Rabble-rousing performance poet coming to PT

Rainshadow Recording hosts story-telling artist

Posted 8/7/19

The son of a Baptist preacher from rural Georgia who cut his teeth on punk rock music, Chris Chandler is one of a kind.

“My first love is American …

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Rabble-rousing performance poet coming to PT

Rainshadow Recording hosts story-telling artist

Posted

The son of a Baptist preacher from rural Georgia who cut his teeth on punk rock music, Chris Chandler is one of a kind.

“My first love is American folk music and I am probably the worst guitar player to ever make a living at it,” he said.

But the guitar was never the point. It was the storytelling, Chandler said.

As a teenager, Chandler spent much of his time hanging around bars and on the road working as a roadie for bands such as the Georgia Satellites.

In the summer of ‘88, after graduating from the North Carolina School of the Performing Arts, Chandler set out as a street performer to fund his way to audition as a lighting designer in theaters across America, he said.

He made his way to New York City and got a job on Broadway.

“I started writing plays,” he said. “I wanted to produce them.”

While not on the job, Chandler started standing on street corners reciting monologues he had written.

“People looked at me like I was crazy,” he said. “I went to a thrift store and got myself a guitar and I didn’t even know how to play. I just held it and that made me a folk singer.”

Chandler also realized he could cash in on his southern drawl when in Yankee territory.

“I came from a generation where they tried to get rid of your southern accent,” he said. “They successfully did that.”

Fast forward to when he was living in his car on the streets of Boston as a young man.

“I found if I said anything with a southern accent people would stop in their tracks,” Chandler said. “People in Harvard Square and all these super smart people never heard anybody with a southern accent say anything intelligent. I started pulling out that weapon and it has served me ever since.”

preacher’s kid to punk rock

Originally from Stone Mountain, Chandler grew up in a very conservative household.

“My father did die when I was very young, but I was raised in the church with a fire and brimstone sort of message,” he said. “I still consider myself a God-fearing agnostic.”

Getting out of his small hometown as a teenager in the early 80s, Chandler made his way to Atlanta, where he ran stage lighting at the 688 Club.

“The 688 club was a fairly famous punk club,” Chandler said.

In the scene, Chandler said he was able to connect with Screeching Weasel, and toured with them as a lighting specialist.

“They were the greatest.”

Decades away now from the heyday of 1980s punk rock, Chandler has noticed a trend among former punks: they have moved in a folk music direction.

“I have always thought punk rock and folk were very similar,” he said. “Woody Guthrie was the original punk rocker. One time I did a song swap with John Doe from X and Joey Shithead from DOA. They have all gone folk now.”

Steeped in punk rock, and a lifetime lover of folk, Chandler has incorporated some of the classics into his show.

“Why don’t you go back to some of the music of your youth?” he said. “We are doing acoustic versions of Sex Pistols and Iggy Pop and X, stripping them down for their songs. We are not using the jangly guitars and power chords. We are turning them back into songs and telling stories on top of them.”

Show at Fort Worden

Chandler will bring such stripped down punk songs out for a show-and-tell during his upcoming show at Rainshadow Recording.

“It has been a while since I have been to Port Townsend,” he said. “I am pretty excited about coming back. I used to go up there once a year, but I hadn’t played there in about five or six years.”

During his performances, Chandler does not play an instrument. He leaves that to professionals, he said.

“Somebody suggested I set the guitar down and stop singing and just tell stories. That is what I did. I found people who can play with me so I get backed up by some of the best musicians around.”

Everett Moran, owner of Rainshadow Recording, said Chandler’s performances are truly unique.

“In a world full of artists who weave social commentary into their performances, Chris Chandler stands alone. To anyone looking for a hand-holding, everyone-love-one-another, Kumbaya-type evening, this is not the show for you.”

It’s not that Chandler doesn’t believe in the power of universal love and kindness, it’s just that he recognizes that times like these necessitate a rather more aggressive approach, Moran said.

“A serial activist and protester, he challenges us all to acknowledge and combat the ever-increasing, institutional avarice and bigotry that is all around us,” Moran said.

Remarkably, Chandler manages to do so with prodigious humor and sarcasm, putting him in a class with Lenny Bruce and George Carlin but in a musical setting, Moran said.

“A lot of people think my show is funny,” Chandler said. “I am the least funny person offstage you’ll ever meet. I think humor is a powerful weapon. If you can get people laughing and thinking then maybe there is a chance to make a change.”

Chandler promises a show to remember.

“I don’t really know too many people who do this combination of storytelling and song,” he said. “In style, it is as old as communication. But, I think it has that sort of timeless edge to them as well.”

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