New Primitives: Living By the Drum

Article Contributed by Janie Franz | Published on Saturday, July 12, 2008

The drum-driven world pop band New Primitives will again open this year's 10,000 Lakes Festival. This six-piece band from Minneapolis will play at 6:30 on the Field Stage. Though Gold Standard will start pumping out their horn-driven rock at the Barn Stage at 6 pm while Comosapiens warms up the Outstage Saloon, nobody can really start the party quite like the New Primitives can and set a tone for the entire festival.

Last year, the band was positioned in the same slot and stage. At first, that puzzled the band. "When we found out we were first, we wondered why they hadn't put us when there are more people there," Chico Perez, one of the percussionists with the band, said. Once he and Stan Kipper, the leader of the band, got underneath their normal musicians' ego, they both realized that something amazing was afoot.

"It starts the festival off on the right note," Kipper said. Even the festival organizers recognized that. "They like the vibe we bring to the start. They were telling us that it's the note that they're looking for. They said, 'Stan, you guys, we can't think of a better way to start this.'"

"We are the key that opens the door to what it really is all about," Perez added. "We appreciate it now that we understand it. We want that position."

Last year, the opening and closing of the festival was well thought out. New Primitives used the spiritual power of the drums to create community right from the start, and the sacred steel of the Lee Boys closed out the festival. "The fact that the festival organizers even think about it like that is a testament to what they're trying to establish here," Kipper said.

It certainly is.  The beautiful Soo Pass Ranch, which houses the 10,000 Lakes Festival, sprawls over 600 acres of prime Minnesota lake country. It is a pristine setting in west-central Minnesota. Campsites are located along lakes or in extremely private, wooded alcoves big enough to handle large groups. Permanent roads, lighting, and multiple campgrounds encourage easier access into the festival and moving from one area to another. All sites are within walking distance of the concert stages. Though attendance numbers don't rival Bonnaroo, 20,000 or so festivalgoers each year living on top of each other could be problematic.

bandFor the most part, jam festivalgoers seem to live, if just for the four or five days of an outdoor festival, within a festival culture.  It is what Phil Lesh has called "our version of the camp meeting where people put their lives aside, and they come together as a community to pursue a higher journey where they're living on a more spiritual plane. They're there to participate in an artistic endeavor." They aren't voyeurs, watchers of art being made. "Audiences engaging with it is what drives the whole creative process. It's almost as if everyone agreed to put their lives aside and focus on art and more inward experiences, but in a collective way, so that they're not as detached from one another as they would be in their normal lives."

For those of us who follow jam, the festival is the ultimate community as people come together to share music and create their own experience through dance, drum circles, midnight acoustic jams, or tossing beach balls in the air in front of the main stage and seeing how long a group of strangers can keep the balls in the air. All of it is a collective participation in jam.

But, something needs to knit that experience together. "The music that we're playing is for everybody," Stan Kipper said. "It's a celebration. We're working on stuff that people feel but can't really put into words. We're trying to get people to know that it's a safe place here."

Perez puts it this way: "We say that we sing and say the things that people think about, that they wished they would have said. Stan picks out our tunes. He picks out all the healing songs, all those things that make people happy.  It's just energy and spiritual tunes that are medicines good for smiling."

"We can definitely impart the vibe that people are going to be safe, and we help them take care of each other," Kipper said. "By the time that we're done, they're going to walk away feeling like that. They're going to walk up to somebody they don't know. They may even fall in love. That's what happens. Friendships will be made. Cool stuff is in the air when we get done. And, that's the mission. That's what we're up to."

New Primitives create a danceable atmosphere that leans heavily on percussion. Though there are three designated drummers (Perez, Kipper, and Joel "Familyman" Arpin), even Matt "Mateo" Steven (bass), Daryk Derwook (sax), and Javier Trejo (guitar) will take up hand percussion during any given New Primitives set.

primKipper has been a trap drum player and percussionist since the 70s. He got his start at the Whiskey A Go Go in California and went on to play with some of the greats. "I played drums with Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and Bo Diddley," Kipper said. "To be able to bring my beats to their stuff and have them look around and go, 'Right on.' Wow! I met Little Richard when I was really little. You know he was so wild, he scared the hell out of me, but I learned a lot of stuff from him. And I played with Minnie Riperton the whole time she was alive. It made me who I am." Kipper also worked with Bill Withers and Taj Mahal, and he and Perez are still members of Gypsy, a Minnesota band that was inducted into the Minnesota Rock/Country Hall of Fame last year.

Perez is a drum maker and African and Afro-Cuban drum teacher at the Minneapolis Drum Center. Arpin holds a degree in Percussion Performance from the University of Wisconsin and has expanded his drumset repertoire to world music.

Javier Trejo, though he participates in percussion jams with New Primitives, is really a very talented singer/songwriter and guitarist. His lead vocals, along with Kipper's, add color to the band. Perez and Arpin will also lend a few backing vocals throughout a set.

In addition to gathering festivalgoers into one big musical opening meeting, Kipper and Perez also build community not only in Minneapolis but all over the country through their corporate drum seminars. "We're in the community. We are doing events all the time," Kipper said. "We're doing a variety of events that bring people together, using the power of the drum. We use our relationship and our experiences as the focal point to bring people together and bridge gaps. We use the drum as our method, as our vehicle, to help people come together."

Like Mickey Hart, Kipper and Perez have also been working with the elderly. "We started the Vital Aging Program at the University of Minnesota, a senior citizens program," Kipper said. "The oldest drummer we had was 88 and the youngest was 70 something."

Perez added, "What it does is it restores youth. It's an endorphin builder.  It's instant gratification.... Because you missed it or wished you would have played drums when you were younger, you get to do that with us finally.  We use that as a subject to complete your life and to complete your cycle, and connect with your spirit, your inner clock, your inner ear. And, it involves community. Every small part is part of the whole to create the circle of the drum and understand the power of the drum."

stanFor businesses, corporate drumming encourages team building and creativity.  "It's such a level playing field because it really makes you communicate with your friends or coworkers in ways that you wouldn't get to communicate with them in any other type of way," said Kipper.

There also is something else going on. "Your true emotions come out when you sit down to a drum," Perez said. "You become small again and then large with your confidence." And it is a community builder. "The drum is so powerful," Perez emphasized. "That's why it was taken away from Africans because everyone knew that it was their power. So they tried to stop it, but, of course, the power of the drum is still here."

New Primitives will use their drums and their infectious sense of fun to set a loving mindset for this year's 10,000 Lakes Festival. As Phil Lesh described the festival community of the past and what it is today: "That was and still is a magical experience.