THE LONG HAUL: Unsung Heroes of the Folk Scene
Sam Luna at The Heist in Ripon, Wisconsin (photo by Rachel Baiman)
I just spent a beautiful 24 hours in Shetland, an experience I don’t take for granted. I love getting to go to tucked-away places while on tour, and for a fiddle player, Shetland is one of those legendary places. I’m glad to have finally made it up there.
There are many ways to go about thriving in this life, and my generation has increasingly done so by moving around from place to place and trying to learn and take in all we can from different cities and towns. I love to travel, and this mentality has served me well, but I also see the value in planting yourself in one place and growing what you want to see happen in that spot.
There are numerous promoters dotted across the globe who have done just that: grown the music scene that they want to see in their small or out-of-the-way town. Neil Riddell in Shetland is one of those folks.
At the airport, my bandmate Steve and I were greeted by Neil, a true hardcore music fan who has built a promotion company called Ragged Wood that brings folk and Americana acts to his remote island for beautiful, well-attended, and well-paid shows in a place that is home to about 22,000 people (the equivalent of one Billy Strings concert at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville). Neil not only booked and promoted our gig, but he also took us around the island and made sure we had a great experience. He presented our show at an auditorium arts center to a crowd of nearly two hundred people. All it takes is one person who wants live music to happen, and the follow-up support of a small part of the community, to make your town a hot spot for great shows.
Another person who comes to mind is Cara Murphy in Jacksonville, Florida, who started her small venue, The Blue Jay, in a strip mall with a Kickstarter campaign. I played there just after the venue opened, and my friends from Florida would say, “You’re playing in Jacksonville? Where??” Now folks say, “Oh yeah! At the Blue Jay? I love that place!” It’s become one of my favorite places to play, solely because Cara has put in the effort of creating the spot and growing a community around it.
And speaking of out-of-the-way places, I’ve been amazed by the work of Sam Luna at The Heist in Ripon, Wisconsin. Sam has grown a community arts center in a town of just 8,000 people in the middle of Wisconsin. He hosts traveling musicians on their way through town for artist residencies and shows and also has fostered a local arts community, partnering with chefs, photographers, painters, ceramicists, and musicians from the area. He single-handedly funded and facilitated the making of my “Self Made Man” video, when he said, “Hey, come out and stay for a few days, and make whatever you want.” He paired me with a local videographer, just because he wanted to give me an opportunity to make something cool.
As artists and performers you get to reap the appreciation of the audience and listeners, but I really believe that the true heroes of the folk scene are these art appreciators, facilitators, and promoters.