At 2001's Culture Under Fire celebration, the hometown act and the de facto headliner are one and the same. Kansas City native Iris DeMent's early-'90s gems Infamous Angel and My Life remain solid sellers on a national scale. (Both rank in Amazon.com's top 700, with Angel making the top ten in Fairbanks, Alaska; Charleston, West Virginia; and Annapolis, Maryland.) The country- and folk-fluent singer/songwriter joins an eclectic blend of performance artists, writers, filmmakers and dancers in the Big Bang Buffet show Your Mother Should Know.
Though she's critically acclaimed and well-known in singer/songwriter circles, DeMent still isn't a household name, which makes her the type of artist Culture Under Fire aims to celebrate. "So many incredible artists are totally ignored by major companies," says Free Speech Coalition president Kevin Dowd. "Ignoring the voices that don't sell constitutes economic censorship, and that leads to the homogenization of culture."
While DeMent built her reputation on her earlier works, it's 1996's The Way I Should that establishes her as an ideal fit for Culture Under Fire. On this landmark album, she decorates her songs with fuller arrangements and shifts her lyrical focus from poignant emotional examinations to often-acerbic social commentary. "Quality Time" offers an American Beauty-style critique of suburban life; "Wasteland of the Free" delivers a withering assessment of the religious right's influence; and "There's a Wall in Washington" pays heartfelt tribute to fallen veterans. Some critics, feeling betrayed after DeMent evolved from the sound they'd embraced, accused her of selling out to the Nashville machine, but The Way is actually a risky album, a major-label gamble that lost her some fans while intensifying her respect in other circles.
DeMent appears in act one of the show and will perform three songs, but she might show up later in the evening as well. Although Your Mother Should Know is technically a string of individual performances rather than a continuous show with one cohesive plot, performance artist and Big Bang Buffet organizer Mark Manning says there's plenty of interaction among the participants. "Video artists are collaborating with several individuals, and musical artists are collaborating with visual and/or literary artists. During our experimental piece called 'Five Minutes of ... Bare Back,' artists will paint, writers will read their work and a musician will play his diggery-do. Each individual will interpret the theme in his or her own style, all within the boundary of five minutes. When the time is up, the piece is finished. One of our musical performers is using actors to participate in her piece, and in past shows a writer has written a scene that involved all performers together."
Joining DeMent as musical components of the Your Mother Should Know cast are Charlie Colborne, a member of the Sleazebeats who will perform solo on keyboards and guitar; the house band sKY bURIAL, which uses various percussion and rhythm instruments to concoct complex songs that blend the steady rumble of tribal drum circles with the infectious danceability of spacy electronica; double threat Michelle Cotton, an actress who also bills herself as "Kansas City's most cynical singer/songwriter"; and hip-hop artists Bianca Hopkins and ClusterFunk. Other featured performers include Manning, dancer/actor/choreographer David Ollington, writer/activist Tom Kerr, performance artists Lourdes Simone, Laura Lee and Josie Sullivan, artists Michael Toombs and B.J. McBride, writer Sandra K. Davies, actor/director Paul Burns, video artists Nate Bogert, Mark Weinberg and Tivoni Devor, activist Miss G.G. Owens and Poet Diva Sharon Eiker. The show takes place Friday, May 11, at 9 p.m. at the Hobbs Building, 1427 W. Ninth Street in the West Bottoms. Admission is five dollars (just try to see Iris DeMent anywhere for less), and kiddies be warned: This show contains nudity (which suggests some artist might embrace literal interpretations of the "Bare Backs" theme) and adult situations.
A hip-hop show at The Hurricane starring The Guild (a crew of gifted lyricists formerly known as the Essays), DJ Just and 7 Fold Symphony (a down-for-the-cause hip-hop ensemble that's a fixture at benefit shows and protest rallies) kicks off the Culture Under Fire schedule on Thursday night.