Use your voice

Transgender activist and rocker Venus DeMars performs at the Mad Ripple Anti-Trump and Pro-People and -Music Hootenanny on Inauguration Day 2017. Photo by Tony Nelson

Half an hour before Donald Trump took the oath of office last Friday, I headed over to Studio 2 Café and started setting up for the day-long protest and pro-music and -people hootenanny that took place on that supremely groovy corner of 46th & Bryant, which has hosted so many good works for so many over the last few years.

With the Trump presidency looming, I decided to stick my head in the sand with live music all that dastardly day and hibernate in my progressive liberal hootenanny bubble away from the nauseating news cycle. Luckily, I wasn’t alone. Trump couldn’t get any musicians of any worth to perform at his selfabration that day, but in less than an hour the previous Sunday night, more than a dozen Twin Cities musicians/songwriters responded to the call for an anti-Inauguration Day Hoot with “I’m in” and “What time?”

So that’s exactly what we did, and I report it here as but one manifestation of what a lot of people are suggesting should be a regular antidote to the horror show coming out of Washington: Don’t get overwhelmed by the soul-crushing big picture or by the thought of trying to change the big bad world, think small. I speak from experience that true soul sustenance and change can come from keeping it local, talking to neighbors and doing whatever you can to fight the power and make meaningful community.

Or, as the great union activist and folkie Joe Hill put it, “Don’t mourn, organize.”

To that end, on anti-Inauguration Day morning I was joined by my early-day arrivees and fellow songwriters Doug Collins, Nici Peper and Craig Paquette. We set up the sound system, plugged in and started playing to a small group of coffee shop regulars and laptop workers. The Resistance was on!

Over the course of the next nine hours, a steady stream of shell-shocked live music lovers came and went, and throughout the day we were joined by Mary Bue, Terry Walsh, Helen Heyer-Walsh, Joe Fahey, Kari Arnett, AJ Scheiber, Michael Tienken, Venus DeMars, Brianna Lane, John Louis, Dan Israel, John Magnuson, Matthew French and Katy Vernon, all of whom pitched in their time, tunes and tenacity to help navigate this strange new reality we’re swimming through.

Much was communicated throughout the day, with singers opting mostly for between-song silence and sickly smiles over stating the obvious. Happy but woke faces abounded throughout the day, and the sound of music lifted spirits and inspired all gathered to think beyond the “like-minded” ghettos we too often box ourselves into.

Doug performed his terrific song about organic community-building, “Let Me Tell You ’Bout My Friends,” Katy sang a haunting new song about the importance of listening, Venus did an impassioned reading of David Bowie’s “Five Years,” Brianna knit pink pussy power hats between songs for the following day’s Women’s March in St. Paul, Matthew and others made pleas for peace and love versus hate and divisiveness, my brother Terry led the choir in a killer version of Elvis Costello’s “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love, and Understanding?” and AJ performed a stunning new song, “Woody Guthrie, Where Are You Tonight?”, that poetically resurrected its namesake for these putrid times:

“Hey, Woody Guthrie, where are you tonight?/We’re worried and we’re weary/This world it don’t seem right/The rich are getting richer/And the poor are getting poor/The fox is in the hen house/And the wolf is at the door/You sang ‘This Land Is Your Land’/But now this land is theirs/The ones who’ve been a-takin’/Way more than their share/They’re scooping up the dollars/And leaving us with dimes/It’s hard to be a poor man and living in these times.”

The night ended with Joe Fahey leading everybody in a sing-along of Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” (“Don’t worry ’bout a thing/everything’s gonna be alright”) and Dan Israel’s howling night-capper of the Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy In The UK” — which proved especially cathartic, given the simmering anger about Trump’s hate-filled cabinet and racist, sexist, homophobic agenda. “Anger is an energy,” as Johnny Rotten sang, and I was happy to scream along at the top of my lungs to end the night, as hot anger isn’t always readily communicated or celebrated by acoustic music.

Studio 2 Café is owned by David Hussman and Andrien Thomas. Two years ago, the couple built a stage and installed a P.A. and fought City Hall mightily to bring live music back to the corner, and we’re all the richer for it. In these times, when journalists, artists and all Americans are suddenly being put on daily alert that free thought and expression is under fire from the federal government, a gathering place where people can play music and speak their minds feels more important than ever. Come on down.

I heard every song that anti-Inauguration Day, and I’m proud to know all concerned — great Americans and patriots who too often play for little or no monetary compensation, but whose souls, as a result, remain more intact than many. Trump’s election has left many feeling powerless and afraid of NEA grant cuts and other more sinister modes of expression oppression. But over the course of those first nine hours of the new Tea Party regime, I bore witness to a very real alternate reality that has many tendrils and versions, all of which reject the creep show and determinedly fight for the collective good.

What’s yours?


Jim Walsh lives and grew up in South Minneapolis. He can be reached at [email protected]