The Art Inventory

Bret Fetzer Brings An Extended Moonshine Revival Back To WofL

by Kirby Lindsay Laney, posted 27 April 2017


The Moonshine Revival Tent returns to West of Lenin on April 30th, May 7th, May 14th and May 21st, all at 7p.  Print by Jessica Dodge

The Moonshine Revival Tent returns to West of Lenin on April 30th, May 7th, May 14th and May 21st, all at 7p. Print by Natalie Niblack

For four performances, on a ‘month’ of Sundays starting April 30th, the Moonshine Revival Tent returns to West of Lenin to present their latest American fairy tale, ‘Carny Girl.’  The creative, and harmonious, blending of original storytelling and live choral music have already given The Moonshine Revival Tent a strong fan base.  This quartet of performances will give more audience members opportunities to be charmed, enthralled and transported by this band-slash-theater company.

Previously, the Moonshine Revival Tent appeared, as if from the mists of time or tale, at WofL for only a single performance, or two.  This production will give audiences four evenings (at 7p on April 30th, May 7th, May 14th and May 21st,) in which to experience this unusual fusion of lush choral singing and sprightly, colorful storytelling, described once as ‘The Brothers Grimm meets O Brother Where Art Thou.’

“We kind of think of ourselves as a band,” described Moonshine Revival Tent co-founder Bret Fetzer, referring most likely to the way the small coterie of artists seamlessly weave together their music and narrative, each component illuminating the other.

‘Into The Darker Drives’

At these spring shows, audiences will be treated to a new fairy tale written by Fetzer:  ‘Carny Girl.’  Betsy, a Kansas girl, runs off to join a ramshackle set of rides, games and sideshows that travels around the Midwest.  She makes friends with the Tattooed Lady and the Anatomical Wonder when she finds herself as assistant to the sideshow barker.  When the Alligator Man becomes smitten with Betsy, in her sequined tights, his romantic pursuit turns perilous for our heroine.

This 'storytelling musical' will appear, briefly.  Go while you may....

This ‘storytelling musical’ will appear, briefly. Go while you may….

At its performances, the Moonshine Revival Tent will also revive one of its popular past fairy tales:  ‘The Trial of Pastor Goodson’, in which a fervent Rhode Island preacher takes his flock into a wilderness both spiritual and literal.  Each tale, with its accompany choral melodies, runs about 20 – 30 minutes, leaving time in the evening for an intermission, as well as a breath and buying of beverages in the WofL lobby.

Fetzer has written each of these American fairy tales with a specific setting in mind, and by drawing on his extensive knowledge of the art of classic fairy tales.  “I’ve been storytelling for 30 years now,” Fetzer explained, and he’s sunk himself deep into the library of traditional fairy tales, set in European forests, Arabian deserts and Asian mountainsides.  “Classical fairy tales are full of dark things,” Fetzer observed, “dreams, violence, sexual imagery, darkness and joy.”

Since the early 2000s, Fetzer has enjoyed crafting new fairy tales set in America, and incorporating our distinct iconography and cultural identities, asking himself each time about issues and obstacles that his American heroes and heroines would encounter.  He’s found writing these tales, “comes really organically to me.”  Having grown up in Texas and Kentucky, and watching the movies of the 1930s, his stories convey the struggle between good and evil, enveloped in a ‘half-dust bowl, half-Appalachia’ atmosphere.

Fetzer has set himself to write 50 original American fairy tales – one for each state in the Union.  “Setting the story in a particular state gives you a setting,” he explained, although it isn’t always a distinct part of the story.  Kansas has little influence upon the ‘Carny Girl,’ besides carnivals being more indigenous to the midwest, and a puritanical preacher, such as ‘Pastor Goodson’, may be more common to Rhode Island.  Fetzer intends to cover the countryside, seeking ways to showcase cultural markers from each region, even if only in small ways.

Experienced storyteller, and one of the talented minds behind The Moonshine Revival Tent, Bret Fetzer.  Photo by Kelly O.

Experienced storyteller, and one of the talented minds behind The Moonshine Revival Tent, Bret Fetzer. Photo by Kelly O.

Ultimately though, fairy tales focus on characters, and taking audiences, Fetzer explained, “beyond the glossy definition of what we ‘should’ be, and into the darker drives.”  A fairy tale must strike a balance, he observed, “between being abstract and concrete in terms of action.  The characters are a little abstract, based on their roles in society.”  Fairy tale characters can be more icon than psychological, and their fates draw on the capriciousness of reality.

In his fairy tales Fetzer also acknowledged that, “I personally avoid morals.”  Historically, “a lot of morals were imposed on fairy tales later on,” he observed, “I think morals are kind of reductive.”  In his collection, “I try to let the stories work out organically,” he explained.  His character’s stories find resolution, and reach conclusion, but not necessarily one that includes a happy little bow drawn on the ending.  “They end up where they end,” he said, “I’m trying to write the stories for the characters that didn’t have a happy ending.”

While Fetzer writes the stories, under the Moonshine Revival Tent they are transformed through a collaborative effort.  Fetzer writes stories and songs, and Sari Breznau (of Circus Contraption fame,) with Eric Padget (her collaborator on pop/punk band Future Fridays,) composes original music, mostly for voice but occasional to be accompanied by banjo or glockenspiel.  Breznau along with singers Christine Longé and Jillian Vashro, provide the chorus when ‘the band’ perform plus, at these performances, guest singer Mike Gilson.

“Songs are part of the story,” Fetzer explained about the Moonshine Revival Tent’s ‘storytelling musicals.’  With singers as strong as Breznau, it makes sense to compose music that emphasizes the voice, but Fetzer acknowledged that, “some instruments give a little flavor.  They help the singers hit their notes,” he joked, “and they give a framework.”  Overall, in the final performance the music and the storytelling interweave, as the songs support the story and vice versa.

The Moonshine Revival Tent mixes song and story, with the talents of Christine Longe, Jillian Vashro, Eric Padget, Sari Breznau, surrounding storyteller Bret Fetzer.  Photo by Ian Johnston

The Moonshine Revival Tent mixes song and story, with the talents of Christine Longe, Jillian Vashro, Eric Padget, Sari Breznau, surrounding storyteller Bret Fetzer. Photo by Ian Johnston

‘Incredibly Fun’

According to Fetzer, Moonshine Revival Tent actually began with Breznau, who commissioned him, about five years ago, to help create a piece for a family chorus of 40 – 50 people that she worked with.  “It was incredibly fun,” Fetzer recalled of crafting a tale specifically for singers to tell.  The positive experience inspired both artists to create more opportunities to mix song and story, although with a smaller, more sustainable chorus.

The new Moonshine Revival Tent began with two stories, ‘A Mother’s Prayers’ and ‘17 Debutantes’, performed at Annex Theatre.  Meeting a receptive, enthused audience the performers were invited to assemble more shows for West of Lenin, by its founder A.J. Epstein.  The well-equipped black box theater has given the Moonshine Revival Tent a solid place to perform.  It’s particularly ideal for a ‘band’ that requires no sets or elaborate staging, allowing them to perform in the midst of other productions (including the current run of Nike Imoru’s ‘Ode’ at WofL.)

Make Time To Experience This ‘Revival’

“They sing,” Fetzer explained about the workings of the Moonshine Revival Tent, “I tell stories.”  Stirring imaginations with original music and well-crafted stories, these shows offer everyone a glimpse into another world – very close to home.

“We’re building our repertoire,” Fetzer said, and while they will perform ‘Pastor Goodson’ at this outing, it is never a sure thing that audiences will get a second chance to see and hear a favorite story perform.  Make time now to attend!

See the premiere of ‘Carny Girl,’ while you can; order tickets through the West of Lenin website, or, as long as seats last, through the box office.  Tickets cost only $15 per person, with a Pay-What-You-Can performance on May 7th.

Four shows offer more opportunities than audiences usually enjoy for these evenings of American fairy tales and music.  It is a chance not to be squandered.  After May 21st, the Moonshine Revival Tent will pull its stakes and move on, leaving like a specter from one of its stories, and laying aside the tales of ‘Carny Girl’ and ‘Pastor Goodson’ for another time, if we are lucky…




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©2017 Kirby Laney.  This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws.  Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.


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