How Musician Ben Hunter Found His Roots in Folk Art

How Musician Ben Hunter Found His Roots in Folk Art
Musician Ben Hunter. Photo Credit: Steve Korn

Ben Hunter (he/him) makes music. He makes art. He makes the world a better place to be—in every sense and connotation of the word "make." Ben and I see eye to eye on many things, but the one truth that most resonates with me is that we both know that the Arts (as in capital A, inclusive) are ESSENTIAL. 

'Folk and traditional artist' genuinely encompasses his ethic and his stewardship of being 'for the people.' Ben's community development work, paired with his ability to express a multitude of layers through story and song, draws folklife back to its origins of everyday survival and creativity.

Tell us about your journey as an artist and activist/organizer; what has connected it all together or along the way?

I remember being in college and realizing the bounty of opportunity and learning and journeying by choosing to go down the “arts” path. 

I was originally pre-med, while also studying music, but when I made the turn to become just a music major, I started taking more philosophy classes, politics, creative writing, critical theory, etc. 

It became clear to me that by studying music, I had the opportunity to explore all sorts of roads and routes and valleys and crevices. Not that pre-med was one path, necessarily, but it was kind of boring and predictable. 

With arts it could be just like the movies and adventure shows. Haha, maybe not ‘just like.’ There would be something new and exciting and unexpected. Like a puzzle that keeps changing. (If you can’t tell, I love sci--fi, adventure, and fairytales!)

More than anything though, these seemingly disparate fields of study were all connected. In practice, this journey has led to what I consider an event horizon in our society.  Music and art are the base layer for everything else. They are the griots for the world’s stories. 

The more music I explored, the more people I talked to, the more books I read about politics or civics, the more song lyrics I listened to, the more fables I read, the more I dived into community development, the more advocacy I did, it became as clear as day that art, particularly folk art (which in my opinion everything starts out as, before it’s ever pop art), is the ultimate way to understand our movement forward as a people, as a society, as a polity, towards equity and progress. 

What inspires you to keep working as a creative, especially after a year like 2020?

I just open my eyes. All the inspiration one needs. Do I get down, and unmotivated? Of course. But vacillations are a part of life. 

2020 was an incredible year. 2021 continues to challenge and push us. The time is ripe to transition out of the kind of consumerism that exploits, and into the kind of economy that supports, cherishes and empathizes with our neighbors. 

We need new answers. We need new solutions. Ironically, I believe the answers aren’t new at all. Just covered up. Shoved to the back of our minds. I think we can climb out of this mess and really demonstrate not just the power of the creative, but the resilience, the invention, and the balance of the creative.  

What do you wish that people knew on a deeper level about the work that you do?

I consider myself successful, but not with the measurements that we “traditionally” use. 

I’m successful in that the work I’ve done has created bridges, new partnerships, new friendships, new relationships. Some of those relationships are to be expected, but some of them you wouldn’t expect. 

My work is a slow stew. It won’t happen tomorrow. But I’ll wear you down. I have Republican friends, oil drilling friends, gun toting friends. I’ve got PETA friends, -hippy friends, and tree loving friends. I’ve got hillbilly friends, and city slicker friends. The work that I’ve been able to do and be successful doing has all come from an insistence on knowing more about people. That’s what music taught me. 

People play the violin everywhere in the world. Or at least some version of one. They play it a little bit differently, with slightly different intonations, rhythms, inflections, slides, dynamics, bravado, but they all have to put a bow to a string to play it. At some point in history, they all discovered that through this particular type of friction, beautiful music could be created.  

I’m not afraid of a conversation, whether it’s heated or fluffy, and the amount that you can learn about someone, or even yourself, by having that conversation can be the difference between progress and regress.  

There are infinite ways to have a conversation, and that’s what my work strives to do. Uncover all the ways we can engage with each other. It’s actually really fun! I’ve basically described going to a party and striking up a conversation with someone. Over a martini and a crab cake. OR, a beer and a brat. OR some ‘shine and some bbq. Or I guess also a coffee and a pastry.

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