by Savannah Evanoff
David Baxter wants people to know Native American culture is alive and well.
The event founder will bring Native American music, art, entertainment and culture to downtown Fort Walton Beach with Musical Echoes Native American Flute Festival after its one-year hiatus. The emphasis is on the “eerie, mystical” music that comes from the Native American flute, Baxter said.
Unlike a traditional flute, the Native American flute is made out of wood or horns and played straight forward, Baxter said.
“People that have never been to the festival will say, ‘We’ve never been to anything like this before. It’s just so peaceful and fun,’” Baxter said. “But it rock ’n’ rolls, too.”
The free festival is 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday at Landing Park, 139 Brooks St., Fort Walton Beach. The non-alcoholic event is family friendly and will begin at 10:30 a.m. Friday with a children’s show led by Ed Winddancer, Baxter said.
Before the festival begins Sunday, Dock Green will host Native American Church at 9 a.m. at the gazebo at Landing Park. Attendees are welcome to attend the Christian service.
For more information and the festival schedule, visit musicalechoes.org.
Northwest Florida has a rich Native American history, Baxter said.
The five civilized tribes in the Southeast are: Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws and Seminoles. The Creek tribe is the largest in the area, Baxter said.
“The Native American culture has a big influence on the whole country,” Baxter said. “Where do you think Choctawhatchee came from? Okaloosa? Those are all Indian words.”
It surprises Baxter when people come into his Destin store, One Feather Art, who aren’t aware Native American culture exists. He founded the festival to educate people, he said.
The Landing is the perfect place to accomplish this goal.
“That’s a very spiritual area because you’ve got, across the street, the Indian Temple Mound Museum, which is an Indian mound from the Mississippian era. Then next door is the Indianola mound,” Baxter said.
Musical Echoes will feature many Native American music groups and dancers from all over the country, Baxter said. Among these is Injunuity, a four–piece Native American band from Oklahoma.
“It encompasses Native American flute but will also have guitar, bass and drums,” Baxter said. “It’s not like just one person standing there playing flute. They rock.”
It might surprise festival attendees how many people have interest in Native American flute, Baxter said. Guests can witness this Saturday at the flute-makers competition.
“The flute makers that are all there will bring their flute, and we will have a little contest,” Baxter said. “We have professional flutemakers and players that will judge them on how they look and play.”
Lowery Begay, an award-winning hoop dancer and experienced flute player, will return to the festival to perform with Nation of Change Dancers. The group has been with the festival from the beginning, Baxter said.
“Musical Echoes is really a good festival as far as waking people up about the Native American culture in the area,” Begay said. “We go there and dance and share our culture and share our stories behind our dances.”
Hoop dance is a creation story of different animals and of Earth, Begay said. It’s a powerful dance, he said.
“It talks about how we as people live on this earth and how we go through the trials we go through,” Begay said. “It’s a healing dance … I hope it heals somebody.”
Begay will also release his first full-length flute CD, “Touching the Sky” at Musical Echoes. He used a variety of flutes to create the album, he said.
“It’s very mellow,” Begay said. “It’s very soothing, spiritual.”
The festival will offer a line of tents next to the stage called Artist Row, where musicians like Begay will sell merchandise.
“All the artists are very accessible,” Baxter said. “You can go down and just talk to them, ask them about their music. Any of the flutemakers or vendors you can ask them about the flutes they’ve made or dream catchers or they’ve made.”
The festival will feature 40 vendors with Native American art, such as paintings and pottery, and food, such as fry bread.
After experiencing many festivals, Begay said Musical Echoes is “really powerful.” Music is international language, he said.
“I think we forget that, as people, how powerfully music heals,” Begay said. “I think people forget to enjoy each and every day. We get overwhelmed with work. We get overwhelmed with everyday issues.”
Begay suggests people take 5 minutes of their time to listen to whatever music they enjoy. A particular sound appeals to him, though.
“Some people would say if the flute was a healing medicine, then this world would be a better place,” Begay said. “(We should) just make time for ourselves, not focus on our work all the time and our ambitions.”
Musical Echoes is a “spiritual, wonderful” festival, Baxter said.
“It’s the atmosphere down there with the water and trees …” Baxter said. “I’m getting goosebumps just talking about it.”