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FOLKyTONK – Project Description

“About 95 million people, one third of the nation, have housing problems including a high-cost burden, overcrowding, poor quality of shelter and homelessness,” states Habitat for Humanity in a 2009 report. Many families from the Macmortgaged to mom and pop retirees are giving up their dream homes and opting to live in RV camps throughout the nation. This phenomenon is the impetus for a musical and visual art collaboration aimed at addressing the needs of a people for creative self-expression in hard times and a review and 75th anniversary celebration of the work of the Depression era WPA and CCC.

Partnering with the National New Deal Preservation Association and YouthWorks, a present day YCC-Youth Conservation Corps participant, Shelley Horton-Trippe and Scott Ardis, a.k.a. T.W.Man, take to the road in an art-tweaked camper to rediscover the inspiration inherent to an American mystique of a Hobo-poet culture found in the music of Jimmy Rogers and fellow “Okie,” Woody Guthrie. Using Woody Guthrie’s multi-media talents as a template for this journey, visual artist, Horton-Trippe documents the characters and narratives collected along the way in large-scale “Guthrieesque” pastel drawings and art action “artifacts” of found object sculpture, as well as YouTube posted video performance-art pieces. Americana singer-songwriter and radio show host T.W.Man gathers songs of fellow campers in campfire jams, composes new songs about the contemporary American diaspora and collaborates with Horton-Trippe in Grand Ol’ Opery-like duets of classic covers and original newly written songs to entertain the workcampers along the way. The conceptual fuel for this undertaking is based in creating art of one’s life, becoming the main characters in some living sculpture of daily living, music making, traveling, drawing, public interactions and live-vaudeville-like performances at Public Art Spaces, thrift stores or campsites. Our intent is the uplifting of people through frivolity, the rediscovery of a historic subculture and an appreciation of simple pleasures.

Each National Park campsite enroute, be it Bandolier, Mesa Verde, Bryce Canyon or Joshua Tree offers new collaboration, inspiration and experimentation through this very grass-roots, class/generation friendly participatory process touching approximately 150 campers per site at 12 to 15 campsites. The “art-gypsy-wagon” is a homebase studio supplied with art materials, video cameras, computers, a variety of musical instruments and a video projector, which allows the artists to create on-site “drive-in movies on a sheet” for the campers in pre-reserved campsite areas. Showing old movies from Dust Bowl era classics to newly made art performance pieces on their homemade carni-like backdrops, the artists move between live performance, art document and visual art/music recording studio to enable a moveable feast of collaborative possibilities and personal encounters.

Each lead artist comes to this project with the expertise necessary to bring creative fruition. Prior to recording a new album in Nashville, singer-songwriter, T.W.Man has a long career in radio and live honkytonk performing and has the people/technical skills to engage, interview and collect repertoire. As a visual artist, Horton-Trippe has produced many collaborative video/installation projects from her work in Paris with Nam June Paik to working with barrio kids in the Hispanic ghettos of Northern New Mexico and Native elders throughout the Southwest. As companions and collaborators for over three years, the two, along with musicians, The Reverend Otis Moon and Zeke Zeverson most recently—on August 27, 2010—debuted FOLKyTONK in conjunction with Site Santa Fe’s 10th Biennial, “The Disolve.”

Culminating a yearlong sojourn and four months of collaborative performance work, research and editing at a residency program, FOLKyTONK will premiere its interdisciplinary live performance/video site-specific installation experiment at the Weedpatch Camp, south of Bakersfield, the original migrant workcamp that inspired the American classic Steinbeck novel, “The Grapes of Wrath”. Each year for a week in October, the renovated Weedpatch Camp opens its stages, museum and old school to Dust Bowl Days, a showcase for old timey music, storytelling and historical reviews. Just as our hobo-troubadour predecessors, this artistic troupe will gather fellow musicians and travelers along the way for a rendezvous of artwork-backdrops, new and old compositions, video projections and live honkietonkin’ at the Weedpatch Camp to reinforce the awareness that creative self-expression transforms individuals, promotes insight and is a force for positive social change.

The Artists plan to take their work to European Art Spaces and museums in the next two years.