July 27, 2006
Section: Entertainment
Article ID: 4100862
By Dave Madeloni

Telling it like it is

Activist Alix Olson returns to Brattleboro

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. Much has happened since I last interviewed the charismatic and outspoken folk poet Alix Olson three-and-a-half years ago.

The contentious political, social and economic climate has heated up in ways that would surely generate plenty of juicy material for an activist like Olson. In a recent e-mail exchange, Olson discussed her struggle to synthesize that overwhelming amount of fodder into cohesive and coherent material for her performances.

JUST THE FACTS
Who: Folk poet and progressive artist-activist Alix Olson
When: Saturday at 8 p.m.
Where: Sanctuary: Hooker-Dunham Theater, 139 Main St., Brattleboro
Tickets: $15. Call (802) 254-9276

“I have to admit that the political portion of my brain feels much like a swamped inbox. I am writing constantly, but it is not necessarily in the form I would want to share with an audience yet. I am trying to give myself the time to understand the current world around me.

“I am invested in expressing the integrity of both my politics and my art form, coalescing the two in an authentic and non-pedantic way. We all feel bombarded with anger, sadness, frustration, optimism, possibility. Because poetry can not rely upon music as an aid, I am careful with my words so it is somewhat of a slow process right now.”

Olson is an anomaly of sorts, a wildly entertaining spoken word artist who tours much like a pop music star, playing close to 200 gigs a year. Although she doesn’t rely on music in on stage, her connection to the music world in woven into her art, both on record and in performance.

 

“My first national tour was as a featured performer at slam poetry venues across the country for three months. I took my friend Chris Pureka, who was just beginning to perform music, as my opening act, because I wanted to broaden my first opportunity to my buddies. We played together on the road, and I began to figure out that I loved having music as a backdrop to my poetry.”

“When I decided to put together my first album, I drew upon my incredibly talented musician friends to play on it: Pamela Means, Chris Pureka, Catie Curtis and Trina Hamlin. They all did it for free for my poor poet ass. I found a great guy to record it and he had connections to some other great musicians, like Larry Campbell, who’s Bob Dylan’s guitar player. Looking back, it was all a combination of incredible enthusiasm, optimism and ignorance. Since then, I’ve had other musician friends play on albums, contribute music to the film and tour with me. One of my favorite touring experiences was on the road with Pamela Means, Allison Miller (Natalie Merchant band), Julie Wolf (Ani Difranco) and myself. I look forward to more of that band experience.”

The Progressive Magazine labeled Olson “an electrifying performer who seduces the audience with wit and energy, spinning tales of life on the road between her fiery poems. A sharpshooter with theatrical flair, Olson oozes both love and rage.”

Those who have seen Olson perform know that she can be provocative and caustic, yet somehow exuding hopefulness as well.

A recent documentary of Olson’s touring exploits, titled “Left Lane,” has increased her exposure world-wide, premiering at festivals in Turkey, Hungary, Spain, France, Israel, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, Canada and 20 U.S. cities, winning four Audience Favorite Feature Awards, including New York City.

“I have been astounded by the reception and have become wise to the fact that the medium of film travels faster than one solo performer possibly can!” said Olson.”I view the opportunity to connect with global grassroots communities as the biggest reward of the film.

“It came about as a result of my tour manager (also a filmmaker) and I realizing that, somewhat selfishly, we craved a journal of our artistic-political journey. Touring for a living demands a lot of daily detailing and we began to forget what we did yesterday, much less during the past year.”

The globe-trotting Olson, who will be working on her third CD this fall, is excited to be returning to the politically progressive state of Vermont to perform at The Hooker-Dunham Sanctuary Theater.

“I just returned from touring Ireland and Australia and am jet-lagged! So, I am excited to be on the re-bound for Brattleboro. I am a huge fan of Vermont!”

Dave Madeloni writes a weekly music column for the Arts & Entertainment section. He can be reached at madeloni@aol. com.
(c) 2006 Brattleboro Reformer. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Media NewsGroup, Inc. by NewsBank, Inc.