The Magic of Easter Island Music Festival 2017

Rapa Nui, better known as Easter Island, a remote landmass in the Eastern Polynesia region of the Pacific Ocean, is best known for its mysterious monolithic statues called the moai. These “Easter Island Heads,” as they have come to be widely referred to as, were carved hundreds of years ago by the native inhabitants, the Rapa Nui people, whose descendants still live on the island today.

Carved from the stone of the island’s quarries, the several-ton moai were then transported miles to their final destination where they would stand as symbols of the authority and power of deified ancestors. How a primitive people were able to complete such a feat still baffles scientists today. These great moai heads serve as awesome reminders of accomplishments that can be achieved when a like-minded group of individuals come together to work towards a common goal.

Just as the moai monoliths of Easter Island were the collaborative effort of the Rapa Nui pe
ople, The Easter Island Music Festival at the Valley Park Sports Complex in Keetonville, Oklahoma is the result of the hard work and dedication of local music-makers and music-lovers. In the eight years since its inception, the grassroots festival has grown not only in size, but in the communal connection and social bond of those who gather at its grounds each year to celebrate the coming of spring.

When I first spoke to Nick, the drummer of The Moai Broadcast who has a critical hand in helping organize the festival, I asked him if I would need a media pass to gain access to the artists to conduct interviews. To my surprise, he told me that any sort of pass would be unnecessary. He said something to the effect of “We like to keep it pretty chill,” and after experiencing Easter Island Fest firsthand, I see exactly what he meant. It was not uncommon to see artists who had just finished their set mingling within the crowd during the next musical performance.

I got the chance to speak with many of the artists personally, including Jon Wayne
and Chucky Torgerson of Jon Wayne and The Pain and nearly all nine of the members of Turkuaz. It was through interviews that I was able to meet these wonderful artists but it was at 4am at my neighbors’ campsite that I unknowingly met the mandolin-pickin’ Ethan Bush of Arkansauce.

After explaining to one of the camp members that I was attending Easter Island on assignment, they revealed to me who was providing the musical entertainment. Sitting next to Ethan as he and the other members of Arkansauce strummed and sang with no special sound equipment or lit-up stage, I realized just how strong and intimate the connections between the patrons of Easter Island Music Festival, whether attendee, artist, vendor, or staff, really can be.

Oral traditions of the Rapa Nui people tell that the moai “walked” from the rock walls where they were carved to the stands where they stood for hundreds of years. One widely-accepted theory of how the Rapa Nui transported the moai that is consistent with this description is that they would fasten ropes to the top of the statues from opposite sides and then several others near the base. The Rapa Nui would then rock and swivel the statues back and forth using the top ropes as others would pull the statues forward by the ropes attached near the base, essentially making the statues “walk.” As one can imagine, this method would take a great deal of coordination and cohesion, so they developed a chant in which the rhythm helped them pull at the precise moment necessary.

As I imagine what the sight of this might have looked like, my mind can’t help but revisit the rhythmic motion of the crowds at Easter Island Music Festival as everyone danced to the sweet jams of each incredible act. There is perhaps no greater uniting force than the sound of music and Easter Island Music Festival is a great testament to that. I look forward to revisiting the festival next year and experiencing that unique magic all over again.

You can view photos of the festival here.

Written by Austin Burwell