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May 1, 2018

My Forrest Gumpy Life: Almost Shot in Philly

MLBC performs at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC.
Performing is always a risk, but sometimes it's outright dangerous! Our political satire band, the Montana Logging and Ballet Co. performed concerts for a lot of interesting events, political and otherwise. As with any experienced group, especially on the road, we've collected all kinds of war stories, mostly about when things went badly. (Who wants to hear stories about smooth success, after all?)

When we're asked about our worst audience ever, each of us has a different answer. For me the worst was one we were able to avoid. Somehow during the Reagan Revolution the Republican National Convention had heard about how funny we were. They called up our manager, Fitz, and asked him what we charge for a concert. He replied coolly, "$48,000" (about 10 times the highest price we'd ever gotten for a concert!) To his shock they said fine, they wanted to book us! He was able to come to his senses in that moment and said that unfortunately we were too busy, so we were able to avoid what would have been a royal roasting and perhaps untimely end of a good group.

In another case the money must have been very good because we were shocked to hear Fitz announce that we would be performing in Florida for a national conference for a corporate accounting firm. We lined up for them our usual fare; a mix of political satire, comedy and good music or at least what passes for such with us. The night of the concert the first sign of trouble appeared when we watched the audience assemble in the huge conference room. Incredibly, the audience was all men, except for  about 6 or 8 women, who huddled at one table right by the exit! Sure enough, as we went through our show we were amazed how primitive the crowd was, acting like a herd of mindless carnivores. We performed fast, avoiding any jokes that could be taken as dirty and cutting material right and left to get out of there as quickly as possible.

This often happens with a corporate audience, as they're there often to impress their compatriots rather than to have a good time. We experienced the epitome of this effect when a wood products company sent a tone-deaf scout to one of our concerts who unfortunately thought were hilarious and just perfect to perform for a few of the top company managers at their HQ in Seattle. The concert took place on the top floor of their executive building on a small stage set up before an array of cafe tables at which sat a few dozen executives, with the CEO planted front and center. We performed our show, but there was an uncomfortable pause after every joke while everyone glanced at the CEO. If he laughed, then they all laughed; if he did not, they kept silent! (Except for one guy who guffawed alone after a joke and spent the rest of the show cowering in silence. I bet he didn't last the week.) It was one of the most uncomfortable successes of our whole career!

Brother Steve and I bringing high Montana culture to the big city.
But for me, one of the most memorable moments was when we performed for the off-year Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, when there were 5 presidential contenders, each with his own Secret Service bubble, vying for position among the delegates. Granted the security was not as intense as it is now, but with the candidates roaming the floor among a cacophony of wandering delegates, I still I had no business getting clear into the bit I was doing with my brother onstage before thinking it all the way through. Suddenly I realized with the half of my brain that was not trying to remember the routine that in about 3 seconds I was going to pull a fake pistol out of my costume and shoot my brother! "What are the chances", my half-brain said, "that we'll all die in a hail of gunfire when I pull out my toy gun?"

I'm happy to report that we survived, probably saved by the phenomenon all performers hate: the utter invisibility of "background" entertainment. That, and the transaction was so rapid that apparently no one was alarmed. In fact, I'm not even sure anyone noticed that we performed that day. Such is life on the road for a music group, either ignored or targeted. Sometimes both at once!

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I'm a sculptor/filmmaker living in Montana, USA. I am using art to move the evolution of humanity forward into an increasingly responsive, inclusive and interactive culture. As globalization flattens peoples into a capitalist monoculture I hope to use my art to celebrate historical cultural differences and imagine how we can co-create a rich future together.

I see myself as an artist/philosopher laboring deep in the mines of joy. I've had a good long career of exhibiting work around the world and working on international outreach projects, most notably being the first American to be invited to present a one-person exhibit in the Hermitage Museum. Recently I have turned my attention from simply making metal sculpture to creating films and workshops for engaging communities directly, tinkering with the very ideas and mechanisms behind cultural transformation. I feel that as we face tragic world crises, if the human species favors our imaginative and creative capacities we can cultivate a rich world to enjoy.

For me the deepest satisfaction in making art comes in engaging people's real life concerns rather than providing simple entertainment or decoration. Areas of conflict or tension are particularly ripe for the kind of transformative power that art uniquely carries. I invite any kind of challenge that serves people on a deep level.