Editor’s Note: This story was originally published on defunct, Central Indiana arts website Sky Blue Window on July 17, 2014. Some content, style and formatting may differ from the original version.
When Indy Film Fest kicks off this evening, its lineup of acclaimed feature-length and short films will demonstrate the talents of independent moviemakers from near and far. The nearest being one of Indy’s own — director Jace Freeman. The festival will be a homecoming for him and his rock n’ roll documentary The Ballad of Shovels and Rope.
“Coming home to the Indy Film Fest is a big deal for me as a filmmaker,” Freeman says. “A lot of my support network is here, and I’m excited to show them what I’ve been up to for the last few years.”
Freeman’s documentary chronicles the husband and wife musical partnership of Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent across two years of constant gigging and the home recording process of their breakthrough 2012 LP, O’ Be Joyful. Viewers are inserted in the passenger seat of their touring van-turned mobile home and are provided a voyeuristic look at the couple’s painstaking rise to stardom. The film garnered the “Ground Zero Tennessee Spirit Award for Best Feature” at Nashville Film Festival earlier this spring.
As a Nashville transplant, Freeman is inspired by his location in the heart of Music City. “Most of my friends are directly involved in the music industry,” he says. “I even met and married an amazing singer-songwriter named Regan Lorraine. I was always interested in rock docs, but moving to Nashville gave me a unique perspective on what really goes on behind the scenes.”
Freeman first became aware of Shovels & Rope a few years ago when a friend at a record label recommended Hearst’s solo material. This initial interest led to an opportunity to shoot some live footage of Hearst and Trent on tour. It was love at first sight. “During that shoot in the fall of 2010, I met Michael and fell in love with his music too,” he says. “Then I learned that they were going to form a band together as a husband and wife duo. I was swept away with their grace, humility and authenticity, and it got my gears turning about a bigger project.
Rather than wait and see whether Shovels & Rope gained traction nationally, Freeman got in on the ground level. “We made an investment of time and resources on a new band, but we had faith in Michael and Cary Ann as individuals,” he says. “They had a track record of writing and recording incredible songs in their solo efforts. We definitely believed that something wonderful would happen when they combined their talents and energy into a focused project.”
The film lets the voices of its protagonists carry the story, with no narrator or staged interviews. “Michael and Cary Ann opened up their house and lives to us, and we were always on the same page — even if it involved them trusting our vision and creative direction,” he says. “They are obviously storytellers too, so they understood what we were doing. The process unfolded naturally with respect, communication and trust.”
Like most rock docs, The Ballad of Shovels and Rope relies heavily on music as a vehicle for the action on the screen. Rather than separate the songs and live footage into musical segments apart from the narrative, Freeman and his team at The Moving Picture Boyschose to weave the two together. “The story we ended up with is a little more universal,” he says. “The best thing I’ve learned from our audiences so far is that they don’t have to be a fan of the band or even the genre to like the film and connect with the story. Everybody seems to be responding strongly and emotionally to the film.”
And he’s right about that. The powerful documentary proves capable of stirring emotions. Late in the film, cameras are on hand in Hearst’s childhood living room when she plays O’ Be Joyful for her family for the first time. Eventual hit single “Birmingham” sets the tone for the scene. The astonishment of her family at the strength of Hearst and Trent’s work is palpable and drove me to tears. “That’s really nice work,” Hearst’s stepfather says. “Your voices blend so well together.” With that recognition, any larger fame and success is almost irrelevant.
This weekend, Freeman will have a chance to bask in a bit of familial recognition as well. “Growing up in Indy let me put down some good roots that were nourished by family and friends,” he says. “I’ve known some of my Indy friends since the second grade, and most of my family lives north of the city. Without their support and encouragement, I do not think it would have been possible for me to transition as easily into a filmmaking career.”
Written by Rob Peoni
Editor’s Note: This story was originally published on defunct, Central Indiana arts website Sky Blue Window on July 31, 2014. Some content, style and formatting may differ from the original version.
Last week, I was scrambling around my apartment, assembling necessities for a weekend in Louisville at Forecastle music festival. As I printed tickets, gathered clothes, and iced down a cooler of beer, my mind drifted toward Indy’s recent festival forays and where cultural events fit into the landscape of a town whose reputation revolves around sports. To gain insight, I sat down with local concert promoters and other stakeholders to answer several questions. Among them were: Is a top-tier music festival necessary for a healthy music scene in a city? Is a thriving music culture central to Indy’s image nationally? What are the latest developments? What are the possibilities going forward?
“We have a pretty packed calendar of cultural events currently being offered, whether that’s concerts at The Lawn at White River State Park to Dig-In from Irish Fest to Indy Pride,” says Chris Gahl of Visit Indy. “It’s very eclectic and often surprises our visitors when they see the lineup of events. We feel confident in what we’re currently offering, however there’s always room to grow.”
One such sign of growth is WARMfest, Indy’s latest and most substantial attempt at a rock festival with regional reach. Dan Ripley launched the event last year, incorporating Broad Ripple Music Fest and Indie Arts & Vintage Market Place into a four-day showcase of music and artisans in Broad Ripple Park. For Ripley, WARMfest’s larger mission aims to fund the restoration of White River’s banks, removing invasive honeysuckle and other debris that has limited access to the waterway for years.
“For decades, Broad Ripple’s identity was tied to the park and the amusement park, and public docks, and canoe liveries and social gatherings on the river,” Ripley says during a recent boat ride along White River. “When you look at all of these things, I sort of justify my vision as not being hair-brained. People say, ‘Well, that will never work.’ It did work. It worked for decades.”
A look at more established regional festivals should provide Ripley with a bit of optimism. In 2013, Forecastle conducted a financial impact study to track the monetary windfall to Louisville’s tourism and hospitality sector. The results were impressive. Each year, tens of thousands of energetic fans spend an average of $98 per day, pumping a cumulative $14 million into Louisville. Last year, organizers invested $460,000 on local employment. Like WARMfest, Forecastle operates a nonprofit arm, which funds environmental conservation efforts in both Kentucky and South America.
“I think one of the reasons that Forecastle has been so successful and continues to be a success is because we didn’t come out of the gates big,” says Forecastle Media Manager Holly Weyler. “We started small. Like really small. Like 100 people small. So it has been an organic, grassroots growth that’s happened over the last 13 years that got us here.”
A recent Indianapolis festival with humble beginnings is Cataracts Music Festival, launched by Jacob Gardner in several backyards off of Morris Street. in Fountain Square in 2011. Gardner pulled off the event without any formal sponsorship agreements, just the support of a few, eager, like-minded friends. “I wanted it to light a fire under people’s asses to realize that you can do this anywhere,” he says. “You can do this in your front yard. It’s called DIY for a reason. Do it yourself. Don’t complain about not having a show space. Go find one. Go create one.”
Cataracts spent two years on Morris Street before moving to Garfield Park in 2013 after police declined to issue Gardner the necessary permits to hold the event at Fountain Square Brewery, citing noise complaints after the 2012 event. Those circumstances led Gardner to take a year off and regroup in 2014. “If somebody could see that we’re just doing this so that Indianapolis can have something to hold onto, then I would keep doing it,” he says. “As it is now, I’m letting it rest and fall where it needs to naturally.”
“We can do Cataracts again,” Gardner says. “We just have to appropriate funds correctly. Even if I have to pay for the majority of it, I’ll do it. But it’s gotta be in a really unique place. It’s gotta be in the right setting. It’s gotta be at the right time. The right bands have to be coming through. I would really like to do it in houses again, and scale it back. Maybe two stages with 15 bands all day or something like that.”
Josh Baker, who manages MOKB Presents and local events website Do317, recognizes the value that people like Gardner bring to Indy. “We need more younger music promoters who want to go out and do shows and take risks,” he says. “We need people who want to open more venues or change venue formats to be centered around live music. We need more people buying music and supporting bands. All of those things are catalysts and vital to a thriving music scene and I think a market has to have a thriving music scene in order to have a successful festival.”
Baker oversaw talent-hiring and filled a variety of other roles during the inaugural WARMfest. He chose to forego involvement this year to focus on opening a new Fountain square venue, The Hi-Fi. He has a long history with music festivals on a local and national level. He was the primary force behind Midwest Music Summit, a SXSW-style conference held in Indy in the mid-2000s, Monolith Music Festival at Red Rocks in Colorado, and other events like First Friday Food Truck Fest at Old National Centre. “The city is the direct benefactor of a festival,” Baker says. “The festival takes all of this risk and spends all of this money on marketing on behalf of the city and their brand. I think there’s something there from a city and tourism standpoint. They should commit a financial investment into some of these events to help them grow, because the city will see the rewards.”
Gahl echoed Baker’s assertion, saying, “To ensure the long-term stability of tourism in Indianapolis, you have to have a healthy mix of convention tourism and leisure tourism. Leisure tourism is driven by sporting events and cultural activities. We can’t get enough of those. We need to keep feeding the funnel and coming up with new events, new ideas, and new spins on existing events to make sure that Indianapolis is fresh and positioned as not only a convention town and a sports city, but a cultural hub.”
For his part, Ripley believes the necessary pieces are in place in Indianapolis. “There are plenty of local promoters,” he says. “There’s a lot of people involved in community development. There’s great support for this music community and there’s a million people in this county. That’s enough.”
The final WARMfest “Warm-Up” concert will be held in Broad Ripple Park on Sunday, August 10, just a few weeks prior to the festival itself. The free, all-ages event will feature performances from Hyryder, Chad Mills, and a kid-friendly set from Ruditoonz. To learn more about WARMfest, scope SBW’s coverage of the lineup announcement and keep your eyes peeled for more in this space in the coming weeks.
Written by Rob Peoni
Editor’s Note: This story was originally published on defunct, Central Indiana arts website Sky Blue Window on August 18, 2014. Some content, style and formatting may differ from the original version.
A conversation with architect and designer Matthew Skjonsberg can prove a bit disorienting. Skjonsberg strolls through life with a different set of eyeballs, connecting the dots between urban infrastructure and the cultural, environmental and artistic references that flow like a river of lifeblood beneath its foundation. The connections prove limitless, with Skjonsberg using a varied set of reference points to draw correlations across seemingly unrelated fields of architecture, literature, music, sociology and sustainability.
Skjonsberg arrived in Indy earlier this week as We Are City‘s “import,” the organization’s version of an artist-in-residence. While here, he will consult on a potential skateboard circuit that aims to connect the greenways of local parks with bike lanes and the Indianapolis Cultural Trail: A legacy of Gene and Marilyn Glick. And he’ll participate in a National Science Foundation grant that commissions six site-specific musical compositions. And then, of course, he’ll speak as part of We Are City’s SUMMIT at Indiana History Center this Thursday.
“What I know of Indy is the reputation that it has for being a progressive, Midwestern city,” Skjonsberg says. “Of course, as an identity, it’s very much associated with the 500 and so forth … This formal image of the circuit is what prompted this association for me with a skateboarding circuit to reinforce the cultural trail and the greenways.”
Skjonsberg is working toward a PhD with a theme he calls “Periodicity and Rural/Urban Dynamics.” Prior, he served s a project leader at West 8, working on projects including Governors Island (New York ), Commonwealth Institute (London), New World Symphony Park (Miami Beach) and Yongsan National Park (Seoul). He earned his undergraduate degree at Taliesin, the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture.
“I almost visualize architecture as a certain kind of knot,” Skjonsberg says. “Different knots are good in the sea and different knots are good other places. If you think about architecture as a way to bundle resources into an effective structure, facilitating not only forces but activities, it becomes much more dynamic.”
Rather than view a project as permanent, Skjonsberg regards his work as an ongoing negotiation. “Any solid work or infrastructure is going to be used for different purposes at different times,” he says. “One of the most interesting pieces for me, is how to create a condition where all these functions can be negotiated. You’re creating a platform for these negotiations, hopefully, with the outcome that you do, in fact, gain greater freedoms and options in your own life.”
Skjonsberg’s doctorate work aims to apply the counterpoint composition method of music theory codified by composer Johann Fux in his book Gradus Ad Parnassum to urban development and design. “They call it strict counterpoint if you compose this way, because it’s literally rule-based in the sense that there should be a maximum of 15 percent perfect consonance in the composition,” he says. “85 percent should be imperfect consonance or even dissonance, because it’s boring if everything is harmonizing all the time. This creates some very interesting implications if you think about architecture in that way. You get a clear idea that you need to resolve a few key points, but everything else should be given a degree of freedom to work itself out and to become more interesting and more diverse.”
Skjonsberg rejects the increasingly popular notion that cities can function as self-sufficient entities. “The myopic enthusiasm for urbanism in our generation will have to be compensated for, at some point, by a similar emphasis on rural,” he says. “Not only rural in the sense of the resource exchanges between a city and its region, which are also very interesting and should be mapped and acknowledged and understood better, but also the cultural exchanges that take place.”
This highbrow connection with culture and development may seem harebrained at first glance, but it begins to make more sense the longer you talk with Skjonsberg. Despite the brevity of his stay in Indianapolis, he’s excited about the city’s potential. He was surprised, upon arrival, to run into skate park builder Bart Smith, with whom Skjonsberg had worked previously. “Indianapolis is capable of not only bringing these kinds of people here, but actually growing them here,” Skjonsberg says of Smith — an Indy native. “So, I’m very excited for what’s coming next, because between the openness of the city, the enthusiasm of the parks and the quality of the participants, I think it has an excellent chance to be a world-class project.”
“As an identity for Indianapolis to have the greenways, to have the cultural trail, and to have what we’re discussing now as the skate parkways,” Skjonsberg says. “It links back to the identity of the city and the Indy 500. It’s a beautifully coherent and yet really diverse image. It plays into the vision of Indianapolis as not only a great place to visit, but also a great place to be, which is really the point.”
Written by Rob Peoni