Concert tells story of Sioux healer
Texan Bobby Bridger is coming east. The musician will be accompanied by renowned guitarist John Inmon when he performs his epic musical narrative at the Jamestown Arts Center Saturday. “Lakota” – the final installment of a threepart trilogy called “The Ballad of the West” – is based on the classic book “Black Elk Speaks” by John G. Neihardt.
Bridger’s music career has lasted for more than 50 years and has taken him all over the world. He recorded for Monument Records in the late 1960s, and a conversation with Paul Simon led him to leave Nashville and head for Austin, Texas, where he recorded for RCA Records.
Eventually he became disenchanted with the music business and embarked on a theater career in 1974.
Bridger developed his long epic ballad on the history of the American West by fusing Homeric couplets and verse into a continuous flowing narrative. The first part of the trilogy – “Seekers of the Fleece” – was recorded in Denver in 1975 and featured actor Slim Pickens as the narrator. Bridger spent the next five years traveling around the country playing wherever he could.
Bridger settled in Cody, Wyo., where he established a theater and presented a show based on “Seekers of the Fleece.” After an eightyear run, he returned to the road with his one-man show.
He has been doing it ever since.
“I wanted it to be based on real history rather than something that I made up,” Bridger said.
It took Bridger several years to compose “Lakota.” He’s performed it worldwide, in both English-speaking and non-English speaking countries. He’s even presented “Lakota” for aboriginals in the Australian desert and under a portrait of Lenin in the Soviet Union.
“It’s an American story, but it’s told from the Plains Indians point of view rather than that of the conquerors,” he said. “I didn’t want it to be a white manifest destiny story.”
Taken together, Bridger’s ballads are a chronicle of American history from 1822 when the first non-government expedition of white men ventured into the American West to live. It stretches into modern times.
Bridger no longer performs the first two parts of his trilogy. Part one deals with his relative, Jim Bridger. Part two focuses on Buffalo Bill Cody.
But he still performs “Lakota.”
“As the planet is burning, it seems even more significant,” he said.
According to Bridger, people who come to Saturday’s concert will hear the story of Black Elk, a holy man whose leader was the war chief of the Oglala Sioux, Red Cloud.
Black Elk traveled with Sitting Bill in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West shows. He participated in the ghost dance and was at the Wounded Knee Massacre. The story begins with Black Elk’s birth in 1860 and ends with his death in 1950.
The story will be told with musical accompaniment by interspersing narrative and song. The performance lasts an hour. (“Lakota” will start at 7:30 p.m. at the arts center on Saturday, April 20. Tickets are $15 for adults, $7 for children. They can be purchased online at JamestownArtCenter.org.)
Inmon, who will stand beside Bridger for the performance, is considered by his peers as one of the finest guitarists in Texas. In addition to “Lakota,” Inmon has accompanied such musical legends as Townes Van Zandt, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Delbert McClinton, Michael Martin Murphey and Jimmy LaFave.
For a number of years he was a mainstay in Jerry Jeff Walker’s legendary Lost Gonzo Band. Inmon will play electric guitar at the show while Bridger will play a 12-string acoustic guitar.
Vine Deloria Jr., author of “Custer Died For Your Sins,” called “Lakota” a tour de force of Western experience. According to Dee Brown, who wrote “Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee,” Bridger is a true balladeer with a background of professionalism in music and the history of the period.
Pebbles Watson is the JAC board member responsible for bringing “Lakota” to Jamestown. She first encountered Bridger while managing an arts center in Texas.
Watson owned a ranch in Texas and turned a historical landmark house into a prototypical concert hall for small towns. “The first time we brought Bobby and John to the arts cottage it was a huge success,” she said. “Every year people asked us to bring them back.”
Watson said that the Jamestown Arts Center is interested in bringing artists from around the world to the island. She said she wanted to bring Bridger and Inmon because the story about the Sioux is not widely known. She says it would be good to hear it in Bridger’s unique telling.
“I was determined that one of the first things I would bring to the JAC would be something from Texas, and something that would not only entertain everybody, but enlighten them,” Watson said.