“Yes, as through this world I’ve wandered
I’ve seen lots of funny men;
Some will rob you with a six gun,
And some with a fountain pen.”
Woody Guthrie wrote these lyrics to “Pretty Boy Floyd” during the Great Depression, a time when high unemployment and dust bowl storms shattered the country’s confidence in a better future. And while our current financial crisis might not be as dire, many believe it was caused by the same suspects: unregulated markets, overoptimistic banks and predatory elites. It’s a view that’s been shared by many of America’s greatest musicians, including Pete Seeger, Phil Ochs and Bob Dylan, and will continue to be voiced in North Brooklyn with the 2012 Dissident Arts Festival at 17 Frost Theater of the Arts on Friday, August 17.
Originally started as the Dissident Folk Festival in 2006, the annual event has served as a “platform for cultural workers to sing, recite, improvise, act and orate against war and inequality,” according to its founder and producer, John Pietaro. Though initially a “call-to-arms” to the folk music community of upstate New York, the festival has since stretched the boundaries of protest art. While giving tribute to past masters like Woody and Paul Robeson, and inviting legends like Seeger, Pietaro has also showcased a who’s who of more radical performers: Lach (founder of the anti-folk movement), hip hop ensemble ReadNex Poetry Squad, the Pittsburg Raging Grannies, and poet Louis Reyes Rivera. Progressive political figures, such as former Green Party gubernatorial candidate Malachy McCourt and labor leader Henry Foner, have been featured as well.
For this year’s festival, Pietaro plans to incorporate even more experimental music and art. The 2-day, 2-borough event begins at 17 Frost with a “Radical Songwriters Forum” from 8-10pm. Topical troubadours will include Ann Arbor-based Joe Kidd, contemporary ballader Donald Johnson, and Faster, a soprano sax/voice and avant guitar duo that covers “the experimental side of social parody.” From 10pm to midnight, visitors can watch Fritz Lang’s sci-fi classic “Metropolis” with a live improvised score by the Dissident Arts Orchestra. The nine-piece, featuring Pietaro on percussion and 17 Frost Creative Director Javier Hernandez-Miyares on guitar, will accent themes of social struggle in Lang’s dystopian tale of oppressed workers.
For Hernandez-Miyares, giving North Brooklyn access to the festival goes hand in hand with the goals of 17 Frost, a gallery and performance venue dedicated to local arts education. “Frost is a space that promotes alternative voices that are often out of the mainstream, and we especially like music that provokes thought and awakens consciousness. Cultural events to challenge the senses are what every neighborhood needs.”
The festival continues on Saturday at the Brecht Forum with a screening and discussion of Iara Lee’s 2003 documentary “Cultures of Resistance,” and a concert ranging from improvisational world music by Karl Berger and Ingrid Sertso to the “dissident swing” of Radio Noir, among many others.
“Sure, it sounds like usual PR to say that this is the best one yet, but this time it’s absolutely the case,” wrote Pietaro in a recent post on www.theculturalworker.blogspot.com. “And in the shadow of a series of uprisings…it couldn’t be a more important time to fuse our activism and our vision.”
For more information, visit www.DissidentArts.com.
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