Inside Rising Appalachia’s Socially Conscious Approach To Live Music

first_imgSisters Chloe Smith and Leah Song, along with percussionist Biko Casini and bassist/guitarist David Brown, have created a grassroots musical revolution with their band Rising Appalachia. The band’s folk-driven melodies are backed by a dedication to affecting positive change, using their nationwide touring to work with local communities across the country. It was Leah who coined the term “Slow Music Movement,” the campaign by which Rising Appalachia is able to give back and inspire real social change.We had the opportunity to check in with the band as they continue their battle against the wastefulness of touring, hitting like-minded festivals including the upcoming Symbiosis Gathering, which runs from September 22-25 (more info here). As Symbiosis co-owner Kevin KoChen explains, “we are participants in a movement that skews away from products and services owned by multi-national corporations. It’s common sense and a central tenet of permaculture, ‘earth care, people care, and fair share’.” Read on to learn all about the Movement, and everything going on with Rising Appalachia!L4LM: How were you inspired to create the “Slow Music Movement”? Was there a particular moment, or was it something that grew after spending years on the road?Leah: The Slow Music Movement was a term that I coined while I was prepping for a Ted X talk a little while ago. I wanted to discuss our ways of touring and moving through 12 years of music. Alternative touring has always been a priority of our music project. We tour independently and creatively, have remained self-managed, and have ALWAYS had a relationship with local communities on the ground as often as we can, but when we gave a voice and a title to that intention it became much more powerful. Hence the Slow Music Movement.The Slow Music Movement is an effort to bring in local outreach to each event, reduce single-use waste at shows, source farm-to-table food for backstage, and continue to create and promote sustainable touring practices within the music industry. It’s our effort to take the glitz and glam out of the music industry and bring performance back to its roots – that of public service- where musicians are not just part of a fast-paced entertainment world, but instead influence the cultural shift of communities as troubadours, activists, story tellers, and catalysts of justice.L4LM: Do you see this as the natural progression from your recent tour via train?Leah: Sustainable and alternative travel has been a part of our greater mission from the get go of Rising Appalachia… How can we create a music that reaches beyond the stereotypical bar and club scene and create a way to make music a social service and a public affair… Rail travel was such a natural extension of our investigations in alternative transit… Can rail travel in the US be a sustainable option, and can we use a resource that already exists to launch into a more reliable and publicly available mass transit option? That’s what the train tour was all about. David, our guitarist, got deeply invested in the research and leg work to actually make the tour possible.David: We have toured in other parts of the world via rail and have loved it immensely. We didn’t really know that train travel in the states was a real option until I read a Harper’s article about passenger trains a couple years ago (ironically, while on layover in an airport). Trains appeal to us because we want to ‘walk our talk’ – we have messages about “scaling down” in our music, encouraging folks to drive less, build local relationships, etc, and we want to keep it real as we become a better known and sought after band. The amount of driving and flying that most bands do is really unappealing to us, so its cool to find a means of travel that suits our values more. Pursuing a train based tour really seemed like a powerful step for us towards the kind of world we want to be living in.Biko: Our intentions in undergoing the rail tour was to see for ourselves what rail touring was like. Is it a feasible method of transportation? What does it feel like? This nation was originally built by rail, but most people alive today do not remember traveling the nation by train. If the young people of today are going to be inspired to ride trains, it will be because it seems like trains are a step forward… not because they are looking nostalgically backwards. The challenge facing the passenger rail industry today is to capture peoples imagination by how green rail travel is, and the implications it will have on our experience of travel in the future. We aim to inspire people with what rail travel is, and what it can be.L4LM: Tell us about some of the logistics behind the Slow Music Movement. What work is being done on the ground, and how does it happen?Leah: We work in strong partnership with a multitude of activist organizations…We have continued involvement in important campaigns along our touring routes, such as the “Love Water Not Oil” campaign with Winona LaDuke and the Ojibwe tribe last year working to educate the nation on pipeline proposals at the headwaters of the Mississippi river. We have worked for years with the School of Americas Vigil which is working to close down a federally funded para-military institute in Columbus, GA, tied to human rights abuses around the world. We have toured and worked in partnership with Mountain Justice initiates (putting an end to mountain top removal), dam removals, restorative justice work, and international arts education…among many other things. The lists are lengthy and we each have our own personal politics, but I think the main crossroads for us is using music as a tool and a catalyst for betterment in our communities, and as a platform for dialog around justice issues in our world. That means that the music is always available to be a resource for social change.And yes, we do see progress…in that Slow Movement kind of way. We see progress on a one-on-one basis, when a mountain is saved, or a new song learned, or a return to a landscape is written about. We see progress when someone comes up after a show and says “I want to use my voice for things I believe in” or “thank you because I haven’t danced like that for a long time because I was sick, and its powerful to feel my body move again” or “I decided to quit my job and go into at-risk-youth counseling and I thank you for the courage to make a difference”… or any of the myriads of things that we learn from our powerful fans about how they are each touched to make changes in their own lives. We all need that momentum from each other to live in a fully integrated way. That is the most valuable kind of progress.L4LM: What is the best way for someone to get involved with the Movement?Chloe: Reach out to us if we are coming to your town and lets get the conversation going early about what is happening locally. What initiatives are being pushed. What environmental or social justice movements need to be voiced or gathered around. If you are a local nonprofit or organizer, we want to hear from you ! We are also always looking to source local fresh farm food and apothecaries around our concerts in order to sustain our own health and wellness on the road, so send suggestions ! Rising Appalachia is invested in creating a larger network around our music that helps this massive burst of energy we create with music stay grounded and in service to things much larger than ourselves… which means all hands on deck.L4LM: How do you want to see the Slow Music Movement project grow from here?Leah: We hope for the Slow Music Movement to become a platform that will grow around our intentions to continue pushing music into many realms of grassroots organizing and old school public service, and will also provide a blue print for other artists to utilize for alternative music industry options. Alternative transportation options like trains, boats, horses, bicycles. Food that is sourced locally and grown with care and intention. A platform to share ideas and give voice to the many interwoven global concerns of justice and protection of all things wild. We hope that it will grow much bigger than us.L4LM: Musically speaking, what is your next step for RA after the success of ‘Wider Circles’? Is anything in the works?Leah: We are very content to still be playing the music in our collection, and it is still very fresh and inspiring to pull onto the stage. We are slowly cooking up new ideas with influence from trip-hop, hip-hop, and transformational funk.Currently, Arouna Diarra, an amazing folk musician from Burkina Faso, has been performing more and more frequently with us. He is one of the teachers of Biko who met him in Africa and studied with him here in the states. Diarra is amazing holder and curator of music and we look forward to artistically collaborating more and more with him. He’ll be with us at Symbiosis!Chloe: Collaboration will be key in the coming years. There is talk of remix collaborations in the future as well as EP’s with some favorite folk artist friends. Right now it is less about producing more Rising Appalachia albums and more about opening up our artistic circles and seeing what we can co-create with other artists. Wider Circles is indeed a potent album for the times still and we are loving diving into the depths of its sound and finding the hidden gems inside.last_img

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