How does one voice their concern with the lack of support in Native America for the arts? How long does one have to work to achieve any form of success? “We must work together for a higher means,” Gary Farmer said, in a recent phone interview with The Southern Ute Drum.
“Cultures have lost their traditional way of life. We must provide for one another, nurture each other, by living together in a communal way. Motivated beyond our own egos, to share the story, because that’s what it’s all about – it’s sharing the story.” Farmer said.
Gary Farmer, known for his starring roles in movies like Powwow Highway, Smoke Signals, Farmer is more than an “Indian” actor he is also a musician, a blues man to be more specific.
“It seems when we call ourselves Indian musicians, we are already expected to be less. And for a contemporary Indian musician it’s gotten even harder to survive. We are still not recognized as human beings, we have to be twice as good,” he said.
After 40-plus years of being in the music business, Farmer still hasn’t had to take a second job, nor has he had to quit acting. His latest endeavor is being on the road with the Trouble Makers, an all-star band so-to-speak featuring other Native musicians, Derek Miller on guitar, Jerry Yellowhorse on guitar, David Rodriguez on bass and rounding our the group, Marc Brown from Fairbanks, Alaska who brings an “innocent edge” to the band.
Gary Farmer and the Trouble Makers are currently on the “Road Songs Tour”, scheduled to perform at the Prairie Winds Casino in Pine Ridge, S.D. on Wednesday, Sept. 2 and recently played for the Native students at the University of Wyoming.
Farmer said the show at the University of Wyoming was “terrific”, he also added that bringing our music on the road hopefully, “makes people think, makes them laugh, or cry, but helping to move our generations forward. They [the youth] don’t have much support,” Farmer said.
Farmer’s answer to lack of support, he believes can be found in our Tribal casinos. “In Canada, where I was born and originally from, four percent of the economy goes to public goods investments, that’s musical instruments and teaching. Canada supports its’ artists with funding,” he said.
Adding, “If we can get four percent of our own Tribal casino’s budget to develop, more successful artists, we can support our own Native musicians.”
Farmers added that Gaming is about bringing in entertainment to our reservations, “It’s economics, gaming is our economy, where’s the entertainment factor?” he said.
“There is no agency for Native musicians even for the established artists there is no help. Powerhouse agencies control the music industry. Where’s our agencies for the young Native American musicians. We need a Native American company sponsoring Native music,” Farmer said.
Farmer is no stranger to a rough upbringing, being the oldest in a dysfunctional family. Farmer turned to gangs, seeing violence on a daily basis. “The “urban” Indians were linked by Indian Clubs, picnics were part of their social gathering.”
Farmer had to relearn his traditional ways, and after realizing a life in the police force was not for him, realizing he couldn’t make a change from the inside, he would have to create change from the outside. He turned to another passion of his, photography. He entered into film studies at Syracuse but was inspired to go back to his country of birth, Canada.
He studied under an opera singer from Saskatchewan, and entered a theater school for Native Americans. It was the theater that showed him to bring discipline into his life, but also to nurture kids to open their own hearts. Farmer fell in love with the process of theater.
“You have to be disciplined, to make positive choices in your life. To make a character more interesting on screen you have to make positive choices, to make a positive way of life.” Farmer said.
Adding, I became an actor – of words, I learned to speak different languages, and the proper use of language. My voice has always been strong, even as a young actor in “Dead Man,” I learned I couldn’t use my voice in a shy way, I had to be strong.”
As a blues man, the leader of the Trouble Makers he wants the spotlight to be less on him, they perform his songs, but he wants the concerts to be more about the young musicians.
“I am a musician with the harmonica. But I want the focus to be on Derrick, and the other musicians in my band. We are different people, with different styles, but we come together to make it work. We band together, bringing diversity to a larger audience.” Farmer said.
Adding about being a bluesman, “blues and jazz have always been credited to the blacks. But it’s our drums with their songs, and our songs with their drums.”
“Our people were pushed out their homelands to other regions, through religious freedom. I could feel the blues come to my community. The blues are as much our creation as any.”
Through the history of movement, the drum is in all of it. Farmer ideally wants to find the relationship, embrace it.
“We are dealing with change in our music, we have to want to change as people,” he said.
KSUT Southern Ute Tribal Radio presents the kick-off performance for the “Blues Series”. Gary Farmer and the Trouble Makers will be performing Wednesday, Sept. 16 from 6 to 8 p.m. on stage at the 49 Lounge at the Sky Ute Casino Resort. This will be a free show.
Gary Farmer and the Trouble Makers will also be live, in-studio at KSUT earlier on Wednesday, for an in-studio performance.
The show is sponsored by the Sky Ute Casino Resort & Casino and Crash Theater of Aztec, N.M.