We keep doing those five numbers till we get them off pat, even if it takes the whole night. My grand pop and the exams can go hang.”

By four o’clock, we had more or less got a set of five songs together – the Instrumental part, that is. That’s when somebody realized that Andy had not turned up. By five o’clock I was getting really jittery about it. I asked Parvez and Adrian to drive down to Victoria Layout and bring Andy back bodily, if necessary.

They drove down on Adrian’s scooter. Andy’s house was an old colonial bungalow set well into a huge one-acre plot. “Andy,” said his nephew Glen. “Must be in his room or gone just down the road for f***.” So they went into the house into Andy’s room and sat on his bed and waited. And waited and waited. It was an old house, the walls creaked and what sounded like rats scurried under the cot.

“Let’s go out and have a f**, Adrian,” said Parvez and both went out across the huge compound and across the road to the cigarette shop.

All this while, Andy had, in fact been at home. He had seen Parvez and Adrian come in and slid immediately under the bed. Breathlessly, he had held on while Parvez and Adrian sat on the bed above him. Earlier, Andy had tried to tell his girlfriend about the show. “Stoned Package, my foot,” she exploded, “next they’ll all be saying my guy was on stage – stoned. You do it Andy, and I’ll come and throw the first stone.”

The moment he heard Parvez and Adrian leave the room Andy tried to make good his final escape. Rushing out he jumped on his uncle’s motorcycle parked in the porch and kicked the engine to life. Away he zoomed towards the gate even as Adrian saw him from across the road. “There’s the bugger, Parvez, he’s going to get away.”

But Andy didn’t get away. The vehicle roared up to the gate and spluttered as suddenly off as it had come on. There was no gas in the tank. Parvez gleefully pounced on Andy and together he and Adrian literally dragged him to our practice room.

“You mean he actually hid under the cot?” gasped Sriram incredulously. “Wait till the girls in college hear this. You’ll never live this down, Andy. Imagine hiding under the cot as if frightened by thunder!” Andy had to stoically bear the jibes from the girls in the college for weeks after.

We had planned to practice only till about ten o’clock that evening, but after Andy came he pointed out so many glitches and misses in the instrumental backup from the rest of the band that we had to start all over again and it took us till the early hours of the morning before we finally shut down the amps. It was almost seven o’clock on Sunday morning before I got home along with Nanda.

There another crisis exploded. My grandfather who had earlier banned all “band or music till the exams are over” came down really hard on me and refused to let me out of the house. In fact, he locked me up in the bathroom.

Nanda pleaded and plodded with the old man to let me go. He even tried to tell him that it was an important official inter-college competition (it wasn’t) and obligatory for us to represent the college Grandfather gave him a long lecture on all my shortcomings, to which Nanda had to keep on patiently nodding his head in agreement. But finally, the old man had to use the bathroom and I was let out. But still no permission to go. “When is your Band going on-stage?” he asked Nanda, pointedly telling me to shut up when I offered that we had drawn lots to play first and the show began at 10 am. “Well then you can go at 12 noon. Then you’ll miss your chance.” Nanda accepted this compromise formula, but when grandfather went in for his bath he called the venue and convinced the organizers to push our band back to the last slot.

By the time Nanda and I reached Lido Theatre at 11.45, four of the five bands had already been on stage. Fatherland Front had played first, Kookie doing his own composition – “Walking down Brigade Road (Bangalore)”. The Naidu brothers’ band Sonics had played next. Naidu’s concentration on five songs from the Bee Gees had been quite well rendered but the backing band was quite mediocre. Hot Rain as the third band got a rousing reception from their fans who wanted the Rolling Stones “Soul Kitchen” and “Jumping Jack Flash.” But the group disappointed, except Suku the other three – Hartif, Gideon and Prem were flying high on an exotic mixture of barbiturates, amphetamines, ganja, opium and charas. Instead of playing any thing concrete they launched into a truly uninhibited “jam” which took up the full half hour allotted to them. Prem launched into a vigorous 10-minute drum solo during this. They staggered around the stage tripping over cables and bumping their noses into the mike and each other whenever Hartif or Gideon decided to launch into a few bars of impromptu vocals.

“What and whose song were you guys playing?” Sriram asked Hartif.

“Oh just jamming, man” said Hartif high as a kite and slurring over the words. “We were all quite smashed and when we got on stage forgot what list we’d prepared to play. So, I said just jam man and the boys took off, but before you knew it, the organizers were ringing the bell that our time was up.”

When Nanda and I reached, the Void was on. The auditorium was jam-packed. All seats were taken and additional folding chairs had been employed along all the aisles. The crowd was obviously enjoying themselves given to changing moods of cheering and jeering each band that came on equally. Since the loud vocal support for the band on stage, the Void, came from only an isolated section, the Void fans were being shown up to be partisan in their enthusiasm. The Void had played a few “covers” and were doing an imitation of “See me, Feel me, Touch me” from the Who’s Tommy album. An ambitious number requiring a robust voice range. Halfway through the number the weeks of practice daily suddenly told on Ravi and his voice cracked. Gussie was just getting ready to do a Pete Townsend “windmill arm” routine, when he found Ravi desperately gesturing him to end the number whispering hoarsely “my voice … gone!” Trouble was the singing mike bringing quite an anti-climax to an otherwise reasonable recitation of song picked up his croaked whisper.

We were next on stage. When I went to pick up my bass guitar, I realized with horror that the guitar did not have a strap to hang from my shoulders with. I had improvised one for practice from a pajama “nada” (drawstring). I had adjusted the length to the right length. The guitar swung loosely hanging down at my crotch rather than chest or belt level. But I had also planned to go to Krishnan of the Happenings and borrow his strap – a showy broad shining studded leather import good enough to set off the plain, locally made, electric solid body bass guitar of mine. But now I was going to go on stage before two thousand critical teenagers wearing a pajama nada which shouted out that it was in fact a pajama nada.

In the utter confusion of the last twenty-four hours, none of the band except Adrian had had the time to go home and “dress up”. Andy had been hauled from home in his old tracksuit and a pedestrian shirt that hung out by the tails. He’d wrapped his head with his uncle’s old muffler and just about slipped on his Hawaiian “bathroom chappals” (slippers). He hadn’t gone home, hadn’t eaten or hadn’t slept and still hoped some miracle would save him the predicament of going on stage. After the announcer cued the band he turned to Sriram and Nanda in the wings and said some thing like “morturi et salutant” and went up with a terrible martyred look.

Parvez was in his casuals; we called it home wear then. Planning to join the Tea Estates, he had dressed like a typical planter in his plantation in the Western Ghats. He had on a Khaki shorts, riding boots and a severe military looking safari Jacket. Nandu came wearing what he had the evening before when we started practice. It was a blue furry ladies (large size) great coat that completely enveloped him. It fastened round the waist with a cloth belt. He kept taking it off and putting it on again right through the practice session, depending on how much he sweated. When he got on stage and arranged his drum kit around his stool, he had to spread this out like a billowing skirt. I was dressed in my night suit with a loose cardigan in which most front buttons were missing. I was also wearing rubber slippers.

The compere, Ms. Meher Mistry announced us: “From Central College, Bangalore…(Huge roar from the right side of the audience, largely from Centrals) … the band which calls themselves Stoned Package … (Co-coordinated shout from the Central College section ‘Leeeegaliiice marijuana)… with Parvez on Lead Guitar, Adrian on Rhythm guitar … (“Yeah, yeah Ryan…this from the section of post graduate students)

… Chod on Bass guitar … (huger roar from all sections of the audience) and Andy Morris … (Loud scream from the Mount Carmel College girls). on vocals. I can tell you guys that the Stoned Package is the only band here today with a crooner. Andy Morris is going to do for you some numbers from Jim Morison’s Doors. (“Light my fire” … this from Sriram, Nanda and the others of the Chod Gang). Ladies and gentlemen,” continued the compere, “the STONED PACKAGE! Give them a hand.”

We did not start with a Doors number. Andy and some others had advised us. “Start with an instrumental, a simple one. By the end of this you should have got used to being on stage. This is a habit I kept up with through the years. I would usually start with “La Paloma”, which would be remembered by at least some one before taking up vocals.

Parvez started with “Happy Together” a simple instrumental.

“Cut this instrumental cock,” came the shout from the upper balconies, “Do the Doors and Hendrix”.

Andy promptly came on with The Doors “Light my fire” and “Hello I love you” before we took up Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” and ended with “Hey Joe”.

Trouble began during the third song when Nandu’s High Hat Cymbal stand started tilting having got loose. Between the songs, he took out the cloth belt from his coat and was just tying one end to the stand when Parvez took off with the next number. Grabbing his sticks, Nandu grabbed the other end of the belt in his teeth and played through the song. His coat split open and everyone could see Nandu, bare-chested wearing the briefest of short pants inside.

My improvised pajama nada strap was also becoming loose. Behind me Gaffar bhai of Ajanta Sound had as promised, set up a ten-foot high bank of speaker cabinets and fed the bass guitar through his most powerful amp into as many as 16 twelve-inch speakers. The whole column vibrated and swayed with the immense jarring sound and threatened to topple over. I edged back to the speakers and pressed the back of my head against the speakers to hold them up. My long hair bounced against the speaker cabinets blown rhythmically by the throb of the bass guitar.

“…. Hey Joe,” sang Andy, “I heard you shot your woman down, (Very loud Bang heard)… down on the ground”.

The bang had come when my improvised guitar strap had broken off and the guitar thudded on the floor, the pickups sending the sound through the amplifiers like an exploding gun. I went down on my knees continuing to play furiously, now resting the stock on the ground. The noise had startled Andy. His sudden jerk had toppled the mike stand. He too went down on his knees still continuing with the song. Both of us did these movements so slowly and in time to the music, that nobody was any wiser that it wasn’t in the script. At that moment a Press Photographer clicked the band.

“You guys looked damn good,” said Nanda enthusiastically, “Great idea it was, man.”

“What great Idea?” I asked.

“That routine at the end. Crawling on all fours, you and Andy both of you, and playing in an unorthodox position. I’m sure they will give you a prize.”

They did.

Stoned Package got the prize for the group with the “best showmanship”. Our crawling on stage as well as our stage dress had won it for us.

Andy Morris got the “best vocalist” prize mainly because he was the only lead singer among all five bands. In the others, Kookie of Fatherland Front, Hartif of Hot Rain, Ravi of Void, Naidu of Sonics all did the vocals but they also played guitar.

Prem of Hot Rain got the “best drummer” award. Naidu of Sonics was judged “best rhythm guitarist.” One of the judges was a Bee Gees fan. Kookie got the “best lead guitarist” prize, but there was no “best bass guitarist” which would have surely gone to Stanley of Fatherland Front.

The Fatherland Front won the competition as “best band”. The judges admitted that they were impressed by the average age of the band – 12 years 9 months.

The much-vaunted Void Band got wiped out. Some said that the judges disqualified them as not an amateur college band. Their fans were livid. They screamed their disapproval, threw the folding chairs on stage and generally registered their protest.

To no avail. The haughty were humbled, the underdogs had won.

The Stoned package returned triumphant. The prizes were trinkets – a torch, a tie and a suit piece for Andy. No prize money. But our collective egos had today won a victory.

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Jaijai, what a wonderful mission you've undertaken to create such a place for artistic minds to meet and share their hearts. A place to renew faded determinations, and revive lessened momentums. A place to display our wares and reconfirm to one another that we actually are on the right track.

I commend you, Jaijai, for caring so much that you created this castle of the heart for all of us. I want to share my praise for all of the new friends as well as old friends that I've met and will meet here in our castle. Here we can garnish the where-with-all, the strength, the conviction, and the selflessness through our symbiosis, to share our gift to the world with an unbiased agenda.

My mentor, Daisaku Ikeda says of art: "A beautiful flower delights and refreshes the hearts of all people equally, no matter what soil it grows in. That is the power of beauty. The same is true of great art. It is this spirit that the German poet Heinrich Heine sang of when he wrote that once the peapod bursts open, the sugar peas inside are for everyone to enjoy."

Let's be audacious, my friends!

Buster Williams

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Host Christian McBride sits down with saxophonist Lou Donaldson to talk about Lou's life as a performer, his thoughts on jazz today and how hip-hop brought new ears to his music.

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