October 2009 Musician in Residence

Executive Director Eric Holowacz conducts a long-distance interview with Val Wisecracker

They discuss her life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, as well as the upcoming residency and performance at TSKW.

I’m relatively new to South Florida, and first heard you performing and talking on public radio. It was a fun interview, and it made me think about local folk and roots music, people who pick up a guitar and let loose a protest song, grab a banjo or fiddle and join a few friends on a Saturday night, and keep a certain kind of music tradition alive. Tell me about your background and place in South Florida’s folk community…

My great grandparents came to Hallandale Florida in 1904 and my grandmother, a botanist, graduated from Florida State when it was a women’s college. She introduced me early on to the Florida environmental movement. I’ve always played music and written songs, starting with a toy piano, and then working my way through violin, ukulele, guitar, banjo and whatever else I could get my hands on. I’m sometimes called Miami’s “original Mother Folker,” and I’ve always loved being a part of the Florida traditional as well as folk and acoustic music scene, both on and off stage.

You describe yourself as a “songteller.” Can you explain what that means?

I tell stories and I sing songs. Some songs need stories, some stories need songs, some don’t. Put it all together and it spells “songteller.”

Is there a folk and acoustic tradition in the Keys, and I’m talking more American roots rather than the Latin and Caribbean vibe.

I grew up in a time when the Keys were linked musically to our own Coconut Grove. So many soon to be famous folk artists came through the Grove and ended up in the Keys…Fred Neil…Shel Silverstein, back when he was more a songwriter and cartoonist…Crosby…Stills… David Allan Coe. Jerry Jeff Walker was the one who brought Jimmy Buffett from the Grove to the Keys, even though long time South Florida folk fixture Bob Ingram advised Jimmy that “heading to Key West would be a dumb career move.” Sooner or later any artist worth their salt will pass through Key West.

You’ve penned some witty, sometimes acerbic songs about certain social ills and problems in paradise. And you take a pronounced “Don’t mess with Florida” stance. Tell me about your personal advocacy and the things most dear to you.

My songs encourage folks to take responsibility for their actions—be it in big or small ways. But rather than preach, I prefer to poke fun at the problems. What’s most dear to me? The water that surrounds the land and fills the swamps of Florida, and the people who call it their home. That’s really what it’s all about.

You’ve performed all over Florida, from small venues in out-of-the-way towns to large festivals in the main cities. What are some of your favorite things out on the road, and most gratifying experiences as a full-time Florida folkie?

It’s great fun exposing people to a Florida they would never know unless they heard me singing about it. Outlaw cracker towns, crazy people, funny animals, some of them corporate!

We’re looking forward to hosting your residency in October, and presenting you on our small stage as we celebrate the opening of our 2009/2010 season on Saturday, October 17. Can you let us in on what you’ll be performing for Key West, and what our creative community is in for?

I’ll be bringing old and new stories and songs about our Sunshine state of confusion. They aren’t pop songs. Each one is an adventure into uncharted waters, probably not like anything you’ve ever heard before. Count on them bringing a little chuckle to your life.

While you are in residence at The Studios of Key West, resting and rejuvenating, what do you hope to accomplish creatively? Any new songs, subjects, musical investigations?

In typical Key West fashion, I’ll be playing it by ear. I hope to take a little bit of Key West away with me to share with others. Now please, bring me another Mojito.

The Studios of Key West