Rising Appalachia Winter Solstice Celebration & Permaculture Action Day 12.16.16

Variety Playhouse
Atlanta, GA

Words & Photos By Julie Hutchins (Tipping Point Designs)

It is no coincidence Rising Appalachia chose to end their Slow Movement Music Tour in their hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. When I arrived at the newly renovated Variety Playhouse I felt at home. The sold out room was warm and bubbling with butterflies. From my vantage point on the balcony I noticed Rising Appalachia songbirds, Leah and Chloe, exchanging greetings and affections with various smiling circles of friends. The audience was on time, early in fact, to settle in and become part of the experience. All cheerful chattering silenced when fiery poetess and Matriarch of Ceremonies, Theresa Davis sounded the microphone. She graced the stage with a spoken word about motherhood and departed as suddenly as she arrived.

Athens, GA natives, Hope For Agoldensummer opened up the night with a soft, living room style listening party. Sisters of folk, Claire and Page Campbell, sat comfortably with their acoustic instruments and sang stories of water, fertility, social justice and pure silliness. Their angelic harmonies blend uniquely with their provocative and uncanny lyrics. Next, MC Theresa returned with a resounding poem about 2016’s notable police killings. Moments after her spine chilling delivery, Dustin Thomas was announced to the stage! Dustin walked to the microphone with only a guitar in hand. He humbly began a simple 3 chord sing-along. Then out of nowhere, the beat dropped and he started rapidly beat boxing in between syncopated guitar riffs. His colorful songs share tales of wanderlust, exploitation of the natural world, and most importantly - hope. His voice bellows deep and reaches soulful peaks. I particularly admired his controversial stories and exuberant smile.

With the crowd warmed up from Dustin’s impeccable energy, and yet another tongue-twisting, conscious-shifting, sizzling Theresa introduction, Rising Appalachia took the stage with grace and thanks to all. Comprised of sisters Leah Song and Chloe Smith, multi-instrumentalist David Brown, and master percussionist Biko Casini, Rising Appalachia travels the full spectrum of sound. Bass, violin and banjo in hands, the show began with a traditional Celtic instrumental that segued into “All Fence and No Doors” - a R.I.S.E throwback. Returning to fresher Wider Circles material, “Novels of Acquaintance” welcomed familiarity and upbeat banjo picking. “Occupy” evoked a call to action and the energy rose. “Occupy” incorporates hip-hop and is an evolution of an African spiritual “Soon Ah will be Done.” The music remained in the spiritual realm for a roaring “I’ll Fly Away” dedicated to those who have passed on. The crowd sang a cappella, “I'll fly away, oh glory / I'll fly away in the morning / When I die, Hallelujah by and by / I'll fly away” and our voices certainly carried into the beyond.

In between songs and tuning Leah likes to tell stories. Apparently, Rising Appalachia received their first crowd-surfer ever in Asheville. She introduced the next song, “Filthy, Dirty South” as an Appalachia rager and invited her parents to crowd surf. An iconic R.I.S.E tune, the crowd sang along again, “so there's oil comin out your mouth, / and you can shut it off you can close it down, / yes I love my filthy dirty south / so we are all led like lambs to the slaughter / while big business muddies our water / please dont sit back sit back in awe.” A R.I.S.E. anthem for the South, the booming bass took over for a lovely dance between sisters and the song finished with diminutive Jazz pizzazz.

Surprises emerged with song debut, “Refugees.” Over Thanksgiving, Leah and Chloe were invited by the Youth Tribal Council to join forces in Cannon Ball, ND. Moved by their experiences with water protectors of Standing Rock, “Refugees” took a minimalist approach. Only the sound of harmonies, light bass and percussion permeated the somber air. Theresa returned and wove words of raw emotion into the music. Gravity grounded the audience again and next, the sisters invited their mother to the stage. The trio sang “Bright Morning Stars,” a family favorite hymn.

Continuing to honor their roots Leah and Chloe fused “Wider Circles” and “Open the Window, Let the Dove Fly In” an old tune dedicated to childhood vocal coach, Elise White. The peaceful psalm transitioned flawlessly into a groovy and triumphant “Wider Circles.” Rising with energy again, Dustin Thomas emerged for an extremely sultry “Swoon” revamped with his signature earthy beat box. The afro-beat remix tango’d well with the saucy, Latin vibes and activated the lower chakras. The quartet finished with a heavy dose of “Medicine” mashed with the monastically soulful “Kaminando.” The crowd endlessly chanted for more, and R.I.S.E returned to the stage for a dexterous Biko drum solo and traditional Appalachia Bluegrass song, “Cumberland Gap.” Feet stomped, hearts exploded, and showered the atmosphere with passion and peace.

There are rare, sweet moments of silence in between when the music stops and the crowd roars with applause. R.I.S.E characteristically evokes these moments with their open hearts and mindful focus. Backstage accomplishments are completely contingent on the people who place their bodies in front of the stage and R.I.S.E constantly honors that truth. Leah and Chloe always take time out of our preforming to share stories and convey gratitude and unity to their followers. They are part of the few musicians who actually practice what they preach on and off stage. I respect their intentions to bridge gaps and organize activism beyond attending their performance. Throughout the night, R.I.S.E. dutifully encouraged their Permaculture Day of Action and it was inevitably a success.

Setlist: All Fence and No Doors, Lean In, Novels of Acquaintance, Occupy, I’ll Fly Away, Filthy Dirty South, Refugees*, Bright Morning Stars+, Open the Window and Let the Doves Fly in/Wider Circles, Swoon@, Downtown

Encore: Medicine/Caminando

* w/ spoken word by Theresa Davis
+ w/ Mom
@ w/ Dustin Thomas

Day of Action 12.17.16:

On the following, balmy Saturday morning, dozens of volunteers began helping early and stayed well into the late afternoon. Whether it was digging new plant beds, spreading mulch, planting seeds, preparing yummy foods, or sharing stories; everyone contributed. All around me, I could hear musings of sustainability practices for the future and greetings of good tidings. One kind fellow introduced me to the idea of using cars as mobile greenhouses. Leah, Chloe, Biko, David, and their crew were all present. Opening ceremonies began at 3 pm with a circle of appreciation and love for all involved and a rousing “An Invitation,” a capella of course.

I am endlessly inspired by Rising Appalachia’s dedication to community and environmental sustainability. This past tour, R.I.S.E worked with non-profit organization Permaculture Action Network to organize volunteer days for local farms in their touring locations. So far Permaculture Action Network has organized over 60 educational and volunteer based events! Urban Sprouts Farm is 5 acre urban biodynamic farm located in south Atlanta neighborhood, Lakewood. Urban Sprouts is a family business operated by Nuri and Safia Icgoren. Currently, they are working to restore the urban ruins on site and have a vision to one day provide local produce for the entire community. Nuri and Safia play a crucial role in rehabilitating the area by offering CSA memberships, organizing volunteer days, and hosting events – such as Permaculture Action Day! I cannot say thank you enough to Rising Appalachia, Permaculture Now, Urban Sprouts, and all the humans who partook in the event. Namaste!

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