Last week Texas Folklife held the “Stories From Deep in the Heart” 2015 Summer Institute at the AISD Science and Health Resource Center in South Austin. The institute was a 5-day intensive fellowship in audio production designed specifically for high school students and high school and middle school teachers. The theme of this year’s workshop was the history and culture of East Austin’s blues music scene. Our participants reached out to entrepreneurs, arts administrators, and musicians from the storied musical community, conducted audio interviews, and from those recordings created audio documentaries. In the process, participants learned how to conduct interviews, organize raw recordings, edit sound files, craft narrative, and finalize audio projects. Guiding the participants through their documentaries was our talented team of producers: Sandra Olsen, Brian Griffith, Carlos Salazar, and Brianna Franklin. We were also lucky to have special guest producer and folklorist Rachel Hopkin join us for the second year in a row.
The results were incredible. Every interviewee had a story worthy of the rich narrative tradition found in the blues. The finished documentaries feature tales of prison, love gone wrong, financial difficulties, joy, redemption, and community. These experiences give power and lend credibility to the Austin blues scene. At the same time, the documentaries reveal a musical community in danger of disappearing. Factors such as gentrification, an aging musician community, and a lack of performance spaces threaten to make East Austin blues a thing of the past. Fortunately, the listener also learns how the tight-knit blues community is making major strides toward sustaining their tradition through the creation of new musical groups, record labels, festivals, and venues.
To celebrate our participants and the East Austin blues scene, Texas Folklife held a reception in the auditorium of the George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center. The venue was an obvious choice because of the museum’s focus on presenting and persevering the culture of the African American community. It was particularly serendipitous that as our guests walked through the halls of the George Washington Carver Museum toward the auditorium, they were treated to an exhibit from Texas Music Museum featuring the stories of legendary Texas bluesmen like lightning Hopkins and Blind Lemon Jefferson. The event itself was a blast. After a delicious meal catered by Hoover’s Cooking, our participants shared their stories and received their certificates of completion. Then, Rachel Hopkin gave a short presentation about her career in radio and folklore. Finally, Eddie and the Evereadys brought down the house with a rousing performance featuring special guest singer Pamela Allen, who is the subject of the audio piece “The Texas Twister: Pamela’s Allen Stormy Blues.”
The partnering of our “Stories from Deep in the Heart” program with the East Austin blues experience was a natural fit. The blues is a tradition steeped in stories of struggle. It is a practice where individuals draw empathy, strength, and hope from shared experiences expressed through song and is sustained through active community engagement from cultural workers, performers, and listeners. Similarly, “Stories from Deep in the Heart” seeks to tell the stories of the Lone Star State with the goal of expressing our shared culture, while simultaneously cultivating a community of storytellers for the future.
We would like to thank our partners for this year’s institute, the East Side Kings Festival, the George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center, KUT radio, and Austin Independent School District, as well as our many sponsors. We would also like to thank our student and teacher participants, Amy Annelle, Cindy Stewart, Natalie Palomo, James Young, Avi Hurewitz, Karen Harris, Beth Hudson, Timo Nelson, Myles Kovalik, Joe Holloway, and Patrick McNally, who wowed us with their passion and commitment. Lastly, these stories would not have been possible without the generosity of our interviewees, who shared not only time but also significant parts of themselves with our participants. Below are links to the completed documentaries. Please listen, share with your friends, and support your local music community!
“Stories from Deep in the Heart” is supported in part through grants from the Texas Commission on the Arts and an award from the National Endowment for the Arts, which believes that a great nation deserves great art; the Shield-Ayres Foundation; the Still Water Foundation; Humanities Texas, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Arts; the City of Austin through the Cultural Arts Division and Department of Telecommunications & Regulatory Affairs Grant for Technology Opportunities (GTOPS); and generous support from the Austin Independent School District and KUT News 90.5. Additional support from Taco Deli, Austin's Pizza, Ruby's BBQ, and Hoover's Cooking.