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Annual Russell Moore festival rocks Gila River

SACATON, Ariz. - Indigenous rocked the rez at the 3rd annual Russell Moore Music Fest on the Gila River Indian Community.

More than 2,500 fans packed the old Gila River Casino 15 minutes south of Phoenix. Seventeen bands packed the two days of outstanding Native American entertainment while the all-Native Nakota band from South Dakota, Indigenous, was the headline attraction for the early October musical celebration.

The festival was created to reflect the late Pima Jazz musician's dedication to the study of music and the joy of embracing life with music. Ranked among the jazz greats, Moore played with Louis Armstrong until 1983, performed in the Kennedy Center for the Arts on national television, played at the inaugural balls for presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Carter. Yet, he always found time to return to his home on the Gila River Indian Community and play for his friends and family, they said.

"Almost all Indians have a natural musical talent," Moore was quoted as saying. "Every Indian schoolboy and schoolgirl should think about the study of music. It is a way of life and a useful and productive one. Music is a source of revelation, and a means of understanding one's self and a means of understanding one's fellow man."

Born in 1912, he grew up at Gila Crossing on the west end of the reservation. Moore died in 1983.

A main event was presentation of the Russell Moore Lifetime Achievement Award to Roland Stewart, a community member from Casa Blanca.

"The Lifetime Achievement Award is to recognize an individual who has promoted the arts and humanities for Native Americans. Supporting both contemporary and traditional visual, literary and performing art forms," said Shannon Rhodes-White, committee co-chairwoman. "Roland represents this to the community."

Stewart is active in community events, played trombone and plays the piano for his church, weddings and wherever he is needed. His family tricked him into coming by, telling Roland that he was to play the piano for his granddaughter, Emily. He kept asking when she was going to perform and wanted to go home long before he received his award.

"I knew Russell and visited him in New York," Stewart said. "He told me to keep playing and someday I would be great. Well, Russell was the great; I just kept playing."

Stewart received a crystal RMMF award, jacket and a traditional Pima basket dating to 1930.

Three Russell Moore Outstanding Youth Awards were presented. Students of all ages were asked to submit a one-page essay on "How music has influenced me."

The Elementary Award went to Emily Miguel. The 11-year-old fifth grader received a jacket, plaque and $25. "I like going to Chicken Scratch dances with my family," she said. "My feet can't sit still because the music makes me want to dance."

The Junior High/Middle School award went to Brittany Vidal, 14, and included a jacket, $50 and a plaque. She performed a dance routine to the Janet Jackson song "Rhythm Nation."

Brittany Francisco from Gila Crossing, Moore's village, received the High School Award, an instrumental guitar, music lessons, $100, a crystal RMMF award and a jacket. The guitar was donated by Hanz Klose from the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.

Drew Lacapa, Hopi/Apache comedian, was co-host with Miss Indian Arizona Victoria Quintero, Pima, from Gila River.

It seemed like everyone jumped onto the floor to dance to Chicken Scratch music. Sometimes known as "waila," chicken scratch is one of the best kept secrets of the Southwest tribes. Scratch bands provide a unique sound of polka mixed with Mexican cumbia and Native rhythm influences. Accordions and saxophones add a unique flair.

The big hit Friday evening was Ulali, three Native women with voices as big as the sky. All from the East Coast, they sang a variety of Native songs a cappella, accompanied only by drums, rattles or hand clapping.

"Not many women can sing a 49er song and get everyone excited about just listening to them sing. Even the kids were awe-struck by them," said Rae Damon with one of the student performing groups.

Tribal leaders came out to support the festival, including President Ivan Makil of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community who sang and played with the Tyrone Duwyenie Band. He brought back memories of the old band days singing "Just My Imagination." Point O'Eight band leader Steven Stone, Pima, closed out the night.

Joy Harjo & Band, Muskogee, sang her poetry with justice ringing in the air.

One of the hottest, upcoming bands was that of Darryl Tonemah, Kiowa/Tuscarora, who just released a second CD. Radmilla Cody, Navajo, former Miss Navajo Nation sang a medley of traditional Navajo songs in a voice comparable to Celine Dion.

A new feature this year was the Yellow Bird Dancers, a family of traditional performers. Kenny, San Carlos Apache, and Doreen Duncan, Hidatsa/Mandan, have seven children who perform together. They recently toured Germany, Hungary and Italy. Three of their sons performed the Hoop Dance to rave reviews.

The Old Time Fiddlers from Gila River carry on a rare and wonderful tradition.

A showcase of student recitals from Gila River is part of the main focus of the festival. Robert Jackson, 19, and a recent high school graduate was featured in the Mario Moreno band. He gave veteran harp man Dwight Miles, Apache/Pima, a run for the spotlight in a duet.

Newcomer student Denton McCabe, Navajo/Pima, played drums and his father Olen Perkins played guitar and belted out a jazz number. Denton displayed his versatility with a variety of songs on the guitar. He also plays keyboard.