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by Skylar Gudasz

“In the business of surviving, it is easy to forget that almost half of our lives is spent dreaming.”

The pandemic came to stay for awhile and settled us down, grounded like teenagers in some enduring season beyond the usual markers of weather and time. Southern Cultures, at the beginning of the stay-at-home orders, invited some of our friends in North Carolina, many out of work and not touring for the unforeseeable future, to share performances based around the theme of comfort.

And then came news of the senseless lynchings of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Tony McDade, and Breonna Taylor, shocking us out of our isolation. The violence of white supremacy has drawn us from our houses and, masked, into the streets. We retreated into lockdown together, staying in our respective solitudes, but this reckoning has shifted us again, further clarifying historical truths and sweeping away any complacency that shielded some of us and made targets of others.

As I write this, we are living in a world in which lightning bugs illuminate over green tomatoes, memaws sew masks from scrap fabric, and people scrawl lawyers’ numbers on their arms with Sharpies. The nights, thick with honeysuckle, are also choked with tear gas. The recipes being shared now are home remedies for surviving weapons of war. There is nothing normal about this country’s reality. Where is safety, where is comfort, for BIPOC in our country? As Lord Fess says in the intro to his video, “The subject matter is comfort, but for me it’s about not being too comfortable in my own skin, being a Black male in the South.”

Recorded in the early days of self-isolation, these musicians and artists open us to the transformative magic of music and rhythm. It’s so hard to remember that there could be, there must be, other ways to live. In the business of surviving, it is easy to forget that almost half of our lives is spent dreaming. We invite you to dream and envision alongside these artists and their explorations of comfort.

Attention: Some videos contain explicit language.

Kamara Thomas  |  Troubadour Travels

Kamara Thomas is a singer, songspeller, mythology fanatic, and multi-disciplinary storyteller based in Durham, North Carolina. She will release her new album Tularosa: An American Dreamtime in 2020. Thomas was named one of the “14 Artists Proving Black Americana is Real” by Paste Magazine, and she is currently spearheading “Country Soul Songbook,” a musical performance and documentary project exploring race and place in Country and Americana music.

Libby Rodenbough  |  Angels May Come (Dan Reeder cover) 

Most widely known by music fans as one-fourth of the indie Americana band Mipso, Libby Rodenbough recently released her first solo record, Spectacle of Love (May 2020, Sleep Cat Records). Rodenbough grew up in suburban North Carolina playing Suzuki violin and crying to indie rock.

Shirlette Ammons  |  Roberta Is Working Clergy

Shirlette Ammons is a poet and musician based in Durham, North Carolina, who also directs a youth arts program. Recent projects include Matching Skin, featuring the John Anonymous EP, a collection of poetry published by Carolina Wren Press, and And Lovers Like, a collaborative album with the Dynamite Brothers.

Casey Toll  |  Ask Me Now

Casey Toll is a musician based in Durham, North Carolina. Toll has played standup bass for bands and musicians including Mount Moriah, MahaloJazz, Jake Xerxes Fussell, and Skylar Gudasz.

Tatiana Hargreaves  |  Sugar in My Coffee (Traditional)

Since releasing her first solo album Started Out To Ramble in 2009, Hargreaves has toured with musicians including Dave Rawlings, Gillian Welch, Laurie Lewis, Darol Anger, and Bruce Molsky. She currently tours with banjo extraordinaire Allison de Groot and teaches bluegrass fiddle at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Lord Fess  |  On My Own

Lord Fess is a rapper, producer, songwriter, and engineer based in Durham, North Carolina. He has performed alongside touring acts including August Alsina, Run The Jewels, Sylvan Esso, GZA, Made of Oak, Killer Mike, Phil Cook, Meek Mill, and Bone Thugs-n-Harmony.

Kym Register  |  In a Town This Size (John Prine cover)

Kym Register’s band Loamlands is a project built out of a love of southern queer culture and a desire to listen to and tell stories of the queer community using aspects of storytelling from traditional envelope-pushers who came before. The band is obsessed with elders and distortion.

Rissi Palmer  |  You Are My Sunshine 

The daughter of Georgia natives, Rissi was born near Pittsburgh and spent her adolescent years in Missouri. Palmer has performed at The White House, Lincoln Center, and the Grand Ole Opry, has appeared on Oprah & Friends, CNN, the CBS Early Show, and the Tavis Smiley Show. She recently released the album Revival.

Nathan Bowles  |  I Like to Feel Pretty Inside (Tom T. Hall cover)

Nathan Bowels is a multi-instrumental musician and teacher living in the Durham, North Carolina. Bowles’s solo albums include Plainly Mistaken (2018) and Whole & Cloven (2016). He has also recorded, collaborated, and performed with Jack Rose, Steve Gunn, Jake Xerxes Fussell, Joe Westerlund, Pigeons, and others.

Skylar Gudasz is a musician, actress, and songwriter currently living in Durham, North Carolina. She is the composer and performer of a critically acclaimed debut album Oleander. Her LP Cinema was released in April 2020.

Header image by Will Hackney.

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