Remember that time we spent 3+ years making a musical about American Capitalism?
Filmmaker Paulette Douglas traveled from NY to Vegas to Europe and back with us, and the resulting documentary is finally making its NYC debut. Join us June 26th (details below) for the NYC premiere screening, and stay after for a talkback with the cast, a beer with us at the bar, and a performance by our darling, Obie-award-winning composer Heather Christian.
The TEAM Makes A Play NYC PREMIERE Thursday, June 26 at 7:30pm The Pershing Square Signature Center
480 West 42nd Street
$15 advance / $20 door / $10 students
We have hit the height of our sleep deprivation. Accordingly, we have been operating heavy machinery, shooting guns, and driving for long stretches. We have reached the point where the boundary between wakefulness and sleep has blurred. The benefit is that we have been able to do an immense amount of dreaming in the daytime.
Our pursuits have been as follows:
We woke up and drove to Lincoln, Nebraska to do a shoot at a meat processing plant. Libby has set us up with a whole series of contacts to get some really incredible material shot in the Lincoln area (her hometown). When we arrived at the meat processing facility, we were greeted with a warm welcome by Larry, the owner of the establishment, and his daughter Lisa, an old friend of Libby’s. He gave us complete access to the floor. We were bowled over by his eagerness to support us and our project.
Several of the meat workers were in several of our shots. They were tremendously gracious in teaching Libby how to use the machines and in diverting their workflow to accommodate our shoot. When we wrapped, we looked for our keys to the car, and Lisa handed Libby a pair of keys encased in a vacuum sealed packaging. It was a funny prank.
After a short stop for burritos, we headed to Lisa’s salon, Lason. Again, we had the location mostly to ourselves. There was one other stylist working in the salon, Jason, who answered all of our questions. We wanted to use Jason in the shoot, but he was working with clients, so I was cast as the hair dresser. We ran a little over at the salon, but Jason was very lovely and let us stay after he left. Once we wrapped, we made a mad dash to Lisa’s house to beat Sunset.
We arrived at Lisa’s at the height of magic hour. We entered, and Libby was reunited with her four best friends from Nebraska in the golden light of sunset. Lisa’s neighbor gave us a lesson in gun safety and stood by as the ladies fired off. Turns out both were a pretty good shot. We wrapped with Ann, alone, just as the sun set.
We retired to Lisa’s house where a full spread of barbecue food awaited us. Skewers of meat and shrimp, grilled chicken, potato salad and coleslaw. It was a midwestern feast. We stayed on for an hour or so, ate, and took a moment to relax before heading back to Grand Island.
We rose early to catch the light of the sunrise. We shot behind Libby’s cabin in Grand Island, in the brush surrounding the dried bed of the Platt River. It was a serene and almost surreal location – very beautiful. We even got some shots of Kristen kayaking pretty expertly across the nearby pond.
We finished up the shoot and went back to the cabin to attempt to wake up and move out of Grand Island. First step: tick check. Results: four ticks found. All safely removed. Luckily, Nebraska does not host deer ticks, which are the carriers of Lyme disease, but I will make sure to get the necessary incident reports.
We packed up and hit the road. Before leaving Nebraska, we needed one last shot: a long shot of the women eating at the diner. We went to Coney Isand, a local diner famous for their hot dogs. While Libby and Kristen shot this long scene, one of the waitresses told us about the evil spirits and haunting she encountered in the Badlands. As was the case with all the other locations we shot, all of the staff at the restaurant were incredibly gracious, sweet, and so supportive. We stuffed ourselves with hotdogs and milkshakes and then hit the road for good.
We made it as far as we could, stopping only a few times to switch drivers, or to get food or gas. As the sun started to set, we sought the refuge of a motel. Our criteria: the shittiest, most dilapidated motel we could find, with a romantic little door frame which we could shoot both from the outside and the inside. We found our dream in the Cortes Motel.
There was an almost fully naked obese man sitting practically pressed up against his window in the motel room next to us. Luckily, I think our videographer was able to avoiding framing him in any of our external shots, though we considered his enthusiasm a good blessing for our project.
We wrapped around 2:00am and went to bed. The road to Memphis awaits us.
We arose yesterday morning and quickly packed our bags, eager to complete the final leg of our pilgrimage to Graceland, the mecca.
We zipped through Missouri and Arkansas, stopping only occasionally for gas and bathroom/snack breaks. We were surprised by the amount of Pro-Life propaganda we encountered on the road. The scenery was otherwise quite pleasant.
As we neared the Arkansas border, we passed through Mammoth Spring, a gorgeous little spa town, and a honky-tonk specialties store sitting right on the Arkansas border. We found a restaurant built in a converted gas station serving some pretty intense Southern food, so we figured it was a good match. We pulled over to grab a quick meal.
When we got back on the road, we filmed some extended driving scenes with Elvis/Teddy. The acrobatics involved in this shoot were among the most impressive physical feats of the week, both for the level of physical skill required and for the sheer disregard for the law that some of these activities demonstrated. Libby spent some of the trip totally backwards, leaning on the dashboard, and at other times, she or Kristen shared the passenger seat with our videographer AND all of his camera equipment.
As we got closer to Memphis, we let Ann take the wheel, solo. We abandoned the front rows of the car and rolled sound and video continuously as we approached Memphis. All sat in silence, with only the comforting sound of the GPSlady’s voice filling the car. This was the final leg of the journey. Next stop Graceland.
Before anyone realized it, we were driving through downtown Memphis. In no time, we were turning onto Elvis Presley Boulevard. We approached Graceland. No one could have expected the sight that greeted us. All along the sidewalk is a stone wall ranging from 4’-6’ high. It is clear that the wall has become a major sight of devotion, as every inch of the wall is covered in signatures, pictures, and love notes to the beloved Elvis Presley. The combination of the scale and humanity of this object was quite staggering to all of us.
When the light faded, we went to Corky’s for some Memphis barbecue. We had a delicious meal and a wonderful waitress.
We arrived to stay at David and Rose’s house around 9:30. It was a beautiful home, very generously prepared for us. Rose made us drinks and peach pie, and sat and talked with us as we swam in the pool. It was very nice to swim. It was a relatively early night, as everyone was very excited to get a substantial amount of sleep.
We woke up around 9:00 and hit the road to Graceland. This time, we went inside.
We were warned that we would most likely be underwhelmed by the mansion. We expected something kind of small and gaudy, not like Disneyland but also extravagant in its own right. Aspects of these expectations were fulfilled to various degrees, but we were moved and surprised by the way you could feel Elvis in the house as a peculiar, young kid. So much of the house was incredibly bizarre – the jungle room, the billiard room – and it was clear that only he could have invented such a domain.
After saying goodbye to Graceland, we headed over to Beale street to have our last meal on the road. We had some barbecue at a restaurant with some fantastic musicians playing outside.
We went to the airport and packed our bags.
It was sad to say goodbye to the journey, but there is so much in store with this piece in the very near future. It will be good to head into rehearsals, especially with the incredibly strong foundation for the piece that we have continued to build over the last week. It was a lot of great work, a lot of laughter, a lot of love. It was a week of very bold, rich days. All of the people we encountered in our travels were absolutely lovely and helpful.
I feel so lucky to have been able to be a part of this trip. The work that I have witnessed has been on all fronts utterly inspirational.
As you may have heard, our RoosevElvis team has been researching, writing, and filming while on an epic road trip from the Badlands to Graceland. Now midway through their journey, here’s an excerpt of assistant director Kevin Hourigan’s daily updates from the road.
Salutations from the road. I will be sending you updates as we venture forth. We’ve been having an amazing time in this truly gorgeous American terrain.
We began our voyage at 4am with a delayed flight and a missed connection, but rallied, quickly got to the airport, and got to South Dakota only a few hours later than we originally intended. Our videographer has been capturing material on the fly since the moment he left his apartment.
We spent a good portion of the day dealing with logistics and getting settled. (Picking up the RV, finding the campsite, figuring out how to plug the RV in…) We had a few substantial shoots yesterday, including in the meat aisle at Walmart. All were dismayed that despite Walmart’s epic selection of packaged meats, the employees did not know what a French press was when TEAM members were eager to purchase one. Luckily, our videographer’s camping French press saved us all.
After a good night’s sleep, today was a very busy and highly productive day.
A visit to Keystone, near Mount Rushmore, where Teddy and Elvis shopped, took pictures from “jail” and other tourist attractions, bought sodas, etc. They were a hit with the workers and tourists.
Revisited Mount Rushmore. While Elvis walked down to get a refund from the parking man at the memorial, Teddy explored and took notes on the local flora and fauna. Teddy and Elvis met up at the observation deck, where Teddy danced around onstage, and climbed some of the hill beneath the monument.
An RV safari to look for buffalo in Custer Park. We shot several sequences of material, including scenes with buffalo. First we found one buffalo and then we found a whole herd. We did shoots with both.
Footage of ALL of the eggs flying out of the fridge and breaking, and the ensuing cleanup, while driving the RV.
Our day began with an early start. We all rose early to make a dash for the Badlands before it got too hot. We shot for about two hours, and then got rained out. During the rainstorm, we huddled in the RV and shot some interior scenes. After the rainstorm, we went back out and shot for a good four hours in the heat. Though sunburned, and though the sun caused us to hallucinate visions of Mount Rushmore, all pressed on in good spirits.
It is very possible that our RV campsite is secretly a front for a meth lab. Libby has begun an inquiry. Kevin found a man passed out on the floor of the bathroom last night who thought that sleeping in the bathroom would prevent him from being bitten by mosquitos. We will report with findings of the inquiry.
Greetings from Grand Island, NE. Libby has graciously shepherded us to her cabin where we are staying for the next two nights.
Our day began on the campsite at 7:00am today. After a cleanup of the campsite and some delicious oil toast breakfast made by Rachel, we headed over to the pool at the campsite to do a shoot of the ladies in the water. Libby even donned a GoPro camera so that we could get underwater shots.
One of the other campers, perplexed, asked us, “Are you guys YouTubers?”
After shooting the pool, our intention was to head back to Wall Drug to get some interior shots. However, we had several roadblocks to deal with, most notably the fact that we needed to perform the dreaded task of flushing the RV. Rachel bravely stepped forward to tend to this Olympic feat. We quickly realized that the sewage hose had a hole in it, which certainly only made the task more horrific. As to be expected, Rachel complained not once. She did however, spend several long minutes washing her hands after the whole ordeal.
We then drove away from the meth lab campsite for good. Teddy’s soaked pants flapped out the window, hung on the mirror to dry, as we watched Circle 10 RV Campground fade on the horizon.
(Libby and I investigated. We no longer suspect that the campsite was an active meth lab – it’s just a popular hangout spot.)
We hit Wall Drug next. We got several amazing takes with some bizarrely joyful pieces of taxidermy. We asked the manager if it would be possible to use a restricted area to shoot, and we instantly had a new best friend. He even gave us each a complimentary meal at the end of our visit. It was a very sweet display of kindness.
About 100 miles in, Rachel asked us to pull off to stretch a leg, and we accidentally stumbled onto one of the best, most magical locations we have seen yet. The town was Okaton, SD. Population 36. A few dilapidated houses, a crumbling mill, a closed gas station, and a facsimile “Ghost Town” replica attraction which has since turned into an actual ghost town. The irony is only too acute; the town is beautiful.
Eventually, after a break for gas, a Subway meal, and lots of different car DJ’s, we made it safely to Libby’s wonderful cabin in Grand Island. We are so thrilled and so grateful for Libby and her mother’s hospitality.
You can read the second installment of Kevin’s road journal here.
it’s a really exciting time for the TEAM in terms of internal development as we begin to experiment + grow administratively via the guidance of Creative Capital. as recipients of this adventurous investment, we are endeavoring as a Petri Dish, the four of us who rep the company convening every two weeks to architect infrastructure to take better care of the company – as an entity and its individual members
Creative Capital is an incredible resource, of consultants, financial and technical experts, professionals, and risk takers, but one of the aspects I’ve found most life changing about it is the encouragement to s l o w d o w w w n n, to re e val u ate, to take a personal inventory and to prioritize quality of life over appetite to accelerate. because success comes w a cost, and it is at a personal expense if not balanced w real LIFE goals, like paying bills + making art w an enjoyable process + seeing family + traveling ETC
I’ve been lucky enough to spend pretty much the entire month of December with the TEAM. I couldn’t think of a better way to close out 2012. For me, the past few weeks have been a matter of juggling my involvement in two of the TEAM’s long term projects, Primer For a Failed Superpower and RoosevElvis.
This weekend, we closed a workshop of the TEAM’s Primer for a Failed Superpower, for which I was the stage manager. This incarnation of the show, however, was performed not by members of the TEAM, but by a group of kick-ass students at NYU’s Playwrights Horizons Theater School. Pieced together by duct tape and hardcore angst, the show ranged from a punk concert to a boxing match. The show sang with youthful abandon and stung with a sharp edge.
The freshness and vitality of this show was undeniable. Written by the group of third and fourth year students who were also its performers, the show exemplified a rich and sophisticated reckoning with the ethos of their generation. Quite simply, they effected an explosive performance, which truly serves as evidence of the unflappable hope and resilience of this generation. As an alumnus of PHTS, it was exciting to see this kind of work happening in my alma mater.
Very recently I went back into rehearsals for RoosevElvis, rehearsing at the TEAM’s space at ART NY. This show, for which I am the assistant director, centers on two of our country’s most worshipped paragons: Theodore Roosevelt and Elvis Presley. Among other things, it focuses on their iconic masculinity, on gendered and sexualized power dynamics, on greatness, and on the formation of a national hero.
With rehearsal topics ranging from tabloid accounts of Elvis’s sex life to Queer theory and discourse, from swinging pelvises to body suits with bound breasts, this week is already proving to be productive, surprising, and as momentous as these two male icons themselves. Kristen and Libby have continued to hit it out of the park, writing on their feet (or at the table) to compose material that plumbs the complexities of these two men and which complicates biographies often presented as singular narratives.
In this week of rehearsal, we’ve met a whole slew of new characters. Kristen, who plays Roosevelt, recently introduced us to John Muir, a renowned American naturalist who was one of Teddy’s closest and most influential friends. Kristen also at times plays Alice, Teddy’s first wife, who appears in chilling, dream-like capitulations of Teddy’s own desire and vulnerability. Libby, playing Elvis, has channeled new characters such as Priscilla Presley – Elvis’s first wife, and several fourteen year-old female characters – who occupied Elvis’s perverse sexual fascination. Additionally, Libby has continued to helm the character of Ann, a genderqueer slaughterhouse worker who invokes Elvis in the privacy of her own home.
And as I watch Kristin and Libby work with Rachel, Jake, and the rest of the team to carve out these narratives, it is apparent that the more light we are able to shed on these characters, the more any sense of definite border, clarity, or boundary seems to blur. That the once monolithic, fixed, masculine identities of both of these characters begin to melt, reducing a polarized view of power and gender to a utopian soup of fluidity and freedom. Teddy is both the body he built and the men who built him. Elvis is not simply man, but he is the multitudes of women he desired, the mother who loved him, and the woman, Libby King, who is embodying him for this performance. These monolithic men subsume contradiction, and become more than they are.
Truly, these guys are bigger than we ever could’ve guessed.
As a company we have traveled to 5 different countries (Canada, Ireland, The U.K., Portugal, Austria) to perform or develop work, as well as spending many weeks in various cities all over America. While we’re away from home and not rehearsing, teching, performing, seeing other shows in the festival, in production meetings, or getting lost on foreign streets, we often wind up blowing off our collective steam around a late night table and a game of some sort, cementing our reputation as the funnest company in the world. Here is a quick guide to games the TEAM plays, in case you ever stumble upon us in the back of a pub or the club car of a train and want to join in the fun.
The Settlers of Catan
Sharks. Catan sharks.
This game is the s***. No two ways about it. Originally brought to the company by Kristen Sieh, this game has been the source of tears of laughter and tears of rage since the TEAM began. We all have personalities that surface precisely between the time the island (board) is set up and the time the final road piece is put away, and they tend toward the creatively cut throat.
Settlers combines the capitalist fervor of trade and accumulation of Monopoly with the pathological need to control territory of Risk, creating an environment where a player fosters relationships with other players in order to effectively choke them out of the game in turns to come, all while spreading their personal civilizations across the island of Catan. And because it is a German board game there are lots of rules, though in between the rules there is enormous room for creative game play and deception.
One game can easily take three hours or more, so we try to begin our games before 11pm, although sometimes you just gotta play even if it’s late.
I recently described Euchre to an observer as a game mainly popular amongst midwesterners and the elderly. I was corrected by Frank, who specified it is really the midwestern elderly. No less fun.
Euchre is a card game that played with only the 9 through ace of each suit. When trump is announced, the jack of the trump suit becomes the highest card, followed by the off-suit jack, then the ace, king, and so on. The other suits maintain their usual card hierarchy with aces on top. Also, the off-suit jack sheds it’s original suit and temporarily becomes the suit of trump. Trump is reselected every hand. Perfectly straightforward.
It is a fast paced game that consists mainly of trash-talking and deal-stealing. No set up time, no break down time. Great for killing a few minutes with three friends.
A classic card game many of us had played, but brought to the TEAM in a formal capacity by Ian Lassiter during our Las Vegas residency in 2010. There are enough minor variations in game play and ways to mess up that everyone is always on their toes, ready to call out the mistakes of others.
Wii Bowling and Tennis
Another product of our Vegas time. Many of us made it to PRO status in one or both of these games. Unlike most of our other games, this would function as an early morning, pre-rehearsal warm up as often as an end-of-day wind-down. Once we discovered that you could achieve a sparkling, glittery bowling ball, everyone wanted one. And the only way to gain points in tennis was to play cooperatively as doubles partners (instead of head-to-head), so the average number of high fives conducted at the TEAM house rose dramatically over this period.
Actual Bowling and Tennis
Emotions run high during an evening at the lanes.
The rapid rise to professional status as virtual bowlers led us to some abortive attempts at actual bowling. Our scores were low, but the joy ran high. As for Tennis, Libby and I seem to be the only ones who play in real life, and we are great at it. Coincidentally both of us have made it to finals of Wimbledon but neither of us have won. Something to strive for, I guess.
Most of us were tutored, personally, on how to play Blackjack by Max Rubin, world class blackjack player, card-counter, and bon vivant. With all the knowledge that he gave us, and the practicing we’ve done since then, we are all equipped to go to any casino in America, sit at any blackjack table, and lose all of our money about 40% slower than we would have otherwise. Although I am certainly always game for some additional study.
Suggestions for games we should try out while we’re abroad? Shout ’em out!
Several of us in the TEAM are practicing punk songs on our new instruments (guitars, so far, of various ilks). Rachel had mentioned spending an hour reading about the deaths of various rock stars, too young and too sad. Days prior, Kristen had said after watching a documentary on the post-core punk band Fugazi that she found frontman Ian Mackaye to have something of a Jesus-y quality, filled as he was with anger about the corruption he perceived in the world, but preaching (and practicing) a life of love and embracing others no matter our differences.
This all got me thinking. So here I present to you a little chart of the gruesome, too young deaths of people who led amazing lives, gave their all for what they believed in, and who still inspire men and women around the globe to this day. Intensely charismatic personalities, many of whom died away from home while spreading their message to the masses. The circumstances of their deaths are often poorly recorded and in dispute amongst the loyal followers. Rock Stars and Catholic Saints.
Kurt Cobain – Lead singer and songwriter for seminal 90’s band, Nirvana. Shot himself in the head with a shotgun. Member of the 27 Club.
St. Peter – Credited with founding the Catholic Church. Crucified upside down because he did not feel worthy enough to die in the same orientation as Jesus.
Buddy Holly – Died in a plane crash on February 3, 1959, taking all of music with him. He was 22 years old.
St. Thomas – “The doubter”, Thomas overcame his doubts and took his strengthened faith all the way to India, where he was rewarded with spears and fire.
Janis Joplin – Died of a heroine overdose at the age of 27, eerily hot on the heels of Jimi Hendrix, also 27, who died 16 days prior after taking a lot of sleeping pills and drowning in his own vomit. Joplin came in at number 28 in Rolling Stone‘s list of greatest singers of all time, and Hendrix was voted the top guitar player of all guitar players by the same magazine.
St. Paul – Tortured and beheaded by the Roman emperor Nero. Popularized the fad of “letter writing” that would last nearly two thousand years until the invention of the internet.
Elvis Presley – Contrary to popular belief, Elvis did not die on the toilet. He died on the bathroom floor next to the toilet. The autopsy showed a horrific cocktail of ten different prescription drugs in his system. His legacy lives on in countless impersonators, and in the entire city of Las Vegas.
James the Just – Jesus’ brother. He was thrown out of a high window of the temple in Jerusalem, survived, and then beaten to death with a club.
Michael Hutchence – Lead singer for INXS. Committed suicide in a way that very much resembled autoerotic asphyxiation.
St. Antipas – This one’s a bit complex. He was set inside a bronze sculpture of a bull and sealed in. Then a fire was lit beneath the bull sculpture that heated the metal so that St. Antipas was roasted. Maybe not complex, but needlessly ornate.
Sid Vicious – Overdosed on heroin after a really rough year. He was accused of murdering his girlfriend, did time in prison (for fighting with Patti Smith’s brother) and a mental hospital, and got clean from heroin. The heroin he OD’ed on had been a gift from his mother the day after he posted bail from Riker’s.
So as we practice our guitars and our irresistibly charismatic showmanship and messaging, we will be careful to avoid the fates of our predecessors. It is a dangerous world out there for idols.
The TEAM is proud to announce our Spring 2012 Online Auction via Bidding for Good!
You could win a week at a beach house, a ski-getaway only 90 min from NYC, a day with a professional designer re-envisioning your home and wardrobe (plus a gift card), or a couple stunning pieces of visual art.
During the final week of the Mission Drift run in New York City, Heather Christian and I went over to the NPR Studios. We were both extremely excited, but Heather can testify to the fact that my face almost shattered I was so giddy. With eyes wide we followed Margot Adler as she gave us a tour of the studio. Almost everyone was out to lunch, but it didn’t matter. I saw the desk of Robert Krulwich. And we even waved at Zoe Chace and Chana Joffe-Walt from Planet Money.
We sat down with Margot and discussed the work, which she’d seen previously.
CLICK HERE to listen to the awesome story that she put together.
Now that Mission Drift is finished (or as we in the TEAM like to say – “finished” -) developing and is moving into the performance and presentation stage, we can turn more of our attention to a few irons we’ve got in the fire. The next such iron is Town Hall, a collaboration between the TEAM and a terrific company based out of Portland, Oregon called Sojourn Theatre. Sojourn specializes in theatrical events that couple excellent stagecraft with community engagement, and the few occasions we’ve been able to get our gangs into the same space at the same time have proven very fruitful and highly enjoyable. The idea for Town Hall came from the town hall meetings in August 2009 when health care was the hot topic and all of a sudden the debate became absolutely frenzied and people began bringing guns to public discussion forums. Not firing them, not even necessarily talking about them, just brandishing them in plain sight. As is their right to do. Town Hall will wrestle with how we make decisions in a democracy.
But more on Town Hall in future posts.
This post is about our adventures in southwest Virginia, where last week Rachel and I met up with Michael Rohd, the artistic director of Sojourn, for a 5 day residency. We had a very full schedule, a tightly packed agenda of classes to teach, meetings to attend, rehearsals to hold and a workshop on devising to give, but somehow no idea what to expect. We knew that we would be working closely with a group called Building Home composed of undergrad and grad theatre students at Virginia Tech and members of the Blacksburg community who don’t make theatre pieces, though I was admittedly confused about what they did do and what we would be doing with them. And as is always the case when traveling to a new place to develop a brand new play, we just couldn’t know what we would learn until we learned it. This post is about some of the things we learned in Virginia.
First though, a breathtaking parenthetical. Something I didn’t learn per se but was thrilled to witness: We were nestled in the Blue Ridge mountains just in time for Peak Leaf Week. Such foliage! Sadly I didn’t have any sort of camera with me, a realization that broke my heart more with every damn beautiful tree we came across. So here is a photo of that area that I stole from the internet to give you an idea of what we walked out of our hotel into every day:
c'est beau, n'est pas?
Come on. Come on!
And in this Bob Ross-ian setting, what did we learn? Well for starters Building Home arranged for us to sit in on several community meetings to see first hand a small group of folks wrestle to make plans and strategies and allocate resources for a whole community containing many different interests. All extremely exciting for Town Hall devo purposes, but less fit for the post which is about adventures.
The music, the music was adventurous. Two of the members of Building Home are local Old Time music prodigies. Old Time music is a cousin of Bluegrass music, but far less, um, popular. Somehow Old Time music has maintained a rich tradition in the Appalachian mountains but hasn’t grown past it’s regional roots. It often involves a fiddle and definitely utilizes the banjo (the banjo being the only instrument of any note that developed in America).
Anna and Elizabeth, our two incredible musicians-in-residence for the week, gave us our utterly unforgettable introduction to this music. On our last night in town we took our rehearsal to Floyd, a small town about 45 minutes away from Blacksburg. We kicked off the evening at Anna’s big beautiful farmhouse for a potluck dinner. The first room we entered was filled with the kinds of stringed instruments used in making mountain music and several old Victrolas. We even stumbled across two wax-cylinder players, one of which said “Edison” on the side. Upon learning that I was allowed to play with this priceless relic of American and recording history, I joy-freaked out. And that is the state I maintained for the rest of the evening.
We had come to Floyd that night to witness the Old Time Music and Bluegrass Jamboree at the Floyd Country Store, but the most enlightening moment of music of the evening for me happened at the Pot Luck. Anna and Elizabeth introduced us to the cranky. Crankies are a form of musical story telling that I could describe here, but instead of bludgeoning the magic of the moment with a description that I don’t have the patience to try to find, here is a video that is worth 10,000 of my words. That is Elizabeth singing and Anna turning the crank.
There was a second, equally breathtaking cranky on paper instead of cloth telling a story too sad to print here. After we had asked our fill of cranky questions and eaten our fill of beef stew, it was time to hop the short hop into town for the festivities. Before we even stepped foot into the Country Store, we squeezed into the capacity-crowd barber shop next door where there was a group of local musicians jamming. Anna and her fiddle popped down onto the couch and wordlessly joined the jam session with band members that appeared on average 2-3 times her age, and after a song or two she drafted Elizabeth to join.
Eventually we made our way next door. The Floyd Country Store is the first retail establishment that I’ve felt an emotional connection to in a long while. The totally inefficient layout, the clothes (Rachel hasn’t taken off the flannel shirt she purchased since), the ceramic butter dishes that say “never too much butter”, the pumpkin milkshakes and the CD’s of local recording artists.
Michael, Brian, Rachel, Leo, Carly
None of us knew how to dance the kind of dancing that happens at a hoedown like this, flatfoot dancing it’s called, but that in no way impeded our zeal. And no one chided us for our incompetence, they grabbed our hands and dragged us out on the floor and gave us pointers as we went. Rachel’s main dance partner of the night was a farmer named Leo (pictured). As you could probably guess from the photo, Leo was a terrific and enthusiastic dancer who just happens to be in his 80’s. He made us all look slow. [The picture, L-R, Michael Rohd (Sojourn), me, Rachel, Leo, our fabulous intern Carly, and in the background is the band that almost gave me an asthma attack they were so much fun.]
And it just so happened that on this particular night a group of Afghanistan war vets on a perpetual anti-war bicycle tour of the south were in attendance. They had already played a set (they’re also a traveling bluegrass band!) that I regrettably missed, but the owner of the country store made sure to grab me for an introduction with the head of the group later in the night. His name is Jacob, he had long hair tied in a ponytail, a fair number of tattoos, was barefoot, and had served three tours in Afghanistan as a paratrooper. He was quietly charismatic and wildly articulate, and he mostly spoke about healing vets and opening a space to talk about war. You can follow their journey here, buy their CD or lend your support in any way you’d like. And if you’re in a town when the stop through, go visit. They are doing wonderful work and are not to be missed.
We were among the last to leave that night as is our way (The TEAM: ’til the end of the party!), and we hit the highway at 6:30 the next morning in what would be a 12-hour door-t0-door road trip home. The residencies for Town Hall will take TEAM and Sojourn members to Kansas City, Iowa, and Washington DC in the coming weeks, all of which promise to be exciting and hold their own adventures – particularly the Iowa Republican Caucus in early January – but the words of a woman I met at the end of the week in Shawsville, VA ring in my mind. Her name is Ruby and she is a 90-year-old life long Virginian. After she and I bonded over coffee and donuts for an hour at an early morning meeting and we were saying our goodbyes, she held my arm and said, “Y’all come back now”. That, Ruby, is a fine idea.