Bridger Hanging Up His Buckskins

by Melissa Tatum

 

 

“Bridger has written and performed the American Iliad and Odyssey; it is the story of the settlement of the American west in verse.”

Dr. Paul Fees,
Former Senior Curator, Buffalo Bill Historical Center

After thirty-eight years of performances all over the globe, why has Bridger made the decision to hang up his buckskins? A well-known lyric from Bridger’s Kerrville Folk Festival anthem Heal in the Wisdom perhaps best answers the question: “there is a reason, there is a rhyme, there is a season, and there is a time”.

The last public performance of Bobby Bridger’s highly-acclaimed one man show of his epic trilogy, A Ballad of the West is scheduled to take place at Fort Bridger State Historical Site Fort Bridger, Wyoming on July 4, 2011. Immediately following that final concert Bridger will deliver his beaded buckskin costumes and coyote headdress, as well as sample CDs, DVDs, books, posters, and other memorabilia on indefinite loan to the archives of the Fort Bridger Historical Association for museum display.

 

“There have been other efforts to capture what the west really meant to those who once lived it. And I am certain that, in the future, there will be others who strive to climb over that emotional-historical mountain searching for the other side of time. But I sincerely doubt that anyone will so completely capture the spirit of time and place as Bobby Bridger has done in Seekers of the Fleece. It is a triumph over time and space as all spiritual synthesis must be. And, when such an experience is achieved, it has (as the Indians know) a healing spirit that reaffirms the best of what we are and what we can be.”

The Healing Spirit, Lakota philosopher Vine Deloria, Jr.
Introduction to the first publication of the lyrics of A Ballad of the West in Four Winds magazine in 1981

A Ballad of the West in Four Winds magazine in 1981 “I’ve devoted most of my creative life to completing A Ballad of the West and that dream has been accomplished,” Bridger says when he is asked about retiring performances of his acclaimed works. “I’ve interpreted the ballads as recordings, in books, as one-man shows, as full-company musical productions, and as DVDs. In the past year alone I’ve released a four-hour, multi-disc, boxed DVD set of the trilogy, featuring an hour-long documentary film, Quest of an Epic Balladeer, based on my life and work on the ballads, and an autobiography chronicling the evolution of A Ballad of the West. I’m sixty-five years old now and I want to work on other things. For example, I have another major musical that I’ve repeatedly had to shove to the back burner for decades in order to properly develop A Ballad of the West. We did two separate workshops of Aldebaran and the Falling Star at the National Theater Institute back in the 1980s and I produced several chamber piece stagings of the piece before work on the annual full-company productions of A Ballad of the West in Wyoming took my focus from the space musical. Now, however, my son Gabriel has studied voice, opera, and musical theater for years and we intend to complete a recording of Aldebaran and the Falling Star working together as a team. I also want to write and produce more recordings in the contemporary folk style and I always need more time to continue to paint and sculpt. I’m already structuring an outline for a new album now and hope to have it out by the time of that last performance of Seekers of the Fleece and Lakota in July 2011.”

Bridger is making make this announcement a full year ahead of time in order to give theaters, western museums, universities, and house concert series enough time to arrange a last performance of the one man shows. Those interested in seeing Seekers of the Fleece or Lakota performed before July 4, 2011 should be informed that now is the time to do it.

 

“Bridger is a Shakespeare of the American west.”

George C. White,
Founder, Eugene O’Neill Theater Center,
First Chairman, Sundance Institute

Bridger is particularly interested in performing his last tour of the one man shows where they truly began –in people’s homes. In 1974 Bridger took his historical epic ballads to the Creek Theater in Austin, costumed himself in the beaded buckskins of mountain men and American Indians, created his epic balladeer narrator, and molded the work into a starkly unique trilogy of one man shows. After a successful fifteen-week run of Parts One and Three of the trilogy, Seekers of the Fleece and Lakota, Bridger embarked on what was in those days a journey into unexplored territory. Costumed as an American mountain man, he began performing the one-man theatrical shows in people’s homes. In June 1973 Bridger headed to Wyoming performing his one man shows in tiny towns, on Indian reservations, in barns, on front porches, but more often than not, in their living rooms. By the early 1980s Bridger had criss-crossed America many times over and created a truly unique niche for himself in the world of folk music and theater, as well as in Indian country.

 

“Bridger has carved out a unique and captivating place for himself in our culture. A dramatist and a songwriter, an actor and a singer, a historian and a contemporary recording artist; Bridger speaks with and sings with the many voices of the west, old and new.

A Ballad of the West makes you listen, makes you learn and makes you dream.”

Alan Menken,
Playwright/Composer, Little Shop of Horrors

When Bridger took his theatrical performances into living rooms throughout America in 1975 he already had been working on A Ballad of the West for twelve years. In 1963, after having learned of a possible relationship with mountain man Jim Bridger, he began an exploration of the American west that has directed his five decade career as a musician and singer/songwriter. After writing, producing, and recording in Nashville and Hollywood for Monument and RCA Records, by 1970 Bridger had completed his first historical epic ballad in heroic couplets. Part One of A Ballad of the West was based on the life of Jim Bridger and titled Seekers of the Fleece. By 1973 Bridger had completed a second epic ballad titled Lakota, based on the life of Lakota Holy Man Black Elk and the Indian Wars. Around this time Bridger came to the realization that the recording industry would never be receptive to the new form he had created. After Bridger and the late Slim Pickens (the narrator of the recording of Seekers of the Fleece), played a cassette tape of an early demo of “Seekers” for their friend and quintessential record industry rebel, Willie Nelson, the Red- Headed Stranger’s poetic response was, “You sure do like to swim upstream Bobby.” True to Willie’s perception, Bridger had at that point already departed the commercial record industry and embarked upon a career that is without a doubt unique by any standards. Few artists have performed in beaded buckskins and coyote headdress for the stone age Aboriginals of Central Australia and under flags depicting the likeness of Vladimir Lenin in Soviet Russia all within the period of one year.

 

“A Ballad of the West is poetry to be chanted, sung and acted. It calls to mind the great mavericks Whitman, Sandburg and Earl Robinson. The form is speechsong, written for both eye and ear. It also happens to be electrifying theater.”

Dale Wasserman,
Playwright, Man of LaMancha

Now, after touring these acclaimed shows all over the planet for nearly four decades Bridger has arranged to celebrate his retirement of A Ballad of the West with a year of performances. If you are interested in arranging a performance of Bridger’s one man show’s for a folk festival, theater, museum, university, high school, or house concert please contact me immediately. The sooner you contact me the more likely that we can arrange a performance. These will be the last performances of a truly unique American art form and Bobby’s calendar will most likely fill up fast. I will accept booking proposals until May 1, 2011.

Melissa Tatum
Melissa@bobbybridger.com
713-726-0512

 

“Bobby Bridger’s A Ballad of the West trilogy –deeply felt and passionately expressed- is a treasure of the American spirit.”

Bill Witliff
Screenwriter/producer, Lonesome Dove

 

“A Ballad of the West is as close to a Homeric interpretation of the American west as you’re going to get. It’s written in rhyming couplets, 30 songs composed of some 2,000 lines of verse. Instead of the siege of Troy, you have the Battle of Little Big Horn. Instead of Ulysses, you have Jim Bridger.”

Houston Press

 

“...the ballads incarnate a cast of thousands in the person of one person and two guitars. A Ballad of the West is at once a remedial history lesson, a splendid and romantic entertainment and a triumph of the creative imagination...without a peer in modern culture.”

John T. Davis,
Austin American-Statesman

 

“What came aimed directly at my heart was pure magic. A magic superseding words and tunes, an invocation of deep feeling...This is the magic of Bobby Bridger’s A Ballad of the West...a magic that suggests that the richest storied fleece we still have to discover lies in the yet unplumbed psychic resources of America today.”

Frank Waters
author The Man Who Killed the Deer, and The Book of the Hopi

 

“A Ballad of the West leaves me breathless -scope, imagination, heart, and above all the daring to reach for everything and seize it.”

Win Blevins
author Give Your Heart To The Hawks, and Stone Song

 

“Bridger is a true balladeer with a background of professionalism in music and the history of the period…”

Dee Brown
author, Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee

 

“A Ballad of the West a wonderful piece of Americana based on a grand and majestic part of our historical background. It is thoroughly original and exciting in its concept.”

Alvin Josephy
Founding Editor, American Heritage Magazine

 

“A Ballad of the West blends history, music, poetry and fundamental values. Most important, it tells us something of who we are and how we got here.”

Sam Stanley
Center for the Study of Man,
The Smithsonian Institution

 

“...a ‘tour de’ force’ of the western experience!”

Vine Deloria, Jr.
author Custer Died For Your Sins, God Is Red

 



 

 

 

 

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