WOW! is the first thought that comes to mind after the powerfully moving Brule'/AIRO concert at Mount Rushmore. Brule'/AIRO and their dancers performed a two-hour concert both Friday and Saturday evenings, July 13 & 14, 2007 in the outdoor amphitheater at Mount Rushmore National Monument. Fortunately, John and I were able to be in the audience both nights. The concerts were so much more than "music on stage"...Paul has a gift for taking his music and embedding it into the hearts of the people listening.
The evenings started with an introduction to the dancers and what each dance represents. Gerard Baker, the first Native American park superintendent at Mount Rushmore, gave a little background about some of the history of the Black Hills, called Paha Sapa by the Lakota, and then introduced the band. Paul chose a variety of songs from several of their CDs, and often shared how he chose the title or what prompted the meaning in each particular song. The amphitheatre is designed to hold 3,000 people, but park staff estimated the crowds at 4,500 the first night, and well over 5,000 the second night. People found a place to watch anywhere possible--even the hillside was completely full.
As many of you know, this concert was especially meaningful to Paul. Not only was it his lifelong dream to perform a full-stage concert at Mount Rushmore, it remains today the epicenter of volatile relations between mainstream America and Native America. "The idea of a Native American gesture of healing and reconciliation seemed much more powerful and meaningful at Mount Rushmore," Paul states. "I have a unique background as a product of two worlds, and it remains by role to serve as a bridge between two cultures in the hopes of healing and reconciliation."
With the high energy and up-tempo rhythm of several songs, Paul and the band received standing ovations several times both nights. As he always does, Paul shared his story between songs, and this time it seemed to come through even stronger. Many in the audience were in tears, moved by his simple message of healing, brought through his unique life experiences. Paul always references the "welcome home" their family received from Fritz and Cheryll to come back to the reservation, Thanksgiving 1993, so it was great to see Fritz and Cheryll in the audience Saturday evening.
It was fun to watch Paul enjoying the realization of his dream and the wonderful reaction from the audience. As the concert progressed, the sun slowly set behind the stage, creating a beautiful background. The faces of the four presidents were lit at dark, adding to the breathtaking evening. "Star People" was the grand finale, a fast-paced, uptempo song that had the audience on their feet from beginning to end.
The concerts were filmed both nights with the purpose of being shown on South Dakota PBS for an upcoming fundraiser. This in turn could lead to other affiliates choosing to the run the concert and bring nationwide exposure to Brule'/AIRO. Let the journey continue!
Any time you have a chance to see a Brule'/AIRO concert in person, it is well worth the drive. As one couple stated, "we drove 1,300 miles round trip by car but probably would have walked if we had to", which gives you an idea of the impact of a Brule'/AIRO performance. I met many wonderful people both nights and had a chance to visit one-on-one with several. To me, that made the trip all the more special on a personal level.