With songs like “Healing Through Kindness” and “Music as Medicine” on his discography, Native American flute player and 11-time Grammy nominee R. Carlos Nakai is a natural choice for a headliner at this month’s La Sal Mountain Summer Festival.
The Aug. 22 event at the Mt. Peale Resort is a fundraising benefit for the Mt. Peale Animal Sanctuary and Healing Center, which cares for handicapped, neglected and abandoned animals. All of the proceeds will help the sanctuary in Old La Sal as it expands its facilities to help more and more animals like a 32-year-old former ranch horse named Rusty, who suffers from dementia.
Although Nakai and his quartet have a busy touring schedule this season, one phone call from the sanctuary was all it took for the internationally renowned musician to commit to the festival, according to Mt. Peale co-founder Teague Eskelsen.
“There was no hesitation from him,” she said. “He stepped in right away.”
Nakai has longstanding connections with the sanctuary: Both he and Hawaiian slack-key guitar player Keola Beamer appeared at the first fundraising benefit seven years ago, after the sanctuary called them out of the blue and asked them if they’d be interested in performing.
“R. Carlos Nakai is the springboard of this venue for us,” Eskelsen said. “He’s making it possible for it to become a cultural venue.”
Likewise, Eskelsen believes that Nakai’s music has a powerful connection to the surrounding area, describing the sounds of his flute interacting with the “quiet side” of the La Sal Mountains near the Colorado border.
“The mountain just reverberates right back,” she said.
In addition to the R. Carlos Nakai Quartet, this year’s festival will also feature Native Hawaiian singer-songwriters Lei’ohu Ryder and Maydeen Ku’uipo ‘Iao, as well as a Native American blessing that will include Leraine Horstmanshoff and the Taiko Drum Ensemble.
Ryder and Ku’uipo ‘Iao’s music will embrace the elements of earth, water, sky and fire, while Horstmanshoff and the ensemble will set the stage for Nakai and his quartet with the sounds of indigenous-style drumming.
Horstmanshoff is appearing at the invitation of Moab resident and taiko drummer Kevin Fitzgerald, who happens to be a close friend. As a singer of Kirtan, or Bakhti Yoga, she performs devotional, age-old songs that celebrate the earth.
“I like to take really ancient songs and then put my own spin on them,” she said.
Her performance with the ensemble will be all about the state of the earth today.
“There’s so much healing that needs to happen, and these songs are so powerful,” she said. “We just wanted to do some songs that brought awareness to the earth and its inhabitants.”
Horstmanshoff was not familiar with the sanctuary or its mission, but she was thrilled when the opportunity to perform at the festival came up.
“I love animals, and so it was kind of an immediate, ‘yes,’” she said. “They’re so good for people – the unconditional love that they give to people.”
Once they clear the stage for the headliner, Nakai will be performing with what one critic dubbed a “Southwestern supergroup” that combines Native American sounds with Latin rhythms and ethnic jazz.
Aside from Nakai, the quartet includes Amo Chip, a multi-instrumentalist who has performed with the likes of the late jazz innovator Sun Ra and the avant-garde Rova Saxophone Quartet.
Singer Mary Redhouse is a jazz-influenced vocalist whose “eco-spiritual” sound merges Native American chants together with bird-like calls, animal cries and multi-octave scat lines.
Finally, there’s percussionist Will Clipman, who began to play his parents’ drum set and upright piano as a precocious 3-year-old, and went on to perform jazz, rock, blues, world music and other genres on more than 30 recordings with various artists.
The festival they’re performing at is the sanctuary’s biggest annual fundraiser, although it relies heavily on donations throughout the year to keep its volunteer-driven efforts going.
“The volunteers and the donations are vital to the success of this place,” Eskelsen said.
In addition to Eskelsen, the sanctuary is led by co-founder Lisa Ballantyne, and its full-time staff includes animal services program director Chris Weeks.
Its story began with a horse named Lucky, who arrived as a handicapped colt.
At first, Lucky was so weak that he was unable to walk. After the sanctuary’s founders brought him back to health, they still couldn’t find a home for him, so they took him in for good.
While the sanctuary succeeds in placing some animals into new homes with caring families, Eskelsen said that animals like Lucky might never find another place to live.
In those cases, Eskelsen said that Mt. Peale found its niche, caring for animals with diabetes and chronic ailments that are often costly and difficult to treat.
“Our calling just seemed to be with the special needs animals, (who would) normally have been euthanized,” Eskelsen said.
One of the fairly recent arrivals is a cat named Bryan Love, who suffers from parasite-induced neurological problems that cause him to walk off-balance.
According to Eskelsen, his problems worsened because he was initially misdiagnosed. Today, however, Bryan is on medication, and – like other animals in the sanctuary’s care – he is doing much better, she said.
If you would like to donate to the sanctuary, go to mtpeale.com/donations.html.
Tickets for the upcoming festival are $35 apiece and are available at the Canyonlands Copy Center at 375 S. Main St. in Moab, or online at www.mtpeale.com.
Seating is picnic-style, so attendees are encouraged to bring low chairs or blankets. Food, beverage and artist booths will be set up on site, and no outside food or drink is allowed at the venue.
La Sal Mountain Summer Festival features R. Carlos Nakai Quartet
“R. Carlos Nakai is the springboard of this venue for us … He’s making it possible for it to become a cultural venue.”
When: Saturday, Aug. 22, at noon
Where: Mt. Peale Resort, mile marker 14 on state Route 46 in Old La Sal
Cost: $35 per ticket; proceeds benefit the Mt. Peale Animal Sanctuary
For more information, call 435-686-2284, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.