Bombadil – Music Ambassadors: Macon

Bombadil - photo by Andy Carter

Bombadil – photo by Andy Carter

More than 75 people gathered at a historic home on Orange Street earlier this month for an intimate performance by the North Carolina folk-pop band, Bombadil, whose text-driven music complimented paintings on display by local artist Carol Dodd Porter.

This concert was the first in a series of at least six as a part of the Music Ambassadors program. Funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the program seeks to revive Macon’s music scene by inviting nationally and regionally known artists to stay, perform, and experience all that the city has to offer.

Each concert is held in a private historic home in the College Hill Corridor. Local visual artists are paired with bands for a unique cultural experience that benefits the Historic Macon Foundation, the Macon Art Alliance, and Georgia Public Broadcasting.

THE HOUSE

306 Orange Street has not always been the home of Heather and Andy Moore. Andy Moore said his research revealed the house was originally a wedding gift built for the Lawton family around 1880 before it became a boarding house. The sturdy old-style balloon framing includes 40-foot-long beams extending from the first floor to the attic.

The Moores, who are in their 20s, have lived in the spacious three-story home for about two and a half years.

“The first time we saw it we had to walk on beams across the front porch because it was rotted out,” Heather said. “So it took some imagination.”

The couple, both Mercer University Alumni, said Historic Macon saved the house and they signed a contract to stick around for the rehabilitation process.

“It really is affordable to live downtown and live in these homes,” Heather Moore said. “Tax credits and working with experts like Historic Macon make it that way.”

The Moores said the mortgage on their house is more affordable than their north Macon apartment and has about four times more space.

Fans of live music and paintings by Carol Dodd Porter, Heather Moore said they were both attracted to the program’s mission and eager to help organizations they care about.

The front rooms of the house served as a gallery for Porter’s paintings. Bombadil performed in the back yard, where the Moonhanger Catering group served drinks and hors d’oeuvres.

THE BAND

Music by Bombadil, the eclectic trio from Durham, North Carolina is frequently described as quirky folk-pop. Their sound is said to have harmonic flavors similar to the Avett Brothers, the Decemberists and Simon & Garfunkle.

Daniel Michalak, who plays bass and ukulele, and Stuart Robinson, who plays the piano, met in 2002 while playing frisbee on the first day of college at Duke University. Three years later, Bombadil was born.

The name comes from Tom Bombadil, a proto-hippie character in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of The Rings” series. Michalak and Stuart said they don’t remember exactly why their friend suggested the name.”

“I suppose it was because our music sounded like something he would sing,” said Michalak.

The four original members were Daniel, Stuart, Brian, a classmate, and John, Daniel’s brother. The group recorded an EP and an album together until John went to medical school and Brian to business school.

Michalak said they put an ad on Craigslist and found drummer James Phillips. The trio has since recorded three albums together.

Bombadil – “Oto the Bear” – Live at Mercer Village

Bombadil – “Learning to Let Go” – Live at Music Ambassadors

In 2007, Michalak said he started to feel pain in his hands while he was doing computer work in school. In spring 2009, the pain became unbearable. He had nerve damage.

“I couldn’t eat and brush my teeth and do normal things,” said Michalak. “So I said, ‘this is enough. I should stop. Music is great but it’s not that great.’ So I stopped and I didn’t do anything for about two years…”

Michalak saw a lot of doctors and tried meditation, counseling, acupuncture, physical therapy and changing diets. The only thing that seemed to work was rest, so he did.

During his hiatus, he walked, had a garden, saw his parents a lot more, and got a cat. Now that he is able to go on tour, he’s careful not to overdo it.

“I still have trouble with it but we just try not to play as much.”

The band tries to take a week off every month.

In a free afternoon performance in Mercer Village, Bombadil played several songs for passers-by, who lingered to listen to their harmonies despite the overcast weather.

The evening concert on Orange Street was intimate and casual. For the price of a $10 ticket, the show was a steal.

Bombadil explained the roots of a few songs and told short stories about someone or something in each of their lives that inspired their music. One song told the life story of a man in about three minutes.

“Originally called ‘90 in 90,’ it was a challenge to tell 90 years of someone’s life in 90 seconds,” said Phillips, before playing “Born at 5.” “We took a little longer than that.”

They performed several songs from their 2009 album, Tarpits and Canyonlands, as well as from their most recent album, Metrics of Affection, which was released in July.

The trio created different moods and connected with the audience by changing their sound. Songs performed with the ukulele and voice, piano and voice, and a couple of acapella trios evoked a range of emotions from the audience.

They performed a song about sad birthdays, the futility of thinking negatively and even one about an older lady who used to be their neighbor.

“Honeymoon” was among my personal favorites. The rustic sound of acoustic strums combined with piano crescendos and vocal harmonies fit uniquely with lyrics about the reality of marriage after a honeymoon.

As intriguing as the first line of any great book, the song begins, “Throw the body in the lake and take a chance that no one finds out.”

The line, “Your life is books you never wrote and tote only for money” reminded me of Carol Dodd Porter’s work “5 GR8 Books”.

The importance of writing text is recognized by both artists. Like Bombadil, Porter finds the fabric of life in lyrics and between pages full of text.

THE ARTIST

Carol Dodd Porter has been painting for 20 years, but until she sold her first painting last year, she painted only for pleasure or for charities.

She began using creative text in her work to inspire her four sons.

“It started with me writing backwards on the bathroom wall, so when they brushed their teeth they would see these empowering messages that would help them make great decisions in life,” said Porter. “And then I decided to just put them into my paintings.”

Porter weaves hand-written text through faces, scenes, and symbols in all of her paintings.

“I think for art to truly represent the time in which it’s painted you have to mimic life,” said Porter. “And how could you mimic the life that we’re all living right now if you didn’t use text?”

A series of oil paintings she calls “mental portraits” are life stories on canvas.

“I would interview someone and I would do their life story in these multicolored paintings,” Porter said.

Though the work is tedious, she paints over the oil again and again to create layers and add texture. She uses materials ranging from sand to house paint to the finest acrylic paint.

As a way to honor her children and tag her work, she includes a sunshine for each of her sons in all of her oil paintings.

Experimenting with different materials is something Porter is not afraid to do.

“One time I used the blue chalk that you use to mark a line in a construction zone,” she said. “Anything that I think might work well with paint, I use…”

Porter said she tries to find a way to deliver peace through her paintings while still maintaining their chaotic characters.

“I tried to think, ‘Well, I need to mimic the most chaotic thing in the world that brings mankind the most peace.’ And that’s the Ocean.”

Inspiring messages are tied together in the waves of her all-white acrylic paintings. Porter said she hopes people will look for messages of peace within those chaotic waves.

Some might say that painting is in her blood.

“I wanted to be an artist but my parents were dead set against it,” said Porter, who majored in Psychology. “They did not tell me I was kin to Lamar Dodd until after I graduated college.”

The Lamar Dodd School of Art at the University of Georgia was named in memory of her great grandfather’s brother, Lamar Dodd, a reputable Southern painter.

Before she began painting full-time, Porter was the Democratic nominee in the 2010 election for Lieutenant Governor of Georgia. She now works from her home in Montrose, Georgia. And, if you haven’t guessed, she’s an avid reader.

The 5 foot tall painting “5 GR8 Books”, was a part Porter’s “mental portraits” series.

“They [books] take on almost a human-like presence in your life, “ Porter said.

Central messages from Madame Bovary, As I Lay Dying, Crime and Punishment, Of Mice and Men and Brave New World were distilled to one sentence per book. A continuous line of text weaves through faces, colors, objects, and abstract design. Porter said the take-home messages are in the twists and turns.

Hidden symbols are found in many of her works.

“If you see eyes, to me, those represent times that you have learned something or seen something and you’ve brought it into your being. But if you see a window in one of my paintings, that means you saw something but you didn’t really bring it inside.”

Triangles, kites, and faces are among other symbols Porter uses to create complexity.

“I’m constantly searching for what I call ‘overlapping thoughts’,” she said. “Whenever you see a thought repeated in literature throughout the ages, you might want to consider accepting it as a universal truth. ‘As a man thinketh so is he’ is another quote I have seen over and over. So I try to find those universal truths and use them in my paintings because I want them to be as true as possible.”

Porter painted a special piece in honor of the concert series that incorporates lyrics by Bombadil. It was sold the night of the concert.

The next Music Ambassadors concert on Oct. 28  features Speech, co-founder of the hip hop group Arrested Development. He will perform at 6:30 p.m. in a house on Arlington Place. The concert will also feature beatbox artist HeaveN Beatbox and local artist Heatherly Wakefield. Tickets are $20 in advance and $30 at the door, if available.

Laura Corley is a journalist working with Art Matters: Engaging the Community through Embedded Arts Journalists, a collaboration between the Macon Arts Alliance and Mercer’s Center for Collaborative Journalism. This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts, Art Works. Matching funding provided by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The journalists in the program will be spend time with arts and arts organizations in the Macon area through June, report what they discover, and foster ongoing conversations about the arts in Middle Georgia.

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