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We followed the line to the visitor’s center lovely backyard, also known as the Page-Rollins White Garden. Tree tops of the rest of Sarah Duke Gardens framed a stage. And as we made our way, recorded music of Paul Simon wafted by, sweetly accompanying the footsteps of babies and toddlers — a very small superman caught my eye. Some of the grown up folks were happily munching on locally prepared Kenyan food and sipping American brew. This was the last of the 2012 very successful Music in the Gardens series. Aaron Greenwald, director of Duke Performances, introduced the indie rock group, Megafaun.
I noticed the age groups represented in this family-oriented crowd (and yes, the space was comfortably filled). It was like going to a neighborhood picnic, only this neighbor has a very spacious lawn. And unlike my college days of outdoor venues, White Garden is a beautifully manicured space with green grass, a stunning array of gorgeous plants and meticulously sculpted walkways; along with a large number of friendly volunteers who made sure we planted ourselves appropriately. I happily settled into my camp chair and watched the sun gradually drop below the trees, just in time for the band to begin. Oh and yes, this was the single most heavenly evening since April. The temperature was below 100 degrees. Who could ask for more?
The band made an unhurried start, opening with tunes that matched the sultry feel of July. But I kept waiting for a change in color or blast of energy. What I do like about Megafaun is a smooth, sweetly blended vocal harmony which brings back memories of 60s and 70s folk rock — Crosby, Stills and Nash and Grateful Dead immediately came to mind. And except for a few unwieldy spots completely out of their ranges, they have that Beach Boys style falsetto that can lull me into a meditative trance. Meanwhile, pint-sized dancers boogied near the stage with their parents. I secretly wondered if they were ADF defectors.
The very polite audience offered subdued appreciation for their favorites like “Real Slow” and “Get Right.” And they sang along when invited. Brad Cook (guitar), Phil Cook (keyboard, banjo, harmonica), and Joe Westerlund (percussion) all played and sang with the ease and familiarity of an established group. No complaints on that front. But the band never seemed to “take off.” I did not hear the interesting licks or contrasting tempos that make music compelling. On the other hand, folks seemed happy and relaxed. One of the very cute pre-walkers nearby fell asleep on her father’s reclined body. And Greenwald’s attempt to lure a wider audience seems to have worked. Duke Garden’s neighbors and friends came out for a family-style gig.
This performance was a kick-off for their European tour and considering the number of albums they have made, Megafaun has plenty of material from which to draw. From your friends back home in North Carolina, Bon Voyage!