"Handwriting on the Brain" By Lonnie Holley (photo courtesy of Lindsay Gallery)
Lonnie Holley serenaded “Thumbs Up For Mother Universe” to the Wexner Center crowd on Friday with a textured and undeniable intimacy. The Atlanta-based contemporary folk artist/musician sat warmly at a piano backed solely by a guitar player. The sparse set-up allowed Holley’s soulful, harmonized affirmations to resonate a call for humans to respect the cosmic beauty in themselves and others while the musical undertones provided an ambient calm. Holley described himself as a “spiritual vessel.” The 63 year-old man came to Columbus this past weekend for the aforementioned Wexner performance, and also to open his “My People Shall Perish From Lack Of Knowledge” Art Show at the Lindsay Gallery in the Short North. In between the events Holley stopped to work with students at the Short Stop Youth Center and OSU’s Sculpture Department. His Columbus appearance follows a positive career trajectory for Holley, who also played at the Whitney in New York in chorus with their presentation of the “Blues For Smoke” exhibit that is currently at the Wex. The outsider artist also recently released a song entitled “From the Other Side of the Pulpit” with Cole Alexander of the Black Lips and Bradford Cox of Deerhunter. Just for description purposes one could reference late Jazz-Poet Gil-Scott Heron’s “I’m New Here” album on XL records as a slightly similar example of combining a historical, and authentic blues existence with the presence of avant garde, and noise sounds of that era. Holley’s back story is of creation birthed from hard living that starts with the Birmingham, Alabama man being born 7th of 27 children. That’s a lot of mouths to feed, especially when you combine it with the extreme racial and class conditions that do exist in pockets of our country. It’s a recipe for a rough life. Holley experienced cruel labor circumstances, brutal beatings, abandonments and extreme poverty. In 1979 two of his sister’s children died in a fire. His family could not afford tombstones for the graves so Holley built memorial markers from found materials, which started him on an artistic road that led to the Birmingham Museum Of Art discovering him in 1981. That road eventually ended up with Holley’s sculptures being included in collections in places such as the Smithsonian, the White House and the American Folk Museum in New York. The triumph of the human spirit is always interesting and uplifting, yeah? Well, even if you missed this past weekend’s performance and opening, Lonnie Holley’s Art Show will be on display in Columbus at the Lindsay Gallery at 986 North High Street until November 28th. After Holley performed at the Wex Friday, Columbus musician and sound collage artist Brian Harnetty took the stage and gave a gilded live performance of his recent release, “Drawn from Sun Ra’s: the Star Faced One Archive” on Atavistic Records. Harnetty layered loops, vinyl soundbites and played a Fender Rhodes with a full band that gave us the fullness of live instrumentation as well as captured an older essence. Later Friday evening, I caught Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s sold-out show at Ace Of Cups. The Portland psych-garage “nuggets-style” band ran through songs such as ‘Ffunny Ffriends” off their self-titled debut album and “So Good At Being In Trouble” off their recent “II” album. UMO closed out their set with their guitarist and songwriter Ruban Neilson doing acoustic version of the band’s “Swim & Sleep (Like A Shark)” off their upcoming “Blue” EP, and an excellent cover of Can’s “Vitamin C.” It must be noted that Ace Of Cups never oversells a sold-out show so the crowd took advantage of having a little room to move to dance during the Can cover. Afterwards Ruban of UMO, and opening band Wolf People headed over to Carabar where the bar’s owner, Ron Barker, was celebrating his birthday with a new bowling video game the bar had just installed. Ron had become an accomplished bowler last year until suffering from a career ending groan injury. So having a bowling video game was a nice present for a man who had his bowling aspirations destroyed by fate. Neilson is originally from New Zealand, and Wolf People are from Great Britain, two places that are not traditionally known as bowling hotbeds. Conversation came up about bowling scores, the foreign-accented rock musicians ranged from 122-150, which were meager compared to Youngstown native Barker’s pre-injury above 250 Midwestern consistency. Barker’s birth weekend continued with the Washington Beach Bums, and the Bummers performing at his official Bday party the next day.