Guest Review: Kevin Locke offers 'loving solution'

Saturday night, Feb. 17, people of the Rock River Valley were treated to a rare visit by Native American performer Kevin Locke.

His biographical information at states: “Kevin is known throughout the world as a visionary Hoop Dancer, the preeminent player of the indigenous Northern Plains flute, a traditional storyteller, cultural ambassador, recording artist and educator.”

All true.

Last here in 1998, Kevin returned to Memorial Hall to a near full house of friends and well-wishers.

The event was co-sponsored by Charlotte’s Web for the Performing Arts and The Institute for the Oneness of Humanity.

Charlotte’s Web has been bringing excellent and diverse performers to Rockford audiences for nearly 35 years. The Institute for the Oneness of Humanity is a nonprofit initiative of the Baha’i faith community, and is best known for “The House” on West State Street.

Kind and gifted people worked diligently at building one-on-one community relationships, offering a safe place and programs for families and children in the middle of Rockford’s most violent and depressed neighborhood. The House closed several years ago, as it fell victim to the same kind of diversion of funding that has chosen war over our own children’s well-being.

Kevin Locke is a peacemaker. He came to teach us all, one-on-one, what he has learned traveling from his South Dakota roots to 85 countries for more than 50 years. I can admit that lately I have personally been downhearted by the bad news and the impending expansion of the American military juggernaut both in Iraq and Iran and too many other places. Most of our media would rather discuss the sad life and death of Anna Nicole Smith than face the consequences of our own actions and policies in Baghdad, Kabul, Palestine, Darfur and Detroit, for that matter.

What struck me most profoundly about Saturday evening’s concert was how, after 500 years of genocide against his ancestors, Kevin Locke is an optimist. His very existence is unlikely, and the fact that he is teaching and sharing a joyful vision is truly uplifting.

Kevin’s stories tell our stories. His context is Native American, yet he is telling of our common ancestors. His tales are sincere, simple and are as well worn as the lines in the weathered faces of the native elders in the stirring pictorial portion of his show. Never short on witticisms and jokes, Kevin builds suspense and then scatters it with a pun. He is a trickster, a kid at the pow wow, a scared clown. He carries, thus, the tradition of Heyoka, a love of oppositional energies. It is a style of teasing and an acknowledgment of our own contradictions that is integral in Lakota communities in releasing tension and offers a means to confront fearful issues.

Toward the end of the performance, after a stunning narrative and presentation of the Sacred Hoop Dance, where he painted with his whirling form the images of ancestors, animals, icons of unity and peace and hope, Kevin asked for volunteer dancers. He taught us the basic steps and moves. Out of breath, I asked, “How do you keep from getting dizzy?” Not missing a beat, Kevin replied, “Oh, hey, I was born dizzy.”

Kevin sang, played his beautiful wooden Kiowa and plains flutes offering stories of how these traditions have been kept under improbable circumstances through centuries. He sang, although his voice carried a bit of strain from touring in this harsh winter weather. He led the room in a dance of peace that delighted children and elders present and made all of our ancestors who watch over us happy. With an energy that was irresistible, Kevin Locke made us part of the loving solution.

I feel somehow better prepared to turn once again and face the hard work of things that need to be changed in this world. For this great visit by a great man, thanks to the Institute for the Oneness of Humanity, thanks Charlotte’s Web. Thanks, Kevin, and oh, hey, don’t be gone so long again.

From the Feb. 21-27, 2007, issue

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