Letter From America - Part Two: Fire Drums and IgNight Festivals
Fire Drums is the longest running and most famous of the US fire spinning festivals. This year, a potentially major problem turned into a massive boon when the original venue pulled out less than two weeks before the event. The organisers did a great job of fixing the situation and sourced a truly amazing venue. The mountainous setting was full of jaw-dropping views, rocks and boulders to scramble over, places to explore and a river to paddle and swim in.
Again the days were absolutely packed with workshops in every prop and for every level. My personal highlights were Adam Lobo’s partner dragon staff workshop, Aileen’s contact staff and dance workshop and Randy and Morgan’s partner contact staff workshop.
Fire Drums also featured games on Saturday afternoon, something present at almost all UK events but much less common in the US. These games involve generally pretty silly and fun competitions such as three-legged partner poi racing, fishtail wheelbarrow races, gladiators (or combat as it’s often called in the States) and a matrix endurance competition. The games are always a fun way to spend an afternoon near the end of a festival when you might be achy and tired from the previous day’s activities and I would fully encourage more of it.
Another difference I found between the US and UK scenes were attitudes to rubbish (or trash if you're American). Recycling facilities seemed much less available in the States with little or no ability to recycle at the festivals themselves. It's rare in the UK for there not to be separate bins (trash cans) for different recyclables at festivals and conventions.
However, the general attitude in the US scene to cleaning up after yourself and not littering far surpasses that in the UK. Obviously, juggling and spinning types in the UK are pretty responsible about this sort of thing but the juggling hall or field is still a bit of a mess after a big night. I was amazed at the how free from litter all the festival sites we're in the States. I'm not sure there was even one bin on the whole Fire Drums site - partly because of and partly causing the fact that everybody takes their rubbish away with them. Apparently this attitude stems from Burning Man's "leave no trace" policy and we could certainly take a leaf out of that book.
Like Kinetic, Fire Drums was over all too soon. I, for one, would have loved both of these events to have been a day longer, making them more like the length of Play festival in the UK which runs Wednesday through to Sunday.
With just enough time to wash clothes and catch up on sleep we were off to the third and final event of my time in the States, IgNight. IgNight is held in Joshua Tree in the Mojave Desert. While the views aren’t quite as spectacular as the Fire Drums venue, the environment was certainly a high point of my trip if only because I’d never been to a desert before.
IgNight was also the quite different in atmosphere to Fire Drums or Kinetic. This wasn’t a bad thing by any means but you could tell it was L.A.’s local fire festival by the outfits, number of very muscular men and surgically enhanced body parts!
Being held in June was possibly not the best timing for a festival in one of the hottest places on earth. Temperatures apparently hit 45°C (113°F) on the Saturday and were consistently 40°C (105°F) during the day. This meant that those of us not used to this weather (and probably those who are) spent much of the day chasing the shade and popping into the showers regularly to drench yourself in cold water.
The workshop timetable seemed less jam-packed than at the other events but this was probably a good thing as simply running one workshop made me feel pretty woozy. As dusk fell there was a brief window for a good spin before it got too dark.
Once night fell it was, of course, time to head to the Fire Circle. Perhaps due to the relative lack of activity during the day it felt like the IgNight fire circle had even more energy than the other events. The opening ceremony on Friday night was very well put together and extremely entertaining as the large troupe of fire performers, including Fire Groove, parodied several different Disney films and fairy tales to a superbly arranged sound track.
Other spectacles of the IgNight fire circle were several games of giant fire Jenga, a dude on large stilts with very long poi and another Masked Skulls initiation. This time, I’m honoured to say, I was part of it. The initiation involves entering the fire circle with a prop and spinning. As you do so members of the Masked Skulls pass you more props, sometimes they take them away too but generally they give you more. At one point I had a set of double staffs, a fire poi and a fire hula hoop all at the same time. There was also a fire umbrella doing the rounds as well. After ten minutes or so the trial by fire ended and we received our prize; a skull mask.
The month I spent across the pond was certainly one of the most memorable of my life. The fire spinning scene over there is thriving and growing a quite a rate. The talent, dedication and innovation is inspiring and I was made to feel welcome and looked after at every step of the way.
I would recommend anyone who is passionate about these arts to take the trip and check out some of these awesome events. I certainly hope to have the opportunity to return in the not-too-distant future.
Thanks also to IgNight, Fire Drums and Kinetic for the use of their logos.