Superstar Tiler Peck Shines as Our Sugar Plum Fairy

Huge news for dance fans: the one and only Tiler Peck bourrés into Next Generation Ballet’s Nutcracker this holiday season with partner Tyler Angle as her Cavalier.

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Tiler Peck in George Balanchine’s Tschaikovsky Pas De Deux. (Photo: Paul Kolnik)

One of the many benefits of having a retired New York City Ballet principal dancer as the artistic director of our pre-professional ballet company is the talent he lands for our annual Nutcracker. Last year, Philip Neal treated us to Sara Mearns and Patricia Delgado alternately performing the role of Sugar Plum Fairy. This holiday season, he offers the gift of a performance by Tiler Peck, dancer extraordinaire, who is arguably at the height of her phenomenal career. Peck started dancing at two years old in her mother’s California studio. Under private tutelage of former Bolshoi and NYCB dancers between the ages of 7-12, Peck’s rigorous classical training led to a spot in the School of American Ballet, the official school of NYCB. She started an apprenticeship with NYCB in 2004, earning promotions within the company until she attained the highest rank of principal dancer in 2009.

Caught in the Act caught up with Tiler via email to talk about dance and her upcoming performance in the role of Sugar Plum Fairy for Next Generation Ballet’s Nutcracker, Dec. 21-23.

Caught in the Act: Tell us a little bit about how long you’ve known Philip Neal and what it was like working together at NYCB. Was there any sort of “defining moment” where you knew you and Philip would always stay connected professionally?

Tiler Peck: Philip was a principal dancer when I joined the company 14 years ago at the age of 15. He was always extremely professional, and I was aware that many of the men looked up to him as a role model. He made it a point to make the younger dancers feel welcome and was always kind to me. I remember feeling very honored to be picked to dance Who Cares? in his retirement, not with him, but as a tribute to him – to showcase the wide range and variety of roles he danced during his wonderful career with NYCB.

CITA: You’re a superstar in the dance world, with Broadway credits (On the Town, The Music Man) and the Kennedy Center’s show Little Dancer, plus a slew of viral videos including the classical ballet/hip hop mashup you did with Lil Buck and Prime Tyme at Vail International Dance Festival. Because of your versatility and visibility, you’re a real role model to a lot of young dancers who get to see a principal ballerina pretty much do what she wants versus stay in the classical rep. What are you learning along your career path that you’d love to share about a dance career with young dancers who are watching you?

TP: I have learned that I owe so much to the versatility of my training. I grew up in Bakersfield, Calif. taking jazz, lyrical, contemporary, tap, hip hop, among others and I think every style has influenced and helped me become the ballerina I am today. I think it is important to be well rounded as a dancer because it opens many more doors and opportunities. So, I would tell younger dancers to always stay curious and have a willingness to want to learn multiple styles as I think it only helps one grow as an artist.

CITA: You also have film credits – two standouts being your role as “Beth Farmer” in the Sparkle Motion dance sequence in cult classic Donnie Darko and in the peerless 2010 dance film NY EXPORT: OPUS JAZZ. Do you have a preference between dancing for film or live performance? In what ways do you have to alter your performance for film, and how to you keep performing “for the first time” take after take after take? Any upcoming film performances we can anticipate?

TP: I don’t think there is anything more thrilling than watching or performing live; there is something so exhilarating in live performance that just cannot be matched! Even if I watch a performance from the previous evening on film the next day, it never has the same feeling that it did when I was dancing it. There is definitely something that gets lost when translating live performance to film. Regarding film projects, my documentary was just released in July on Hulu so you should definitely go check out Ballet Now produced by Elisabeth Moss.

CITA: Sugar Plum Fairy is such a traditional, iconic role. How do you make her “yours,” or do you feel like this is a role that makes you “hers”? Will you tell us about the first time you ever performed the role – how old were you, when was it, and how did you feel about stepping into the role the first time professionally?

TP: The Nutcracker has a special place in my heart because it was the first thing I saw the New York City Ballet perform and what made me want to be a ballerina with NYCB. My parents took me to see The Nutcracker at NYCB when I was 11 years old in New York performing in The Music Man on Broadway. I turned to my father and said “Daddy, I am going to dance on that stage someday!” So, to be able to dance a role now that made me want to be a ballerina feels very special. Personally, the holidays are my favorite time of the year, and I just love sharing the stage with children and spreading a little Christmas magic to everyone who sees the ballet.

CITA: We are truly so excited to have you here for our Nutcracker this year. What are you most looking forward to about your trip to Tampa and your work with Philip’s NGB dancers?

TP: I am really looking forward to being reunited with Philip and getting to share the stage with his students. I know that Philip was a huge mentor to my partner Tyler Angle, and Tyler is my favorite person to dance with (in fact, we are known as Tsquared or TNT) so it’s going to one big love fest in Tampa! We cannot wait!

Raw, Sexy, Emotional

Die Fledermaus soprano and Opera Tampa returnee Rochelle Bard explains life in opera.

Rochelle Bard - Die Fledermaus photo by Rob-Harris Productions, Inc.

Photo by Rob-Harris Productions, Inc.

One of the great injustices to opera is the enduring stereotype involving a strident woman in a blonde braid wig and a Viking hat. It’s not a very sexy image, and let’s face it: opera is sexy. The canon teems with gorgeous women and men seething with power, oozing lust, greed, desperation, joy and in hot pursuit for fulfillment in romantic love.

For those of you who’ve been around for a few Opera Tampa productions, you know our resident opera company delivers the goods, stacking our casts with extraordinary talent who embody the balance between raw and cultivated sensuality in operatic stories and music.

One such star returns to Morsani stage this season as Rosalinda in Die Fledermaus – dramatic coloratura soprano Rochelle Bard, who debuted in Opera Tampa’s 2009 production of La Rondine.

Rochelle in Opera Tampa’s La Rondine. (Photo by Rob-Harris Productions, Inc.)

In 2011, Rochelle starred in Opera Tampa’s The Merry Widow at the request of former Artistic Director Anton Coppola, who determined to mentor Rochelle after hearing her perform during a competition in New York.

When The Straz hosted Coppola’s farewell party the year he stepped down from Opera Tampa, Rochelle performed Cio-Cio-San’s “Tu? Tu? Piccolo iddio!” (“You? You? My little god!”), the final aria from Madama Butterfly, a fitting tribute to the Puccini master.

Though Rochelle commands the towering soprano roles like Butterfly or Tosca, she also wields an adroitness in comic roles, notably in The Merry Widow and this season’s production of Die Fledermaus. An operetta, Die Fledermaus is performed in the language of whatever country in which it’s being performed. So, our version will be sung in English with dialogue as well as singing. The story unfolds as a large cast of mischievous characters get increasingly tipsy over the course of a New Year’s Eve party.

Rochelle in Opera Tampa’s production of The Merry Widow.

“It’s the perfect blend of musical theater and opera,” she explains. “It’s just a silly, silly, silly plot which makes it so much fun. It’s really funny. With it being in English, people can get the jokes. It’s convoluted, there are a lot of moving pieces, and should be entertaining, fast and cute.”

Rochelle belongs to a family of doctors and nurses, an admittedly shy child who had no desire to be in the spotlight whatsoever. For her course of study, she chose bio pre-med, preparing for a medical career. A talented pianist, Rochelle confesses to an ardent love of music. “I just love it. I love music. When I was picking a career, I just didn’t think I could make a living doing it, so I was very practical. Right when I was getting ready to take my MCATs [medical college admission tests], I auditioned for The Sound of Music and got the Mother Abbess role. After opening night, a random guy came up to me and said ‘Why aren’t you singing [for a living]? Singing is your thing.’ Then he just disappeared.” She laughs. “I don’t know if he was an angel or just happened to say what I needed to hear at that moment, but I got on a track to go back to school to study music. I’ve been making a living, supporting myself on music, ever since.”

Rochelle in rehearsal for Die Fledermaus with Gabriel Preisser.

“I do this because I love it,” she says. “Not for the spotlight or to be famous. It’s the most beautiful music ever, and it’s our job to make people feel something. Opera is so raw, so passionate. It can be laugh-out-loud hilarious. It’s our job as artists to put that emotion all out there.”

See Rochelle Bard as Rosalinda in Johann Strauss II’s comedy Die Fledermaus, playing in Morsani Hall, Nov. 30 and Dec. 2.

Frequently Asked Questions about HAMILTON on-sale Nov. 16

Here we go, Strazzers. The public on-sale for HAMILTON starts Friday morning at 9 a.m. This handy FAQ guide tells you what to do to get ready and what to expect the day-of. Whether you’re planning to buy online, in-person or on the phone, this official information will help you be as prepared as possible for your shot at seats.

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Company – HAMILTON National Tour – (c) Joan Marcus 2018


FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Because of the nature of live events, details are subject to change.

WHEN IS HAMILTON COMING TO THE STRAZ CENTER?
Feb.12 – March 10, 2019

WHEN DO TICKETS GO ON SALE?
Friday, Nov. 16, 2018, at 9 a.m. Tickets will be available through the Straz Center’s official Ticket Sales Office – online, by phone and in-person. Only tickets purchased directly from the Straz Center at STRAZCENTER.ORG, 813.229.7827, 800.955.1045 or in person at the Straz Center Ticket Sales Office are guaranteed to be legitimate tickets for the Tampa engagement of HAMILTON.

WHERE CAN I PURCHASE?
• Online: STRAZCENTER.ORG/Hamilton. You must set up an account through our ticketing system before you purchase online. See “What Should I Do Now To Get Ready To Purchase” below.
• By phone: 813.229.7827, 800.955.1045 (outside Tampa Bay)
• In-person at the Straz Center Ticket Sales Office at 1010 N. MacInnes Place, Tampa, FL 33602; the Ticket Sales Office is located on the south side of the Straz Center campus off of Tyler Street

Online: Log in to purchase HAMILTON tickets by typing STRAZCENTER.ORG/Hamilton into your browser on Nov. 16, 2018 starting at 6 a.m. Everyone will be placed in the Virtual Waiting Room and will be randomly assigned a place in line when sales open at 9 a.m. Those arriving after 9 a.m. will be placed behind those who arrived earlier. You must set up an account through our ticketing system before you purchase online. See “What Should I Do Now To Get Ready To Purchase” below.

Phone: Those choosing to purchase by phone do not have an option for advance queueing. The Ticket Sales Office phone system will be activated at 9 a.m. Please do not call before that time.

In-person: On-site sales will also occur at the Straz Center Ticket Sales Office on Nov. 16, 2018, at 9 a.m. Sales will be conducted using a wristband lottery and random selection of wristband numbers. Wristband distribution will begin at 5:30 a.m. and continue until 7 a.m. under the Grand Canopy in front of Morsani Hall. (No overnight camping allowed.) Arrival prior to the start of wristband distribution is not advised or necessary since the purchase line will be based on random selection. However, you must be in the wristband line by 7 a.m. to get a wristband. Wristbands will only be distributed to those 13 and older. There is no guarantee everyone receiving a wristband between 5:30 – 7:00 a.m. will be able to purchase tickets. Those arriving after 7 a.m. will be placed in queue (and given different sequentially-numbered wristbands) and will not be eligible to make a purchase until everyone who arrived prior to 7:00 a.m. been served, if tickets are still available.

HOW MUCH WILL TICKETS COST?
On-sale prices will range from $86 to $196 with a limited number of $489 premium seats. Handling fees apply. Prices are subject to change.

ARE THERE ANY DISCOUNTS AVAILABLE?
There are no discounts available for HAMILTON.

HOW MANY TICKETS CAN I BUY?
There is a strict limit of four (4) tickets per household. All orders will be checked before tickets are mailed, and orders will be cancelled if we discover duplicate accounts, bots or other means being used to circumvent the four-ticket limit.

WHY AM I ONLY ABLE TO PURCHASE 4 TICKETS?
To allow as many people as possible the opportunity to purchase tickets for HAMILTON, the number of tickets any household may purchase has been limited. Guests found in violation of this policy will have ALL their tickets cancelled.

ARE THERE GROUP SALES AVAILABLE IF I WANT TO PURCHASE MORE THAN THE TICKET LIMIT?
Group sales are not available for HAMILTON.

WILL I BE ABLE TO PICK MY SEATS?
When purchasing online the ticketing system will assign you the best available seat(s) in your preferred performance/price level at the time you purchase. In-person selections will be made the same way. If asked to search an alternative performance for different/better seats, the original selection will be released and could be purchased by another buyer in the interim.

IS THERE AN AMERICAN SIGN LANGUAGE-INTERPRETED PERFORMANCE?
Yes. There are two – the Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019, 7:30 p.m. performance and the Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019, 2 p.m. performance.

WHAT SHOULD I DO NOW TO GET READY TO PURCHASE?
1) Make sure you have an account in the Straz Center’s ticketing system and that you know your password. The name and address on your account must match the name on the credit card and billing address you use for payment. To confirm or create your account, go to STRAZCENTER.ORG and click on the My Account tab at the top of the page, or go here. If you experience any problem with your account, call 813.229.7827 between 12-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday or 12-6 p.m. Sunday or email us at comments@strazcenter.org. Please contact us for assistance no later than Nov. 15.

2) Decide which performances and price levels meet your needs. Choose several options in case your first choice is not available when your turn to purchase arrives.

HOW WILL ONLINE SALES WORK?
Because of the extraordinary interest in HAMILTON, The Straz will use a virtual waiting room to facilitate the online sales process. Below is detailed information how online sales will work and what to do ahead of time to prepare to purchase.

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Jon Patrick Walker – HAMILTON National Tour – (c) Joan Marcus 2018


Online Purchase Guide for HAMILTON

BEFORE NOV. 16, 2018:
Make sure you have an account on STRAZCENTER.ORG and that you know your password. The name and address on your account must match the name on the credit card and billing address you use for payment.

Check your account information by going to STRAZCENTER.ORG and clicking on the My Account tab at the top of the page, or go here.

If you experience any problem accessing or setting up your account, contact The Straz for assistance by Nov. 15. Call 813.229.7827 between 12-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday or 12-6 p.m. Sunday or email us at comments@strazcenter.org.

Decide in advance which performances and price levels you want to purchase. Choose several performance options in case your first choice is not available when your turn to buy arrives. Go here to see the performance schedule and price levels or visit STRAZCENTER.ORG/Hamilton.

PRICE LEVELS – subject to change without notice; handling fees apply
Premium: $489; select center front orchestra seats in rows FF-A
1: $196; front and mid orchestra; mezzanine front, sides and boxes
2: $186; mid-to-rear orchestra; rear mezzanine
3: $146; rear orchestra; balcony front, sides and boxes
4: $116; rear balcony
5: $86; gallery

ON FRIDAY, NOV. 16, 2018:
1. Type STRAZCENTER.ORG/Hamilton into your browser to log in to the Virtual Waiting Room.
• You can log in to the Virtual Waiting Room starting at 6 a.m. on Nov. 16, 2018.
• You will be RANDOMLY assigned a spot in line at 9 a.m.
• Buyers who log in after 9 a.m. will be placed behind those who logged in earlier.
• Once you are assigned a position in the virtual line, you can either leave your browser open and/or sign up to receive an email alert when it’s your turn to buy.
• Any key updates on performance availability will be posted in the Virtual Waiting Room as they become available. They will appear on your screen if you have the Waiting Room tab open.

2. You will have 10 minutes to complete your order if your turn arrives.
• Don’t miss your shot! Watch your email if you sign up for an alert, or keep a close eye on the Virtual Waiting Room tab.
• Know which performance and price level you want before your turn arrives.
• The credit card you use to purchase must match the name and address on your account. We will check orders and will void those where credit card name/address do not match.

3. Buy your tickets.
• The purchase limit is four (4) per household
• The use of bots, duplicate accounts or other methods to circumvent the four-ticket limit will result in cancellation of all tickets.
• You may choose your performance and price level. Select Your Own Seat is not available. The system will assign you the best seat available in your chosen performance/price level at the time of purchase.
• You may split your tickets between different performances and price levels. Add all tickets to your cart before entering your payment information and checking out.
• You will be asked to log in with your STRAZCENTER.ORG account to checkout. Make sure you have an account and know your password ahead of time. You can confirm/create an account here.

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Shoba Narayan, Ta’Rea Campbell and Nyla Sostre – HAMILTON National Tour – (c) Joan Marcus 2018


On-Site Purchases for HAMILTON

HOW WILL THE ON-SITE SALES AT THE STRAZ CENTER TICKET SALES OFFICE WORK?

On-site sales will occur at the Straz Center Ticket Sales Office on Friday, Nov.16, 2018.

Sales will be conducted using a wristband lottery and random selection of wristband numbers. Wristband distribution will begin at 5:30 a.m. and continue until 7 a.m. under the Grand Canopy in front of Morsani Hall. (No overnight camping allowed.) Arrival prior to the start of wristband distribution is not advised or necessary since the purchase line will be based on random selection. However, you must be in the lottery wristband line by 7 a.m. to get a wristband.

Lottery wristbands will only be distributed to those 13 and older.

There is no guarantee everyone receiving a wristband between 5:30-7:00 a.m. will be able to purchase tickets. Those arriving after 7 a.m. will be placed in queue (and given differently colored and sequentially-numbered wristbands) and will not be eligible to make a purchase until everyone who arrived prior to 7 a.m. has been served, if tickets are still available.

The purchase line will be organized based on a RANDOM selection of lottery wristband numbers. The first group will be pulled at approximately 8:30 a.m.

There is no guarantee that everyone receiving a lottery wristband will be able to purchase tickets. Sales will end when the available seats have all been allocated.

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Shoba Narayan and Joseph Morales – HAMILTON National Tour – (c) Joan Marcus 2018


DO YOU PROVIDE ACCESSIBLE SERVICES?
Yes. Detailed information about all Straz ACCESS programs and services are available at STRAZCENTER.ORG/Plan-Your-Visit/Accessibility. Wheelchair-and scooter-accessible seating may be purchased in person, by phone and online. Bariatric seating is also available when purchasing in person or by phone.

WHEN WILL I RECEIVE MY TICKETS?
On Nov. 16, you’ll receive an email confirmation of your order. Tickets will be mailed on or around Jan. 8, 2019. All HAMILTON tickets will be mailed to the address specified in your account. Digital delivery is not available.

WHAT IF I CAN’T FIND MY TICKETS OR THEY GET LOST IN THE MAIL?
Tickets will be mailed on or around Jan. 8, 2019. Tickets that have not been received, for any reason, including lost or stolen, will be reprinted with a new one-of-a-kind barcode and held at Will Call under the original account-holder name, and may be picked up with a valid photo ID beginning two hours prior to curtain time on the performance date ONLY. No exceptions. No name changes on tickets are permitted.

DOES THE STRAZ CENTER MAIL TICKETS INTERNATIONALLY?
The Straz Center does not mail tickets internationally. All orders placed with an international mailing address will be held at Will Call for pick-up beginning two hours before the scheduled performance.

PROTECT YOUR TICKETS AFTER YOU RECEIVE THEM.
Each ticket has a one-of-a-kind barcode, and your tickets can be compromised if you share your tickets along with your personal information online. You can still share your excitement online, just make sure to #CoverTheCode by covering the bar code and any other personal information on your ticket.

I FOUND TICKETS ONLINE THAT ARE TWICE AS EXPENSIVE AS YOUR LISTED TICKET PRICES. WHAT GIVES?
If you search “HAMILTON Tampa,” you will likely find many reseller sites advertising HAMILTON tickets at prices higher than those of our official site. Be aware of what site you are on before you make any purchase. Only tickets purchased directly from the Straz Center at STRAZCENTER.ORG, 813.229.7827, 800.955.1045 or in person at the Straz Center Ticket Sales Office are guaranteed to be legitimate tickets for the Tampa engagement of HAMILTON. Buyers who purchase from a ticket broker or third party should be aware the Straz Center is unable to reprint or replace lost or stolen tickets and is unable to contact patrons with information regarding time changes or other pertinent updates regarding the performance, and they run the risk of overpaying or purchasing fraudulent tickets.

HOW CAN I BE SURE I’M ON THE OFFICIAL STRAZ CENTER SITE?
A good check is to look for strazcenter.org or shop.strazcenter.org in your browser window. Reseller sites sometimes use similar URLs and graphics to fool buyers, so pay close attention and look for this exact name.

WHAT HAPPENS IF I BUY FROM A RESELLER OR BROKER?
When you buy from a non-official source:
• The Straz cannot be responsible for tickets purchased through unauthorized third parties.
• The Straz cannot guarantee that your tickets are valid and, therefore, cannot guarantee admittance.
• The Straz cannot replace your tickets if they are lost or stolen.
• You may be paying much more than the ticket’s face value.
• The Straz cannot contact you with information regarding time changes, show cancellations or other information.
• The Straz cannot issue a refund to you in case of an event cancellation.

CAN I RESELL MY TICKETS IF I CAN’T GO?
Pursuant to s.817.36, Florida Statutes, a Straz Center ticket may not be offered or resold for more than $1 over the face value of the ticket. Significant penalties apply. We regularly monitor resale sites and we void sales when we discover violations of our resale policy and/or the Statute. Tickets are a revocable license; tickets found for sale on the secondary market, through third parties or brokers, or accounts found to have exceeded maximum allotments will have all their tickets cancelled.

WHY ARE YOU USING A VIRTUAL WAITING ROOM?
This is an important tool for combating ticket brokers and bots, and it guarantees you keep your virtual place in line. You will get regular updates on your place in line and ticket availability.

WILL THERE BE A LOTTERY DURING THE ENGAGEMENT?
There will be an electronic lottery through “HAMILTON–The Official App” for 40 $10 orchestra seats for all performances. Details about the lottery will be announced closer to the engagement. The best way to be informed about how the lottery will work is to subscribe to Straz Center text alerts by texting HAMILTON to 73005. Standard text messaging rates will apply.

WHAT ARE LIMITED-VIEW or SIDE-VIEW SEATS?
Limited-view and side-view seats are in locations that may have an obstructed view of the full stage.

WILL MORE TICKETS BE RELEASED LATER?
Any additional inventory will be released for sale if and when it becomes available. Check STRAZCENTER.ORG/Hamilton regularly.

CAN I GET ON A WAITING LIST FOR TICKETS?
No. There is no waiting list for HAMILTON tickets. We encourage you to text HAMILTON to 73005 to be notified if any additional inventory is released. Standard text messaging rates will apply.

WHAT IF I CAN’T ATTEND MY PURCHASED PERFORMANCE?
Since all sales are final; we are unable to offer refunds. Be sure to check the following information before completing your purchase: show title, day, date, time of performance, and number of tickets. Tickets can be donated to the Straz Center’s Operation Tickets program which provides theater experiences to underserved persons in the Tampa Bay area. The Straz Center is a 501(c)(3) corporation and your donation is tax-deductible.

HOW CAN I REQUEST A DONATION FOR HAMILTON TICKETS FOR MY FUNDRAISER?
We are unable to accommodate donation requests for HAMILTON.

CAN I PURCHASE PARKING DURING THE ON-SALE?
After receiving confirmation of your performance date and time, pre-paid parking may be purchased at strazcenter.pmreserve.com.

CAN I PURCHASE DINING DURING THE ON-SALE?
On Nov. 17, 2018, the Straz Center will contact purchasers via email with the opportunity to book dining reservations at Maestro’s Restaurant or The Café, both on-site at The Straz.

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Joseph Morales and Company – HAMILTON National Tour – (c) Joan Marcus 2018


About The Show

WHAT IS THE RUNNING TIME FOR HAMILTON?
Running time is 2 hours and 45 minutes, including intermission.

IS THERE AN AGE REQUIREMENT/RECOMMENDATION?
HAMILTON is appropriate for ages 13+. The show contains some strong language and non-graphic adult situations. As with all Broadway shows, children ages five and under are not permitted. Every patron, regardless of age, must have a ticket.

IS THE ORIGINAL BROADWAY CAST PERFORMING IN THE TOUR?
No. Tampa’s engagement of HAMILTON is part of the national tour. Casting for the tour reflects the same talent, attention to detail and high quality as the Broadway production. We encourage you to check out HAMILTON’s tour schedule at the official HAMILTON page. For more information about the cast in this U.S. tour, visit: http://www.HAMILTONmusical.com/#tour.

WHERE CAN I LEARN MORE ABOUT HAMILTON?
Website: HAMILTONMusical.com
Facebook: HAMILTONMusical
Instagram: HAMILTONMusical
Twitter: @HAMILTONMusical

The American Songster Speaks Out

Dom Flemons founded groundbreaking black string band Carolina Chocolate Drops and recently recorded a seminal music work, Black Cowboys, for Smithsonian Folkways. He plays Club Jaeb Nov. 19 and spoke with us about his music and upcoming show at The Straz in this exclusive interview.

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Caught in the Act: We have such a huge respect for what you have dedicated your career to do.

Dom: Oh, thank you so much! It’s been a very interesting and wonderful journey into music, as well as history and culture. It’s been pretty amazing. I’ve also gotten to travel to quite a few wonderful destinations in my time of doing music. Quite a transition from busking on the streets of Phoenix.

CITA: You represented the United States at the Rainforest World Music Festival in Malaysia recently.

Dom: Yeah. There were 47 different countries representing. I was the first artist they’d ever had that was representing American historical music. That was a real honor and a real treat. That’s one of the things I’ve tried to do from the beginning, is to be able to showcase a lot of different angles of American culture.

CITA: For any of our readers who may be hearing about you for the first time, can you describe what it is you do with American historical music?

Dom: Sure. That all goes back to my first years performing music. As I started getting into listening to records, first it was CD’s, then I got into LPs and cassettes a little bit growing up. Once I got into LPs, I really started to notice some amazing music. That got me into early rock and roll like the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, stuff like that. And Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Hank Williams, and that was where I started. From there it turned into folk music, through Bob Dylan, of course. I got into the sixties’ folk revival … Muddy Waters, and Howlin’ Wolf, and Lightnin Hopkins, Mississippi John Hurt, Doc Boggs, Doc Watson, a whole bunch of different people. So that’s where I started out. Just listening to music and wanting to learn those styles.

After that, I went to an event called the Black Banjo Gathering in Boone, North Carolina. I started studying the African and African American Banjo. So that was when I started the group Carolina Chocolate Drops. I moved from Phoenix over to North Carolina, and I lived in Chapel Hill for a little while and Hillsboro for a little bit, as well. I got connected with a fellow named Tim Duffy, who did a lot of photos in the most recent project … old tintype photography. Tim runs a nonprofit called Music Maker Relief Foundation and I got to meet some amazing older blues singers that were obscure singers, even in of themselves. That was something that gave me a different perspective on music. I was able to interpret that music is listened art. Then I was able to really incorporate vernacular southern music in the style, the lifestyle into my performances.

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Tim Duffy’s tintypes of southern blues musicians were on exhibit at Florida Museum of Photographic Arts in 2018.

So I’ve been able to find a good hodge-podge of different things that have interested me in music and really crafting it in the true traditional style, which is knowing a bunch of different cultural cues that music can tell you. And be able to embed cultural cues within my actual performances, so people react and respond and get to understand the cultures I’m representing. That’s a little bit heady on the subject, but when you hear me play, I’m just playing a song and trying to entertain you with it.

That’s kind of where I started with all of it. Of course, Carolina Chocolate Drops became very popular so we were able to tour all over the world and be able to be a performing arm for that type of music, which had been under represented in a lot of folklore.

CITA: Could you give me a couple examples of what you mean by “cultural cues” in music?

Dom: I put it this way, the great folklorist Alan Lomax, he went out and recorded people for the Library of Congress in the thirties with his father. In his later career, to serve as an academic for folklore music, he created a system called cantometrics, and another system called choreometrics. The idea of choreometrics was that, when you see a traditional culture do a dance, the movement represents everything about that particular culture that’s significant. So say, for example, when you’re working in the field you might be cutting grass with a gigantic blade and you have a certain movement that you do all day long, working. The folk music that you do later that night will incorporate the same movements because you’ve been doing it all day. So, you automatically have the muscle memory. Say you have a gigantic stringed instrument that requires big waving arm motions that you’ve been doing all day at work—that’s what you do at play, as well.

That’s the idea that Alan Lomax had that I’ve always applied that to my music. Thinking about the movements, the dance, the message that comes across in body language and in material. I try to think of it almost like character acting. Where you have actors that, they don’t play themselves in every movie, they play whoever the character they’re playing is. It’s authentic. It looks and feels like the character you’re actually listening to. It’s almost like magic in a way.

CITA: Right.

Dom: It’s all music and fun in the end though.

CITA: What do you, personally, you as a human being, get out of living and breathing these antiquated musical traditions?

Dom: For me, having studied history, I find that American history, good and bad, is all very interesting. Some of it is very positive. Many parts of it is very negative. But when it comes to the music [of America], the music is something that incorporates something that is universal—music—and applies it to cultural experiences or cultural nuances that reflect the times in which the music was made. At first, I didn’t feel like I had many stories to tell myself, so I told other people’s stories. Over time, I’ve collected my own stories along the way, but the idea of telling a story along with a song, that’s something that I feel is inseparable in certain ways, especially in live performance. When you’re listening to a record, you need just a great recording of the singular song without the conversation, but when it comes to understanding music, people want both. They want the story and the song.

I feel like, especially as music becomes more modern, people are actually looking for those cues, but it’s just with different types of music. A lot of the reality stars, they sell their music by showing you they’re on t.v., and then you buy the music. Folk music works the same way, except that you have John Henry, who’s an archetype for an African American man who’s a railroad worker, his job is about to be replaced by the steam engine, so he challenges the steam engine and he wins. But then he dies tragically, afterward. That’s a pretty modern story if you want to make it that. It’s about man and machine, it’s about man, and then in versions of the song, it’s about his wife, Polly Ann, coming in and stepping in after he dies as a steel driver. It’s about men and women. It’s very multi faceted. It’s as good as anything we have…Shakespeare, Homer’s Epic Ballads, or anything like that. But it comes from the people. It’s the people’s voice and the people’s language. I enjoy that for the literature in of itself, but then when you can mix together different messages…people do it in Hip Hop all the time. They yell out, “Hey, everybody from Compton!” It’s a cultural cue. They say Compton a certain way, or they might say Hotlanta instead of Atlanta, that’s a cultural cue that people from around there know and so they respond to that.

It’s the same thing with folk music. That’s how all those songs have endured so long. There’s a lot of depth within them. That’s what draws me in. I’m constantly finding new stories. That’s why I like it.

CITA: Will you talk to us a little about Black Cowboys? That’s your latest album, right? When you come to the Straz, you’ll be highlighting songs from that work?

Dom: Absolutely. With Black Cowboys, it was kind of a step back to Arizona, where I’m from. I stumbled across this gift shop in the Petrified Forest in New Mexico, and I found a book called The Negro Cowboys by Phillip Durham. It talked about how one in four cowboys who settled the west were African American cowboys.

Having not seen a lot of that in movies and stuff like that, because my dad was really deep into cowboy movies, he’s from Flagstaff, Arizona, which is a western town. My grandfather was a logger and a preacher; he had moved over from east Texas, and my grandmother had moved over from Little Rock, Arkansas. I had never necessarily talked to them about cowboys, but as I started reading the stories of these cowboys in history books, I just started seeing my grandparents and their story within this bigger story. It was double faceted for me, where I was able to learn more about myself and the culture that I grew up in, in addition to being able to have the first comprehensive overview of the idea of African Americans in the west: black cowboys singing black country music, as well as string band music put in the blues and the context of cowboy music as well and doing that within a full package.

So I wanted to do a new record, and this idea of black cowboys kept dogging me. I saw that there wasn’t a modern album that had this. Of course, I’ve always been a big fan of Marty Robbins, who wrote “El Paso.” His great album, Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs, is an epic classic. I was trying to figure out, how can I get the epicness of Marty Robbins, but not really try to do full on orchestra style like Marty Robbins was doing. I’ve been a big fan of cowboy music even though I never necessarily played it. I’ve always loved cowboy music. Grew up with it. Started in coffee houses where there were cowboy singers, pretty much all my life, so in a way it was a reclaiming of many things for me.

CITA: Would you differentiate between cowboy music and country music?

Dom: Cowboy music is funny in that way. The best definition I got from one of the legendary singers, Dylan Edwards, was that cowboy songs are just any song that a cowboy sings. Which is what makes it problematic, because in terms of material, it’s really all over the place. Cowboy music is the same type of way [as jazz], where it’s a style, but there are a couple different generations. Usually it’s themed around the lives of cowboys. It’s around ranching, shooting, riding horses, funny times. Other times, they reach out to the Gold Rush Era, other times they reach out to the Modern Era with people like Gene Autry, it’s kind of the next step of cowboy singing. So there’s a style of cowboy singing, the singing cowboy style, which is like Gene Autry, Tom Nicks, Tex Ritter, people like that.

So I break down all those different styles in this record and show off the African American cowboys and how they were interspersed within that. There was a guy, Herb Jeffries, he worked with Billy Epstein and Duke Ellington, and he made several black cowboy films in the style of Gene Autry so I reference him. Bill Pickett, who is the very first black cowboy on film, and he was a champion rodeo rider. He created a sport called bulldogging, which is where you reach over and headlock a bull and knock it to the ground. He invented that. Buffalo Soldiers, they were African American soldiers, and they were the first ones to go out west during the Civil War years and afterward, there’s a whole other culture around that.

Anyway, I could go on and on about the themes. It took me about six months to get the album recorded, but it took me about a year and a half to write it out because there was so much amazing history. I tried to make it universal so people could get into the idea, read about the subject, then research deeper. The album came out of Smithsonian Folkways, which is a wonderful independent label. Also, it’s a part of the African American Legacy recordings series, which is in conjunction with the National Museum of the African American History and Culture, D.C. I knew that coming into it, that this Legacy series existed, and I’m one of the first contemporary artists on there so I wanted to make sure and do it up real big, in terms of, being on this particular series because now it’s in the gift shop at the museum. So, when people go in there, when they look for Black Cowboys, my album is there. Which is really a righteous deed, you know?

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Buffalo Bill, ca.1875

CITA: It is fascinating, thinking historically, where these cultural cross roads gave birth to new art forms. And how history gets shaped. We heard an interview on NPR with a writer who documented how Buffalo Bill is almost single-handedly responsible for creating the cowboy myth that we think about when we think about what wild west cowboys were. But at the time of Buffalo Bill, the cowboys were mostly African Americans and Mexicans.

Dom: Yeah, absolutely. That’s part of the story there. It’s a very, very deep web of history. I touch upon Buffalo Bill a little bit, as well, because his wild west show links into the early history of circus and side shows. It goes back into this world of display art for people that want to see it. In the United States, display art became circus shows, minstrel shows, all that stuff comes out this really big, big top, sort of homegrown Americana that’s people from small towns figuring out how to make it happen. Buffalo Bill, being a guy who had such credentials as a western icon and individual, he just worked the newspapers and made the show the biggest thing it could be. It’s people side stepping the big banks and the railroads. It breaks into this whole bigger social world in which the West developed.

CITA: Right. So you’re going to have to do Black Cowboys Volume One, Volume Two, Volume Three …

Dom: That’s that hope. I’d love to do a trilogy, ultimately. I just don’t know how long that would take to get that all together. In terms of material, I barely scratched the surface, as well. You can get into all sorts of interesting history with all this stuff. There was so much material to work with, I was just so glad that I was able to catch the ones I did.

CITA: You ended up writing about Bass Reeves.

Dom: Yep. I wrote about Bass Reeves. He’s the Lone Ranger. I read about him in a western book. It was Legends of the West, and he happened to be mentioned in there. I thought he just had a fascinating story, so I went and looked him up. A fellow named Archie Burton has written a book on Bass Reeves, called Black Gun Silver Star, and I just was blown away by this guy’s story. To know that the evidence around Bass Reeves’ shows that he’s the basis for The Lone Ranger, they haven’t confirmed it 100%, but it’s a really comparable story. Just to have that idea out there, it really just, again, serves the purpose of diversifying what a cowboy can be. It’s not so much that this is one narrative better than this narrative, but to diversify so people see that there’s a choice. When you choose the different parts of western culture, you find that western culture has been diverse. For better or worse, it’s been diverse for quite a long time.

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Bass Reeves was the first black deputy U.S. marshal west of the Mississippi. He is said to have arrested more than 3,000 people and killed 14 outlaws.

Nat Love, another one of the famous cowboys, he was one of the few to write his own autobiography. He happened to write about his experiences becoming a Pullman Porter, and I found that several of the cowboys I read about had become porters at one point or another because I kept coming across the question of what happened to the black cowboys? It almost seemed like they disappeared from history very quickly, but to add in the element of them hustling work on the railroad after the fences in the west has been factioned off to different people, it becomes very logical story that leads into the modern Civil Rights Movement with the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s. A. Phillip Randolph organized the first all-black employment union, The Brotherhood of Sleeping Cars, for Pullman Porters. Over several decades, you have these guys in such prestigious positions because they’re working with the upper-class clientele. History really shows a lot of the social uplift that came through their involvement in the western culture. But a lot of the porters came from being cowboys, which was why a subtitle for the Black Cowboys record was Songs from the Trails to the Rails.

CITA: When you come to see us, you will be talking about the stories and the process and performing songs from Black Cowboys? Are you traveling with the band right now or do we get you all to ourselves?

Dom: It will just be me solo. I’ll perform and then I might read maybe one or two passages from the liner notes of poignant quotes I’ve found, but then it’s going to be featuring the Black Cowboys songs right in the middle. Of course, I’ll have some great old-time music in there. I got number five on the Bluegrass charts with Black Cowboys, so I’m also playing some Bluegrass stuff in there, some country blues.

CITA: Fantastic! So you and the banjo are going to be doing it up, we hope.

Dom: Oh yeah. It’s going to be a nice time. I picked up some good stuff. I got a gourd banjo, as well, which is a banjo made from a gourd. That references early American banjos. Beautiful sound, has a nice low tone to it, so I’ll be bringing that, as well.

CITA: Is this a four-string gourd banjo?

Dom: This one is a five string, but I have my four-string gearing like I always have. I’m going to pick some of the good, fast old-time numbers, do a couple of slow ones, and it’ll be a great time. I’ve also been featuring some great harmonica solos recently and people have been really enjoying that.

 

CITA: You are also quite accomplished at the quills and the rhythm bones. Will they be making an appearance, and can you tell us a little about what these instruments are and how you play them?

Dom: Oh, sure thing! I’ll start with the quills. The quills are like a pan pipe. It’s a bunch of cane reeds that are vertical so they’re pointing up and down. They’re from longer from the left to shorter to the right. I blow over them, similar to like you would blow over a bottle top, so they’re all in a line of nine different notes in a pentatonic scale, and I play string band music with that. The rhythm bones are two cow rib bones that I’m holding between my fingers, my pointer, middle and ring fingers. Then I turn my wrist and they sound like castanets. If you’ve ever seen a flamenco dancer, they sound like castanets. So, I start whipping some rhythm on those and it’s a good time.

CITA: Well, Dom, what a delight you are. We are so excited that you’re coming to the Straz Center. We’re ready for you to be here and hear your stories and music and have a good time with you.

Dom: Wonderful. I can’t wait to be back over at The Straz. It’s been several years. I think the last time I was there was with the Carolina Chocolate Drops. I can’t wait to make it back over there. It’s going to be a real wonderful time.

Dom Flemons 1

Dom Flemons performs in the Jaeb Theater Monday, Nov. 19. To hear part of this interview, tune into Act2, the Straz Center official podcast, on Soundcloud.