Americana Project Introduces Students to Future of Music, and Future of the Music Biz
“Without this class, school would suck.”
The Americana Project is the class that doesn’t suck. Six seasons ago, Pagosa Springs, Colorado, performing artist Bob Hemenger took his passion for music to the local school board and with moral and financial support from the community convinced them to invest in the arts, with a difference. This elective course creates a space for about 15 students a year to explore the American Folk Arts, from diverse musical traditions to songwriting and performing to actually producing two or three events over the school year.
“This is about catching the kids who would be doing their own thing, but maybe wouldn’t do the usual music, choir or band,” Hemenger said. The Pagosa Springs class is based on the project Brad Tisdel started in Sisters, Oregon (home of Sisters Folk Fest). Rather than a fixed curriculum, Hemenger guides the course based on the kids in the class, his experience in the music business, and opportunities to bring in local and touring artists.
This year, Pagosa Springs High School hosted touring artists who were also local. Stetson Adkisson grew up in the Rockies and went off to Nashville, where he met the beautiful and talented Cia Cherryholmes, of the Cherryhomes bluegrass band. Today the couple perform acoustic music as Songs of the Fall, and call the mountains of Southwest Colorado home.
Stetson may be the local kid made good, and Cia the Nashville Star, but the students of Pagosa Springs High School were the real stars of the Americana Project concert, 3 November 2015. The kids kicked off the concert. Regan played Uke, and Andrew played an original piano piece which he said his father composed. Sydney (of the quote above) played a folky cover on the guitar. Allay, Izzy & Tristan performed a three-part harmony, and Swedish exchange student Alma blew up the concert hall with a powerful performance of “Almost is Never Enough”.
Stetson & Cia played to the students’ vibe. They had spent the day at the school, visiting with the Americana Project class and performing for the student body, and the evening performance for the community felt a lot like a big house concert. The duo opened with high energy acoustic originals featuring Cia’s boisterous banjo, then turned torch to twang with a cover of the Eurythmics’ 1983 hit “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”. Stetson also gave shout outs to the local Four Corners Folk and Bluegrass festivals, within sight of the high school up on Reservoir Hill each summer, and to The Turnpike Troubadours and this year’s self-titled release with a cover of “Diamonds and Gasoline”. For the finale, the entire class came up on stage for a rousing rendition of the Carter Family classic “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”.
Stetson & Cia released an EP in 2012, and a Songs of the Fall CD in 2013 that still plays fresh. The couple also shared a new song—Stetson said it was their first public performance, sharing a moving story of inspiration. I didn’t quite catch the title. It may be Lucky, or So Lucky, or So Darn Lucky to Just Be Alive. Any way it goes, music fans are lucky for the artistry of Songs of the Fall, and the teachers and students of the Americana Project—the future of the music and the future of making music.
(Cross-posted from JCShepard.com)