At Shillong’s Cherry Blossom festival, Ronan Keating, Sanam and Lou Majaw charm crowds

The Cherry Blossom festival tapped into nostalgia as Irish singer and heart-throb Ronan Keating and seasoned musicians Lou Majaw and Ne-Yo serenaded an audience of nearly 30,000 with love ballads, rock and roll, and a hearty dose of covers

Updated - November 22, 2023 10:10 pm IST

Published - November 22, 2023 03:15 pm IST

Ronan Keating at Cherry Blossom music festival.

Ronan Keating at Cherry Blossom music festival.

On the third and last day of the Cherry Blossom Festival in Shillong, Meghalaya, a sign from an audience member caught singer Ronan Keating’s eye. “Did I just read a sign that says you love me more than pork?” he asked.

So when an empathetic “Only in Meghalaya” came our way, we realised the magnitude of this compliment to Keating. The audience was positively entranced by the 46-year-old Irish singer as he announced to the 30,000-member audience at the RBDSA Sports Complex, that he intended to give every performance his best, and be the flag bearer of his band Boyzone. He serenaded with hits like ‘Lovin’ Each Day’, ‘If Tomorrow Never Comes’ and ‘Love is a Rollercoaster’. Audience members ranging from six to 60, returned the ardour by singing along in shocking, pitch-perfect congruence to lovers, real and imaginary. Some wept overcome by emotion, while others swayed like the wild sunflowers that grow around Ri Bhoi district’s Umiam lake, some 30 minutes from the venue.

Beats of the earth

Lou Majaw, a rock legend from Meghalaya.

Lou Majaw, a rock legend from Meghalaya.

The third edition of the Cherry Blossom Festival between November 17 and 19, of which the first day was cancelled due to incessant rainfall, was full of heartening performances delivered to an audience that knows and loves its music. There was a dance dome, a couple of fashion shows, and a hearty dose of cricket as an agonising India-Australia World Cup final streamed by the second stage.

Rock and roll star Lou Majaw from Shillong at the Cherry Blossom festival

Local legend Lou Majaw, known as the Bob Dylan of the East, walked into the venue with few layers of clothing despite the chill as the temperature dipped to 12 degrees. By the end of his performance, his mike was tucked into his trademark denim shorts. The 76-year-old rockstar made the audience sweat, as he danced with his guitar all the way up front. He performed as he usually does, with dancing and a mission to keep spirits high — all amidst chants of ‘Set Your Soul on Fire’.

Talent like Lou’s is among the rare few from Meghalaya that get as much recognition from the rest of the country and world, (even the Chief Minister Conrad Sangma is known to occasionally perform post his cabinet meetings) despite the State being recognised as a bastion of rock music. Other bands from the region that have been able to receive as much acclaim including Snow White, and blues rock band Blue Temptation, also received tremendous support from the local listeners. When the band Snow White sang in Khasi, a sea of fans screamed along. 

Going international

Pop singer Ne-yo at Cherry Blossom Festival.

Pop singer Ne-yo at Cherry Blossom Festival.

Hybrid Theory, the Portuguese Linkin Park tribute band, also had the audience headbanging to rock of the 1990s. Frontman of the band, Yves Alezandro, was emotional at the band’s second performance in India. He thanked the country profusely in between his sets that contained songs including ‘Numb’, ‘What I’ve done’ and ‘In the End’.

Ronan Keating sings ‘When you say nothing at all’

Melvynn Pathaw, a singer from Shillong, said that while rock continues to be the mainstay here, dance music and pop have caught the fancy of a younger generation that is looking to groove, setting aside the angst that comes from rock. This explains why acts such as Ne-Yo’s and DJ Jonas Blue, were equally well received at the Cherry Blossom Festival.

Ne-Yo’s set which consisted of several pulsating dance moves as his team of performers — The Miss Rights — brought in the heat with songs like ‘Give Me Everything’ and ‘Play Hard’. The audience was on its feet, not ready to call it a night on November 18 as he looked to finish his set.

A little retro

The Cherry Blossom Festival seemed to tread on two consistent themes — cover bands and nostalgia.

As Sanam performs at the Cherry Blossom festival in Shillong.

As Sanam performs at the Cherry Blossom festival in Shillong.

Sanam, the band that has built a fan base across the country singing covers of old Bollywood numbers, packed in a crowd as large as headliner Ronan Keating. People chanted their name, requesting them to play even though they only got half an hour. Sanam Puri, vocalist, said that he did not expect such a large sing-along. “We thought everyone in Shillong mostly sang English songs,” he said. With songs like ‘Gulabi Aankhen’ and ‘Yeh Raaten’, Sanam rounded off two days of diverse music.

At the end of the event, some members of the audience stayed back to pick up trash. The rest made a beeline to the several food stalls from different parts of Meghalaya including the Jaintia and Garo hills, serving up a variety of slow cooked meat like pork in bamboo shoots, barbecue, desserts and colourful drinks.

Food at the music festival.

Food at the music festival.

The sign at Keating’s concert made sense. No other State in the country is as likely to have pork and music, in their delectable, all-consuming best, savoured as they are here, and talked about in the same breath.

Two songs before he belted out ‘When You Say Nothing At All’ that featured in the film Notting Hill, Keating added, “I love you more than pork too”.

(The writer was in Shillong at the invitation of Meghalaya Tourism)

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