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Reprinted from The Salem News Online
Thursday, July 6, 2006

Grupo Fantasia explodes onto scene as Castle Hill series opener

Salem News

IPSWICH - Some musicians switch between two or three instruments during a concert. Angel Wagner juggles more than 30.

Wagner, founder of the Latin band Grupo Fantasia, is a master percussionist and uses a lengthy list of instruments as the pulse of the group, including various congas, bongos, tambourines, bells, maracas and shakers. He often plays more than one at a time to help create the band's rhythmic island sound.

Tonight, Grupo Fantasia will offer a spicy opening to the Trustees of Reservations' annual Castle Hill Picnic Concert Series, an outdoor extravaganza that packs thousands of people onto the lawn of the Crane Estate each summer.

"I love it. It's the best concert on the North Shore," Wagner says.

This will be the band's fourth time participating in the series, and Castle Hill concertgoers seem to be eating up their flavor.

"It's like a Caribbean party. We call it our 'Latin Explosion,'" said Karen Wagner, Grupo Fantasia's event coordinator and Angel's wife. "So many people come from all over New England. People actually plan their (summer) trips to see this concert."

The nine-piece band, whose members come from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Trinidad, Cuba and other Caribbean and South American countries, mixes it up not only with instruments but also in their diverse sound. They play salsa, merengue, Latin jazz, and reggae, among other styles.

"The band is mixed, so the music is mixed," Karen Wagner said.

The variety makes for a "grupo fantasia" - a "group fantasy." Wagner said the name represents the idea of "all kinds of things for your musical fantasy."

"The merengue is like the word 'meringue,' a whipped-up topping. It's a whipped-up dance. It's very fast," Karen Wagner said. "The salsa is not unlike the salsa that we eat. It's spicy music."

Karen Wagner said the beats always gets the audience dancing, and Grupo Fantasia dancers will mingle with, and teach, the crowd. While Castle Hill concerts typically end at dusk, Grupo Fantasia plays on after dark by the light of candles and tiki torches supplied by the audience.

Angel Wagner, a native of the Dominican Republic, moved to the United States 16 years ago. After studying at the Harbor Arts Academy in New York and the Berklee College of Music in Boston, he formed Grupo Fantasia in 1993. He lives in Beverly, and he and his band play throughout the North Shore and beyond.

Castle Hill's concert series will run through August with performances by many other local favorites, including blues group the Orville Giddings Band, reggae artist Jah Spirit and dance music cover band Roundabout.

What will you hear?

Merengue - an upbeat style from the Dominican Republic often featuring an introduction followed by a call-and-response segment between a lead singer and a chorus

Salsa - a Puerto Rican style that combines Latin and big band sounds

Reggae - a combination of African-Caribbean music and rhythm and blues developed in Jamaica

Bachata - Dominican music performed by a guitar-based trio of men singing about women who have wronged them

Vallenato - a Columbian form of music typically played on an accordion, bongos and a guiro (a metal scraper)

Cumbia - a blend of African, Spanish and Amerindian rhythms developed by slaves in Columbia as a celebratory dance

Castle Hill Picnic Concert Series

July 6 - Grupo Fantasia, Latin music
July 13 - Crazy Maggy, Celtic and rock
July 20 - Roundabout, dance music from the '60s and '70s
July 27 - Back Eddy Bluegrass
August 3 - Jah Spirit, reggae
August 10 - Entrain, rock and blues
August 17 - Orange Crush, '80s music
August 24 - The Orville Giddings Band, blues

Concerts go from 7 to 9 p.m. on the Castle Hill lawn. Admission is $20 per car. Bring blankets or seating and a picnic. Castle Hill at the Crane Estate is located at 290 Argilla Road off Route 1A in Ipswich. For details or cancellations due to weather, call 978-921-1944.

Copyright 1999-2006 cnhi, inc.

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