Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Let It Ring: Indigo Girls Grace The Goose

Amy Ray’s smile opened itself to wrap love around the couple thousand fans who’d weathered a soggy soaker of a spiritual festival to wait for their 10pm Saturday set. “Y’all have advanced way past kum-bah-yah,” she quipped. “That was a deep album cut.”

For 90 minutes, Ray and her musical partner Emily Saliers couldn’t stop praising the Wild Goose Festival crowd. It’s as if they’d trekked to the misty mountains of western North Carolina just to see us render their greatest hits the new hymnal for progressive and inclusive Christianity. The stellar setlist covered all the ground, a collection of tracks both new and old spanning a career that jump-started itself in the same 1980s Georgia music scene that gave us the likes R.E.M. and Widespread Panic. 

The Indigo Girls catalog knits itself into our daily lives in such a way to make them the perfect band for a campfire singalong at a radicals’ revival like this. But what else was obvious here could not be pinpointed in the mere practice of song. The best-selling grassroots folk duo found something in our makeshift festival that’s been true of their career: past all the great lyrics and legacy of activism, past the DIY-ethics and indie entrepreneur’s edge, past all the albums and compilations, past all the accolades exists the chewy center of hope, we see the Holy Spirit at work in such a down-to-earth humbling and fiery fashion. The Indigo Girls headline set at Wild Goose 2013 healed the audience and sealed the festival’s cultural location in a jubilant justice movement for ecumenical and evangelical convergence on the funky fringes of mainstream Christianity.

Speaking musically, socially, and spiritually, the Indigo Girls have always been there for me and their extended fan community, providing a safe sacred space against the backdrop of sonic dissonance, daily desperation, and devotional decadence. In the 1990s, I’ll never forget a particular summer night when I chose a popular folk gig with my parents and skipped a sloshy urban moshpit with the local punks. For much of my 20s and 30s, I teetered on the axis between light and dark, between life and death. I felt these songs pointing to the light then as now, even as I wallowed elsewhere.

At the top of the Indigos’ Goose set, rather than a traditional MC warm-up or a mysterious smoke machine entry, we got a fan testimonial from author Glennon Doyle Melton. She shared that the Indigo Girls had provided the soundtrack to her early sobriety. Getting clean in my own experience requires a playlist with stamina and vast emotional diversity. Melton said she listened to the Indigo Girls every day, I imagine to give that extra bump that only music can provide when all our other fixes had been flushed down the commode of admitting permanent powerlessness. Every day. She claimed she never stopped, so she had been listening to the Indigo Girls every day for more than a decade. Every day.

I haven’t been listening to Indigo Girls every day, and my much-needed reunion with their deep cuts and Amy Rays’s stunning solo work has been a long-time coming. We know from reading their interviews and studying their web presence, that the Indigo Girls give back. They take social justice and Native rights and ecological sustainability quite seriously. They help fund albums by up-and-coming artists who might not have the means to produce a CD otherwise.

They do not fit the “alternative Christian” mode like many of last year’s headliners did. And while they reside often in the women’s music scene, they seem bigger than any subculture. Because they are, like their song “Second Time Around” reminds us, “God-fearing lesbians,” a perfect choice for the third Goose! Based on the time they spent with us during the day this August Saturday, by the time of their set, it’s pretty clear they felt the fit, too. Not once, but many times, they applauded the audience, not just for our singing abilities and our knowledge of their lyrics as mentioned above, but for our various commitments to practicing what we preach in tangible gestures to better our world.

To be frank, I have been to a lot of secular music festivals that pay admirable lip service to activism, but these did not feel like they were anything close to being part of a movement. Wild Goose, on the other hand, locates itself off the map of the postmodern festival scene, way past the last outpost where festivals-for-the-sake-of-themselves reside. Activism at these other well-meaning events was more of a nametag where here it was more than a commitment; activism is the fiber of the festival itself.

This summer camp singalong is also training camp and bootcamp and recharge-your-battery-because-we’re-weary-in-the-trenches camp. It’s obvious to me and probably was to most everyone else that night that as the Indigo Girls played their hearts out, that they noticed this about us and our tribe of millennial meaning and movement for collective redemption.

Before the Indigos closed with their ever popular “Closer To Fine,” Amy Ray rocked through her solo anthem “Let It Ring” with such rugged abandon, shredding the mandolin, and piercing our sides with the prophetic lyrics about a church and a country that still marginalize minorities and wage wars. Ray sings in one stanza: “You can cite the need for wars/Call us infidels or whores/Either way we'll be your neighbor.” And then in the next: “And the strife will make me stronger/As my maker leads me onward/I'll be marching in that number.” Courageously concluding: “I'm gonna let it ring to Jesus/Cause I know he loves me too/And I get down on my knees and I pray the same as you.”

Photos by 
photos by Scott Griessel http://www.creatista.com/, used by permission.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Troy Bronsink’s “Songs To Pray By” Travels To Wild Goose

Troy Bronsink’s meditative live album Songs to Pray By stretches its sonic arms to embrace every listener with expansive words of spirited awe and awesome humility, with ecstatic waves of audio grace and rhythmic gravity.

Bronsink and his band bring to church what we’ve seen out on the festival circuit for years, a shimmery and psychedelic use of sound and language to elevate listeners who choose to inhabit a song as if it were wings, the place where the spirit soars and the heart sings. We don’t often associate noodly guitars and trippy percussion with the worship sound, which is exactly why this album is such a perfect addition to the praise genre.

A solo Bronsink will be presenting his musical work tomorrow at the Wild Goose Festival. We both took a break from packing and planning our journeys to North Carolina for this email interview.

Describe your motives for playing at WGF? How is it different from a church conference or a music fest?
I think WGF is a way to hear a wider conversation—to hear what the Holy Spirit is doing in surprising places. Jesus followers have a lot to learn by listening to others at the margins, the Goose puts those margins on the radar and lifts marginalized conversations to table conversations.
Upon listening to your record, pretty much on repeat since I discovered it, this may be the closest to a Jesusy jam band I have found in the contemporary scene (not since the early Jesus movement music), & I mean that in the most complimentary terms. Discuss the sonic ambiance, percussion, instrumentation, & performance styles that lead listeners to this experience. Do you seek an altered state? Is that a spiritual or psychic motive for you?
The band that made Songs to Pray By drew from a number of influences—jam bands, math rock, indie, Americana. I believe the spiritual real is physical, our soul-selves are embodied selves and so harmony, rhythm, dissonance that are held in our bodies can also be part of our prayer. Like Augustine who said that when we sing we pray-twice, we wanted to be sure that we didn't miss the prayer either time—first or second.
Is this record a mix of originals & traditionals? What's the importance of that balance for you?
We wrote these songs and arrangements with a congregation. Most, if not all, congregations are made up on novel experiences and traditions we all bring to the table. Familiar hymns and praise songs can help integrate our pasts—so I think arranging the classics is a great call. But new experiences of music form new neural-pathways, they help us form new thoughts, and open the door to that incessant knocking that Jesus is known for. Worship has to train us to open to the new or else we miss the opportunity for wonder and inspiration.
How do you personally juggle musician with your other roles—family man, pastor, author, etc.?
I'm a lousy juggler but the last year has brought some great balance. I work full time as a curator/pastor for a congregation and they offer me time to travel to speak and play. Last year I also published my first book, Drawn In: A Creative Process for Artists, Activists, and Jesus Followers. And in it I confess much of my own weaknesses here. But I would say that the many roles we have pour out of the life that is born in us every day, the renewing work of the Spirit. I have to let go of projects as much as I have to push them forward. I have to go back to the drawing board as often as I have to promote an idea. And I have to be God's canvas as much as I need to paint on the canvases that are laid before me. Juggling isn't the best image, but resonance—ringing a chord and letting it vibrate on its own for a good while—that works for me.
Why should someone check out your set at the WGF?
There are so many great musicians and speakers to hear and see. My stuff will be a mixture of folksy light heartedness and passion soulfulness. And each set is only 30 minutes (11:30 and 3:30 on Friday) so it will go by fast. You'll love singing with me on catchy tunes and rocking to other ones. And then come by the "hot off the Grill" session at 5:30 on Friday for some Korean BBQ style steaks and readings from my book and two other great author/poets: Mike Stavlund and Michael Toy.

Troy's book & album are available widely on the web from Amazon & other sources. He also put a song on Bandcamp in honor of Wild Goose:

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Second Tiime Around: Wild Goose Mixtape 2013 (TOTR 204)

I’m excited to share this mixtape in honor of the Wild Goose Festival, August 8-11 in Hot Springs, NC.

For the festival proper, this third one will surely be a charm, but for me, it’s the second time around, hence the title of this playlist, also taken from an Indigo Girls song. Getting ready for a music festival for me requires hours upon hours of research: buying and downloading Mp3s, studying sounds with the headphones on. These are just a few favorites I’ve found and suggestions for your weekend—mixing up the indie-folk with the psychedelic-liturgical with the pop-folk and power-pop.

The mixtape works like a storybook of sonic massage on the ears, guts, and heart. My prayer is that your listen will provide at least a sliver of the joy that making it offered. Hopefully you can allow this mix to accompany your packing routine or en route roadtrip. See you at the shows! Or if you cannot make it, hopefully these songs will remind you why you wish you could.

Troy Bronsink – Today We All Are Called (Fri 8.9 – 11:30am & 3pm @ Performance Café)
Ears to the Ground Family – Almond Blossom (Sat 8.10 – 4:30pm @ Performance Café)
Money Cannot Be Eaten – Incandescent Light (Sat 8.10 – 4:30pm @ Performance Café)
The Friendly Beasts – Reflex (Sat 8.10 – 6:00pm @ Performance Café)
Adam Crossley – My Summer Song (Thu 8.8 – 8:30pm @ Main Stage)
The Violet Burning – Radio Jesus Superstar (Thu 8.8 – 10:30pm @ Performance Café)
Phil Madeira – Mercyland (Fri 8.9 – 9:00pm @ Main Stage)
The Collection – Lazarus (Thu 8.8 – 7:30pm @ Main Stage)
Run River North – Fight to Keep (Sat 8.10 – 8:00pm @ Main Stage)
Indigo Girls – Second Time Around (Sat 8.10 – 9:15pm @ Main Stage)
 Lost Dogs – Beautiful Scandalous Night (Fri 8.9 – 10:30pm @ Performance Cafe)
Andy Gullahorn – Resurrection (Fri 8.9 – 7:30pm @ Main Stage)
Work of the People – Revelation 12 (Fri 8.9 – 8pm @ The Chapel)

(photo of Run River North)