Friday, August 3, 2012


By John Pietaro

2012 marks the seventh year of the Dissident Arts Festival, the annual forum of revolutionary cultural workers. This year’s Fest will stretch the boundaries of protest art further than before during performances of avant garde jazz, experimental music, radical poetry and performance art, world sounds, original topical ballads and interpretations of the works of Bertolt Brecht and Hanns Eisler, as well as film screenings--- including one with a live score provided by a hand-picked aggregation of contemporary improvisational musicians. Naturally, the theme behind all of it is social justice.

Founded initially as a Bush-era call to arms within the folk music community of upstate New York, the Festival has increasingly demanded that audiences shed traditional concepts of “protest song” and those who perform it. That initial 2006 edition, then called ‘the Dissident Folk Festival’, was born of the need to feature revolutionary songwriters’ works within the standard folk repertoire, but it quickly became a challenge to the folk community itself; our roots lie not only with the Almanac Singers and Phil Ochs but with radical classical musicians Hanns Eisler and the Composers Collective of New York, as well as the Black Arts Movement, John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy and Alan Ginsberg. Staged  over an October weekend in Beacon NY, the 2006 Fest  carried the message that protest singers are not always white guys with acoustic guitars --and it included a rainbow of cultures, a variety of ages (from 16 to 90) and both genders.  But the real challenge was in the performance itself. Though the first Fest featured  Pete Seeger in a tribute to Woody Guthrie, as well as several other celebrated acoustic artists like Bev Grant, it also included post-punk acts like Lach (founder of the ‘anti-folk’ movement), harder-edged feminist singers, several jazz musicians and a variety of electric bands as well as noted raconteur Malachy McCourt, then running on the Green Party line as gubernatorial candidate. Throw in the Pittsburg Raging Grannies, guest speakers, a smattering of radical poets and a special tribute to Paul Robeson which featured Henry Foner and vocalist Kenneth Anderson, and it became clear that the event had  lasting power. 

By year two, the Fest had become ‘the Dissident Folk and Arts Festival’ as its propensity toward modernism and new music was becoming evident. That year the big feature was a tribute to revolutionary playwright Bertolt Brecht and the music ranged from radical cabaret to punk-folk to standard topical song and avant garde performance. And with each successive year, the Fest grew further into a ‘Dissident Arts Festival’ which embraced all forms of protest art, but offered a focus to a creativity which is as radical as our politics. In 2010 the Festival moved to New York City (when I moved back after a 5-year sojourn to the Hudson Valley) and took up residence at the Brecht Forum. And this year we offer a 2-day Fest which will occur at both the Brecht Forum and Williamsburg performance space/gallery 17 Frost Theatre of the Arts. Sure, it sounds like usual PR to say that this one is the best yet, but this time it’s absolutely the case. And in the shadow of a series of uprisings all around us and a coming presidential election which will be a referendum on the people’s movement, it couldn’t be a more important time to fuse our activism and our vision. 

If there is to be one act credited as headliner this year, it would be Karl Berger, a founder of the world jazz movement and a major figure of free jazz, Karl’s improvisations on piano and vibraphone have been  heard around the world, often in the company of artists such as Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry. Karl, along with Cherry and his wife the poet/vocalist Ingrid Sertso, founded the Creative Music Studio, an institution which brought together a global music force in the service of a deeper level of creativity, peace and internationalism. At the 2012 Dissident Arts Festival, Karl will lead a quartet with Ingrid Sertso, bassist Ken Filiano and this writer on frame drums and percussion (it happens Sat 8/18). 

Another feature this year will be a screening of Fritz Lang’s classic silent sci-fi film ‘Metropolis’ –a movie which displays the class struggle of the embattled populace against the privileged status quo. A live score will be provided by the nine hand-picked improvisers of the Dissident Arts Orchestra (this will happen on Fri 8/17). Another film on board is Iara Lee’s ‘Cultures of Resistance’ which will open up the Fest on Saturday the 18th

A wide variety of performance will occur on both days, ranging from the balladeer Donald Johnson to the noise/experimental sounds of Faster, and the dissident swing of Radio NOIR to the avant jazz of Ras Moshe, protest songs of Ann Arbor’s Joe Kidd to the jazz and poetry of San Francisco’s Upsurge! , the free music of Cheryl Pyle & Nicolas Letman-Burtinovic to the People’s Cabaret of Jennie Litt & David Alpher. Plus a guest speaker from Occupy Musicians. And so much more. The full schedule is below---but be sure to stop by for further info, photos from past years and recordings by Radio NOIR, this writer’s own ensemble. 

The Dissident Arts Festival 2012 is presented by Dissident Arts.
Sponsors: the Rosenberg Fund for Children, the Brecht Forum, 17 Frost Theatre of the Arts.
Producer/host: John Pietaro

17 Frost Theatre of the Arts - 17 Frost Street, Brooklyn NY

8:00- Joe Kidd – from Ann Arbor---topical songs in and beyond the tradition
8:30- Donald Johnson – ballads of work, struggle, life
9:00- FASTER – the duet of soprano saxophone/voice and electric guitar/’junk percussion’ twists song-form into social satire

10PM – Fritz Lang’s silent sci-fi/social change film classic 'METROPOLIS' (1927) with a live improvised score by  THE DISSIDENT ARTS ORCHESTRA: John Pietaro (xylophone/drumkit/percussion/musical direction), Mossa Bildner (voice), Cheryl Pyle (flute), Quincy Saul (clarinet), Rocco John Iacovone (soprano and alto saxophones), Nick Gianni (tenor saxophone and flute), Ben Barson (baritone saxophone), Javier Hernandez-Miyares (electric guitar/keyboards), Nicolas Letman-Burtinovic (upright bass).

The Brecht Forum - 451 West Street, New York NY (212) 242-4201

4PM -'CULTURES OF RESISTANCE' (2003)- ‘Can music and dance be weapons of peace? In 2003, on the eve of the Iraq war, director Iara Lee embarked on a journey to better understand a world increasingly embroiled in conflict...

6:00 –Jennie Litt & David Alpher – purveyors of the People’s Cabaret
6:35 –Cheryl Pyle & Nicolas Letman-Burtinovic - free flute and bass + guests
7:05 –Angelo Verga – radical poetry
7:10 - Daphne Carr- guest speaker: Occupy Musicians co-founder
7:15 –Radio NOIR - dissident swing and new realizations of Brecht/Eisler
7:50 – Karl Berger & Ingrid Sertso - free improv/world jazz by the legendary founders of the CMS!
8:40 –Upsurge! – from San Francisco---jazz/poetry for a new day
9:25 –Crystal Shipp - performance art/spoken word of social change
9:40 – Ras Moshe & Shayna Dulberger – revolutionary jazz in the struggle
10:15-Nick Gianni Evolution - free jazz and more

Sponsored by the Rosenberg Fund for Children, 17 Frost Theatre of the Arts 
and the Brecht Forum

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