To be honest, I had a hard time convincing people to come see this storytelling concert, presented by husband-and-wife team Kim and Reggie Harris. “No, it’s great!” I assured them. “They’re awesome musicians and they specialize in songs and stories about the Underground Railroad and the Civil Rights movement and–”
“Oh, that sounds depressing,” they’d say. “I don’t want to think about those things.”
I wish now I had told them just to look at the title: these are songs and stories of light. These are tales that tell us that even in the darkest moments of humanity, there is hope and wonder and even joy. Nowhere is that encapsulated better than in the couple’s opening story, “The People Could Fly.” Yes, the story involves slavery. Yes, slavery is and was awful. But the story is one of deep, abiding hope: all it takes is one person to remember that we are capable of greatness, and suddenly, we all can fly. Or, in a moving and timely moment, the pair led the audience in a rendition of “Sing Mandela Free,” in honor of the late hero. And what a song that is! It’s not, “we’re going to tear down his prison,” not, “we’re going to hate those who oppose us.” We are going to sing this man free. And even more amazingly? They did.
Oh, yes. The singalongs. Typically, I’m not a huge fan of them. No, no, guys, I paid money to hear you sing. But the Harrises have such an amazing energy and charisma, you can’t not sing. They invite you into their world, hold your hand and make you feel awesome about singing in concert with others, even if you can’t sing. For a reason I still can’t understand, we sang an ode to solar energy to the tune of “Angels We Have Heard on High.” It was nonsensical, strange and a ton of fun. Just go with it.
Not all stories or songs are traditional; a heartfelt tale of Reggie’s liver transplant was thought-provoking, and the accompanying song, “Resurrection Day,” was lovely. The pair alternate between very theatrical telling style–usually in the more traditional tales–to more casual, comfortable patter. Both styles work well together and help keep the evening fresh.
I can honestly say this may be my favorite Storytelling Arts event I’ve yet attended. The couple bring history, struggle and hope to life in ways that feel real and personal to everyone. Thanks for braving the arctic temperatures and visiting us in Indianapolis.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the superb Freetown Village Singers who kicked off the evening. These four talented ladies sang gorgeous harmonies of traditional spirituals. I could quite happily have listened to a whole evening of their songs.
The next Storytelling Arts of Indiana event is Choctaw teller Tim Tingle, with his presentation of “From Boarding School to Alcatraz, the Clarence Carnes Story” on January 18. This is sure to be another season highlight. Don’t miss it.
Disclosure: I am a board member of Storytelling Arts of Indiana. I paid for my ticket from my own pocket and have not been compensated in any way.