Tracking The Storm
CONTRIBUTOR: Pat Jasper, Director of Folklife + Civic Engagement
Imagine: being born in a hurricane, or making love in a hurricane, or sweating through a hurricane, or helping after a hurricane, or biking in a hurricane, or hunkering down with your darling only dog as the rain creeps under the door jambs and rips through the ceiling.
Imagine: the stories, the songs, the poems and the spoken word pieces these events would produce. Then imagine that you live in Houston. At that point chances are high that the form your tale takes is imaginative, but the experience itself very, very real.
The thing about hurricanes is that everyone who goes through one has an extremely personal and singular encounter, even if they are with others, but they evoke the most communal kind of response, they evoke storytelling in its many modes.
“Storm Songs & Stories” was a collaboration of the Houston Arts Alliance Folklife + Traditional Arts program and the magnificent HGOco. It was initially being organized to anticipate the world premiere of Houston Grand Opera’s latest opus, After the Storm. But the HAA Folklife Program got involved in a more roundabout way – one that has its own story.
Before I joined Houston Arts Alliance, I worked on easily the largest, most ambitious and arguably most important project of my career – Surviving Katrina and Rita in Houston. With my co-director, University of Houston professor Dr. Carl Lindahl, in September 2005, we organized a survivor-centered documentation and storytelling project that gave individuals who had taken refuge in Houston because of the storms the opportunity to tell their story on their own terms. Survivor participants were trained in documentation skills and compensated for collecting stories from fellow survivors who wanted their words recorded and preserved in perpetuity. Those materials now reside in the archives of the Library of Congress.
It was a life-changing project, and it introduced me to the city Houston had become in the mid-aughts. Needless to say, I was impressed and, in a sense, Katrina is MY reason for choosing to escape Austin for the greater diversity, generosity and selfless charm of the Bayou City. So, to continue my story, after I joined Houston Arts Alliance as the director of the Folklife + Traditional Arts program, I had a chance to work with some of the city’s roots musicians, and I realized soon that many of them had what I call “Ike Songs.” In essence, contemporary “folk” songs about the city’s most recent serious brush with a hurricane.
None of this is surprising, of course. Hurricanes are, as my colleague Angel Quesada says, “unfortunately inspirational.” And, after all, what do most of us know about Ike: life was suspended, community connections were enhanced, tragedies were both realized and averted. That is the true stuff of lore. So, it follows that many Houstonians have amazing songs, stories, poems and spoken word pieces about life in Hurricane Alley. As a result, we were truly excited to work with HGOco to provide a forum for the first-timers and seasoned vets who shared them with us on Wednesday May 4, 2016, at Rudyard’s upstairs. We welcomed audience members and participants and the mic was open!