Friday, November 13, 2015

An in depth story of The Healing Blues and other projects I have worked on by Wayne Johns for The New New South through the Digital Publishing Project at Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies. 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Healing Blues is a social-practice art project that began as a response to an invitation to exhibit art in a downtown storefront to promote the annual blues music festival in Greensboro NC. I conceived the project in which homeless storytellers and musicians collaborated to create The Healing Blues album. I partnered with  renowned jazz and blues musician, music professor Dr. Dave Fox, who produced the CD. The 15 songs relate the stories and struggles of the homeless population of Greensboro NC, and sales and donations raised funds for the Interactive Resource Center (a day center for the homeless). Local professional musicians donated their performances to the project. The homeless storytellers received a share of the royalties and an honorarium as cultural producers for the CD.

Songwriters and homeless storytellers at Elsewhere Museum for a Healing Blues Cafe
It was determined that the storytellers who contributed to the songs would all be IRC clients. They included Isiahm Wardlow, Shannon Stewart, Anita Gilmore, Tresa Scott, Ryan Lennon, Mike Schumacher, Kris Schumacher, Yolanda Batts, Walter Jamison, Chris Ward, Necole MacDonald, Eric Barnes and Forrest Willis.

Participating songwriters were Kris Ferris, Kristy Jackson, David Fox, Bubba Klinefelter and Shiela Klinefelter, Sam Frazier, Mike “Wezo” Wesolowski, Terry and Janice VunCannon, Mark Harrison, Greensboro College Professors Jon Epstein and Neil Clegg and GC marketing director Kim Thore.

In June of 2014 Fox began working on the production of the CD with Benjy Johnson of Earthtones Recording in Greensboro, NC. Fox brought in Lawyers, Guns, and Money, The Fairlanes, Kristy Jackson, Neil Clegg, Jon Epstein, Sam Frazier, The Healing Blues Band (Dave Fox, Roger Kohrs, Chuck Cotton, Benjy Johnson), Heymarket Riot, Big Bump and The Stun Gunz, Chris Carol, Jessica Mashburn, Mike Wesolowski and Charlotte Whitted as well as backup singers and horns to produce the 15 songs on the CD.

Benjy Johnson, Sam Frazier, Roger Kohrs and Dave Fox recording at Earthtones. 
Greensboro College staff, students and faculty from the Art, Music, Business, Communications and Sociology department wrote songs, performed on the CD, publicized the project and helped stage concerts.

ArtsGreensboro and the Piedmont Blues Preservation Society supported the project through fundraising and publicity.  Many individuals supported crowd-funding campaigns, purchased Healing Blues CD’s and attended Healing Blues concerts. To date $10,000 has been raised for the Interactive Resource Center and homeless storytellers.

This project illustrates how the healing process of talking about and memorializing one’s struggle in living music can improve the lives of individuals and how broad community partnerships involving the arts, education, social services and philanthropy can address the needs of our most vulnerable communities.

Here is a video I made for the Lawyers, Guns & Money song that features the homeless co author of the song Shannon Stewart.

The project is featured in Blues Magazine out of UK and Free Speech TV in the US as well as many local newspapers, TV and radio stations. 

To get involved go to where you can learn more about the project, purchase Healing Blues CD’s or contact project leaders.

A few quotes about the project:
Last night's show was fantastic beyond what I could have imagined. To be able to sit with our guests and see their physical responses to hearing their stories come alive through music was truly a type of genius. 
Gwen Frisbie-Fulton – IRC Director of Fund Development and Marketing

"Never before in my forty five years living in the blues community has a project taken me as close to understanding what the blues is about as this one has."
Peter "Blewzzman" Lauro

"After the Healing Blues show at Ziggy's Sunday night, as I was packing up, this gentleman came up to the side of the stage. He said to me, " I just found out that you guys are doing this for me...thank you so much. Man, it's really cool that you all would do this...." When I left the gig, I turned down Cherry Street, and I'm pretty sure I saw that gentleman walking down the side of the road in the night rain. It never was about us as musicians, or our bands, or how well we played in front of each other, or how many people showed up....  it was about him....  that person walking somewhere in the rain without a home." 
Roger Kohrs, The Healing Blues Band

"The young man I wrote my song about has now moved into an apartment, and I've been taking some household items to him. I took him a CD player with a copy of Healing Blues. He is so thankful and excited about the music and stories being told, and yes, this is much bigger than the music and bands. It's about helping others who, well basically, have nothing. Thanks for all your hard work. All we can try to do before our time is through here on Earth, is try to make it a little better place..."
Mark "buddyro" Harrison, The Fairlanes

In the I'm Walkin' video Shannon Stewart travels through many parts of Greensboro that are important to the homeless community, The Healing Blues project and civil rights in Greensboro, NC. 

Shannon in rail yard near Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, Greensboro, NC
Shannon walking near W. Lewis St. with Lee St. behind him, Greensboro, NC
Shannon on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive near S. Elm St., Greensboro, NC
Shannon in building near W. Lewis St. by the Forge and Elsewhere, Greensboro, NC
Shannon with Greensboro Cultural Center on left and Festival Park behind him, Greensboro, NC

Shannon walking up to Greensboro Public Library, Greensboro, NC
Shannon at Interactive Resource Center, Greensboro, NC
Shannon on East Washington St., Greensboro, NC
Shannon at South Elm and Barnhardt Streets, Greensboro, NC
Shannon at International Civil Rights Center and Museum on South Elm St., Greensboro, NC
Shannon near the Public Library and North Church St., Greensboro, NC
Shannon near Kress Terrace on S. Greene St., Greensboro, NC
Shannon and Lawyers Guns & Money on Kress Terrace, Greensboro, NC
Shannon and Terry Vun Cannon on Kress Terrace, Greensboro, NC

Friday, September 20, 2013

Final Destination

From Budapest I took a train (where I met some very nice Brits, Americans, Poles and a Check guy) to Belgrade where I hooked up with my interpreter – Sunitsa and the three friends that she selected for our conversation and recording session.  That went swimmingly and despite my limited knowledge of Serbian I feel that I got great material for my project.  I also met this man – who immediately knew I was Russian by the way I was speaking Serbian with him, gave an impromptu interview and called me his Brother (it’s a Slavic thing).

my brother

After Belgrade I took a bus going backwards up the Danube to Vukovar, Croatia.  The border crossing was very tense and one young man was retained at the crossing probably for interrogation.  Before coming I contacted an American psychiatrist Charles David Tauber, M.D. who runs a small non-profit Coalition for work with Psychotrauma and Peace in Vukovar working with all comers and dealing with issues of post war narrative. His brilliant post on this subject can be found here


Charles was extremely generous with his time and gave me a comprehensive tour of the City that was almost completely destroyed in the Battle of Vukovar and is still in recovery as is evidenced by many buildings in ruins.  I did several short interviews in Vukovar and obtained a glimpse into the madness of ethnic cleansing that went on in this town.

From Vukovar I took a bus to Belgrade and then Sofia, Bulgaria and finally to Oryahovo, to stay at the Gallery Savchevi International Residency. 
This was my second stay at the residency and again I was taken by how familial and informal it is.  Artists stay in a modest house on a hill overlooking the Danube and Romania on the far bank, make their work and spend lots of time doing short day trips and long evenings of conversation, with Rakia, great wine and Bulgarian food for fuel. This time the group consisted of Bulgarians, Serbs a Ukranian and me as the lone American. 

Oryahovo residency 

In Oryahovo I met a group of American artists traveling down the Danube with the Schooner Hippo as part of a very interesting collaborative art project that Clemens, the captain of the schooner initiated and I could not resist going along for the ride. Clemens grew up on this boat built by his father when he was a child. We traveled from Oryahovo to Nicopol the next day and enjoyed conversation and swimming in the river.

Clemens, Shane and Jason on the Schooner Hippo

Upon return to Oryahovo I continued to prepare for our residency show, that fell at the beginning of the festival celebrating Diko Iliev, a famous Bulgarian composer.  The festival had everything from singers and dancers from Romania and Bulgaria, art shows, amusements and fireworks.  I spent a few exhilarating days in celebration enjoying friends and attractions.  

ride attendant

at the festival

Roma dancers

I hope to come back to this area next summer to continue working on the Mother Tongue project.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

By boat, train and foot.

I started out from Donaueschingen on a bike and rode about 60 kilometers a day in sweltering heat, periodically jumping in the river to cool off.  I stayed in Beuron (a pretty mountain village) and Riedlingen. 

This boy followed me for a couple of kilometers and happily gave me an interview when I finally saw he was still keeping up. At this point in Germany the river has no boat traffic and just as you think it is wide and deep enough it is dammed up and what comes out on the other end of the dam is usually a trickle.

After three days of riding I arrive at Ulm, a pretty medieval town with painted buildings.

This building represents a famous Ulm box – a boat in which merchants in the middle ages traveled as far downriver as Belgrade.  Later, impoverished Schwabisch peasants traveled down the Danube to populate parts of Hungary and Ukraine. 

At Passau the Danube is joined by the Inn and the Ilz. This summer Passau had a record flood as a result of the rivers swelling from heavy rains. The top of the brown band on this former armory tower is how far the Inn flooded the city after traveling from the Austrian Alps. Finally traveling by boat I leave Passau at the confluence of the three rivers.

In Austria the river traffic is filled with barges and cruise ships. 

We continually see castles and encounter the first locks.

Arriving in Linz (where Hitler spent his childhood and intended to retire) I am taken by how diverse the population is. People of every ethnicity hang out together less than 70 years since the fall of the Nazi regime

We come to Mauthausen  - a picturesque Austrian village on the Danube that housed the Nazi Labor camp where Russian POW's, Jews, Roma and other enemies of the Nazi state quarried granite.

Having traveled almost half the river length I arrive in Vienna at the end of the German-speaking world where I see the first Soviet built hydrofoil from Bratislava, Slovakia. 

Vienna is at once imperial and radical with classical Austro-Hungarian Empire buildings lining the Danube canal while great graffiti covers it’s walls.      

An hour from Vienna on the hydrofoil and I'm finally in the Slavic world – Bratislava, Slovakia.  I hear the language and it sounds like Russian, but I can't quite understand it.  Still, sounds familiar.
This sign in Czech is written on the bridge in Bratislava.
A loose translation is: Much more than my verse you are reading, but a mirror which inspects all. 

I met this art student/street artist spraying stencils for tourists in old town Bratislava.  His friend who was taking pictures of him was happy to do an interview for me in Slovak.

On to Budapest, Hungary.  The city is an exotic mix of Post-Communist abandonment and squalor and incredible Habsburg architecture that screams of well healed imperial power and dominance. 

This man, Miklos gave me a Hungarian history and language lesson along with an interview. He is one of the founders of the language school - Fungarian.

The Hungarians managed to hold on to their language after coming from the Ural Mountain region of present day Russia and settling in modern day Hungary in the 10th century. It is a beautiful sing song language that no one in Europe can understand because it has neither latin nor slavic routes.
Agglutination  - a kind of gluing words to one another to form new words makes some Hungarian words more like whole English sentences. 
Mobil+oz+tram  means I called some people on my mobile phone. 

I am off to Belgrade on the train and visiting Vukovar in Croatia after that before going to Bulgaria, Romania and Ukraine.