Eiteljorg Musuem Blog

Hoops, flutes, strings and stories will electrify the Indian Market stage

by Bryan Corbin, editor, Storyteller Magazine | Jun 02, 2017

Over the years, some remarkable musicians, dancers and storytellers have graced the Eiteljorg Indian Market and Festival stage: Robert Mirabal, Indigenous, Brulé, Pamyua, Nakota LaRance and many others. For the 25th annual Indian Market on June 24-25, two of the most requested acts make encore appearances: fiddle and flute player Arvel Bird, who performs as the “Celtic Indian,” and world champion hoop-dancer and flute player Tony Duncan. They each perform two sets both days.

Arvel Bird (Southern Paiute) and Bearsheart Dancers (Lakota)

The potent eclectic mix of music styles flying from the strings of Arvel Bird’s fiddle during his concerts will remind some listeners of epic Holly­wood films. “They can expect to see Braveheart meets Last of the Mohicans, at Woodstock,” Bird said of his performance on fiddle and Native American flute.

Arvel Bird combines his dual heritage — Southern Paiute and Scottish — by fusing two music traditions into his original compositions. “I sing what would be classified as folk rock tunes, so you’ve got the instrumental element which is sweeping emotional kind of music, blended with songs of my Celtic and Native heritage,” he said.

Arvel Bird (Southern Paiute), 2017 Eiteljorg Indian Market and Festival performer - photo courtesy of Michael PawlukWith classical training on violin, Bird performed in country music, was a member of Glen Campbell's touring band for several years and was based in Nashville. Bird was deeply influ­enced by Appalachian and Creole fiddle, but later he discovered a Native American fiddle style, Métis — named for an Indigenous group that spans Canada and the United States who descend from the intermarriage of European, Cree, Ojibwe and other Indigenous ancestors to form their own distinct culture. In Métis social dancing, fiddle became the central instrument, he said, replacing the drum. “So (onstage) I tell the story of the evolution of Native fiddling, how it started, how it spread, who introduced it to different parts of country.”

His series of Animal Totems CDs were suggested by fans who heard his onstage perfor­mances of unrecorded songs and urged him to record them. “The stories (the fans) tell me of their experience of my music is what’s rewarding for me; it reaffirms and validates why I’m on the road and why I’m bringing my music to the people and why I have chosen to play my own music instead of being in someone’s band and playing their music,” he said.

Now based in Cottonwood, Ariz., Bird noted concert fans tell him his fiddle performances inspired them to take up violin lessons or resume playing the instrument after giving it up. “Music is what connects us, I believe, to the natural world, to the unseen world, to our higher selves,” he said.

At this year’s market, Arvel Bird will be joined onstage by Bearsheart Dancers, who perform traditional and non-traditional Sioux dance styles and drumming.

Arvel Bird performs at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on both Saturday June 24 and Sunday June 25 at the Eiteljorg Indian Market and Festival.

Tony Duncan (Apache/Arikara/Hidatsa)

Mesmerizing is the only way to describe Tony Duncan’s hoop dancing. Onstage, his high-energy sequences of moves combine multiple spinning hoops to tell stories depicting shapes of animals and parts of nature. Duncan was a featured dancer in pop singer Nelly Furtado’s 2012 music video “Big Hoops,” and he toured with her in Europe and Asia. “The hoop dance is basically storytelling through dance,” Duncan said. “It’s definitely a very fun and energetic dance, but it also has a lot of meaning.”

Tony Duncan (Apache, Arikara, Hidatsa), performer and hoop dancer at 2017 Eiteljorg Indian Market and Festival, photo courtesy of Tony Duncan ProductionsHis performances mix hoop dance styles and flute playing. Having recorded several flute albums on Canyon Records, Duncan recently released his new CD, Purify, where he switched from his longtime instrument, the river cane flute which has high birdlike melodies, to playing bass cedar flute, which has a deep tone “that just resonates right into your soul,” Duncan said.

From Mesa, Ariz., Duncan recalled how performing cedar flute at the Grand Canyon inspired the new recording. “I think back to that time when all the visitors were gone and I got to play the flute right at the edge of the Grand Canyon, and looking into the canyon and watching all the hawks soaring in and out, catching the breeze. So while I’m in the studio, I think of those memories that brought me balance.”

At this year’s Indian Market, Duncan will teach some basic hoop-dancing moves. “It’s basically a way to celebrate life and to show our appreciation and gratitude for our ancestors and spread that ‘good medicine’ to the people,” he said of his performances.

Tony Duncan performs at 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. on both Saturday June 24 and Sunday June 25 at the Eiteljorg Indian Market and Festival.

Both performances are included with regular admission to the 25th annual Eiteljorg Indian Market and Festival on June 24-25 at 500 W. Washington St. Indianapolis. Please visit for more information and advance discount adult tickets.






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