Holler: 31 Days of Black Art Starts March 1
Scott Woods has never shied away from an ambitious project. Reading poetry for 24 hours not once but six times and never repeating a poet. Running Columbus’ second-longest-running poetry night ever. All his contacts, all his passion for Columbus and black art, all his organizational skills (Woods served as president of Poetry Slam, Inc, for years), and all of his keen taste come to play in Holler: 31 Days of Black Art.
The seed for Holler planted in Woods mind in 2016 when he was asked to speak at St Charles Preparatory Academy for a Black History Month series called My Brother’s Keeper. That speech, Black Art in Columbus, went up on Woods’ blog later that week and it sounded to many of us as a call to arms. As Woods told me when we met, “I was very clear I didn’t want to do the Long Street Bridge mural. It’s there, and it’s great, but what’s happening now?” The speech said, “In 2010 Columbus was 40 percent non-white. 28 percent of that number was Black…more than double the statewide representation of 12 percent. Which begs the question: Does Columbus seem 40 percent non-white to you? Do the arts in Columbus reflect the culture of 40 percent of its residents that aren’t of European descent? Do the politics and businesses seem 40 percent diverse?”
In that speech, he went on to say, “Culture needs space so that it can generate support. And it needs support so that it can be free to generate more and better art.” When he and I spoke, he said, “Talking to people after that speech, I said, ‘There’s so much good black talent that you could book a month straight and not repeat anything.’ And nobody said don’t do it.” Once that gauntlet was tumbling end over end in the air, it was a matter of how to make it land.
As Woods said, “Columbus is very good at developing things but not as good at creating them from scratch. So I built Holler in three months.” Initially, one venue agreed to host the entire month – when that fell through due to construction delays, he turned that adversity into a boon for the event and the community. In its final form, Holler stretches over 11 venues including renowned institutions like the Columbus Museum of Art and the Main Library, long-running but less known rooms like New Harvest Cafe and Central Community House, and venues that don’t as often have events like Art of Republic and Second Sight Galleries. Woods couldn’t have been more effusive about his institutional partners on this. “I said, ‘This is going to happen anyway, do you want to be a part of it?’ and they were more than receptive. Greater Columbus Arts Council had a rider in our contract that artists had to get paid and I said, ‘That’s already in my contract with the artists.’ I had to learn how to navigate larger nonprofit institutions and deal with corporations while always making sure our art comes first.”
On the multiplicity of venues, “Places like the Columbus Museum of Art are playing the long game. They know Columbus is changing and they’re hungry for this They want to bring art to people. Art of Republic is a black-owned hair salon whose owner Rhonda Fisher genuinely wants to have events at night, to be a full-on venue, which is rarer in the Short North anymore. I worked with her on my Harlem Renaissance Remix show and immediately felt like we can do something. Second Sight’s mission was perfectly in line with my own: abandoned houses turned into art galleries? I’d like two, please. Kafe Kerouac [who've hosted Woods' poetry night for the last ten years] immediately gave me every open night they had in March. Without hesitation.”
The variety of genres in Holler is dazzling. Dance is represented by Malik Willoughby performing a newly commissioned work (Wednesday, March 29, Columbus Dance Theatre). Those of us with long memories remember Willoughby with his brothers in pioneering Columbus hip-hop group SPIRIT who close the series with a rare performance March 31 at New Harvest Cafe. Willoughby is the artists Woods has had the longest relationship with going back to early college and his blend of modern dance and roots influences is physical, impactful, and impossible to ignore. Dance also factors into the infectious Transit Arts (Tuesday, March 21, Central Community House).
Transit Arts sit at the younger end of the spectrum in this multi-generational blend. The Turbos (Saturday, March 3, Kafe Kerouac) give them a run for their money. Woods said, “The singer [of the Turbos] came to my poetry night, and I kept an eye out for them. As they put out [the Alternator EP], I said, ‘You guys are ready.’” They’re a burst of adrenaline with shiny riffs and catchy, overheated hooks which were one of my favorite surprises researching Holler. On the Terry Callier-ish warm-folk end of the spectrum, Paisha Thomas (Monday, March 13) promises a set of new and original music with that honeyed voice that knocks me out. Qamil, head of Soul Dope Entertainment brings a slinkier modern R&B flavor to the proceedings on Thursday, March 23, at New Harvest Cafe.
Rocking as hard as the Turbos since the late ’70s is the great Willie Phoenix. Woods called Phoenix’s set on March 17 at Brothers Drake, “One of the five sets I’m most looking forward to.” Phoenix has done everything in Columbus to be done, done it first, and usually done it better, providing needed advice and often apprenticeship to younger musicians, while never looking back himself. Signed to A&M, toured with and opened for everyone from The Godz to Talking Heads, and still going. The best words written about Phoenix are from local writer and rocker Ricki C on his blog (Part 1 starts here), and I can’t improve on them. I will say only his current band with local punk rock originator Myke Rock on bass, Phoenix’s long-time drummer Jim Johnson (also of The League Bowlers), and Kim Crawford on guitar, is one of the tightest pure rock and roll combos working in town.
Is Said and the Advance Party (Wednesday, March 23, Kafe Kerouac) have as long a history and cast a similar shadow of inspiration over Columbus poetry. Sharing DNA with The Last Poets and Gil Scott-Heron, Is Said’s voice is as vital as ever, and his shows can be exorcisms or parties but are always experiences left hard to shake. That blend of poetry and music is how Woods met Mark Lomax II, the artist with whom he’s had the second-longest personal connection. Woods said, “Mark and I were in a poetry band with Eddie Bayard for a few years. He’s my first call for a drummer and my last call.” Lomax and Bayard’s Ogun Meji Duo (Wednesday, March 1, Art of Republic) kicks off Holler and is a perfect incantatory start to the proceedings. They made one of my favorite jazz records last year, The Art of Sound and have the kind of rare empathy that makes someone a believer in the holy power of improvisation to speak to something deeper than conscious thought. Anyone who saw Lomax’s remarkable Logan Rollins tribute at Notes last month knows the level they’re both playing at these days, and this show promises to be special. Another contender for best jazz drummer in town, James Gaiters, brings his group Watu Utongo to Columbus Performing Arts Center on Tuesday, March 28 – a fusion unlike what he’s attempted before featuring DJ Krate Digga (who also has a solo showcase at the Columbus Museum of Art on Sunday, March 5), Bayard, Lee Savory on trumpet and flugelhorn, and Dwight Bailey on bass. I saw Gaiters a couple of weeks ago with sax legend JD Allen and, as usual, he blew me away.
I’ve barely touched on the delights Holler promises us. I will say I’ve never seen a bad set from any of the poets on the calendar, from the more academic to the righteously performative, they all leave blood on the stage. Not to mention Troy-Anthony Harris (Kafe Kerouac, Monday, March 20) reading James Baldwin which anyone at the sold-out showings of I Am Not Your Negro is highly encouraged to see… all the visual art. This could be one of the finest artistic months in Columbus history.
Woods said, “In Columbus, it’s not enough to say ‘I am.’ You have to create opportunities for yourself. I want to give artists the tools to see they can take control of their own art and book these kinds of shows. That they can develop these crowds. You could easily do 30 days of LGBT art. 30 days of art by women. Columbus has the talent to do a Holler for any group of people creating culture in town. If I had my druthers, this wouldn’t be remarkable at all.”
For more information, visit holler30days.wordpress.com. Columbus Underground is proud to be a sponsor of Holler.