Two Indiana artists who view the world “just a little bit sideways,” in Carrie Newcomer’s terms, will perform together Saturday at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church. In her only Indianapolis concert this summer, singer/songwriter Newcomer will appear with author Phil Gulley for “In Word and Song,” an interweaving of their stories of the heartland.
Bloomington-based Newcomer has been touring since February with her newly released album The Geography of Light, and while she finds that every part of the country has its own appeal, Indiana audiences give her something more. “I’m very much a Midwestern gal at heart,” she says. “I love coming home and playing for the Midwestern audience. They get all the Hoosier jokes.”
The work of these artists is uniquely grounded in a sense of place, and both touch often on themes of community. Each artist will perform new material Saturday. Gulley’s current project is a memoir of growing up in Danville, and the new stories he will read stem from that effort. Newcomer will bring songs she created with Gulley’s readings as inspiration, along with tracks from Geography, the album she calls “the strongest and most focused work I’ve ever put out into this world.”
The duo has appeared together before, most notably on WFYI’s Festival of Friends: An Offering in Four Quaker Voices, with writers Scott Russell Sanders and J. Brent Bill. A shared sensibility and folksy sense of humor has made the pairing a crowd-pleaser.
“I love working with Philip,” Newcomer says. “I’ve really appreciated the threads that run through both of our work. The interweaving of some of my songs and music with the topics of his stories has been a very organic process. It’s never felt forced.”
“She’s fun; I just love her music,” says Gulley of Newcomer. “Actually I really envy her that she can say in one line what takes me a whole essay to convey.”
Newcomer, whose workshops have helped hundreds of people discern “what’s been tapping on their shoulder,” will also offer a vocational reflection workshop Sunday. “When the Soul’s Great Joy Meets the World’s Great Need” will guide participants toward unlocking their own heart’s desires.
Many people are wondering how to live a more fulfilling, authentic life, Newcomer says, and the key is nothing more than love. “In my experience we’re all born to love something. We can learn to do a lot of things well. We are creatures of opposable thumbs, after all. But our most potent work, our most potent contribution will always come out of the things we love.” Whether it’s art or activism, love is where the power is, she says.
Helping people recognize whatever it is that “makes them just thrill” is the intent of the workshop. Newcomer then strives to help them “open the picture” to new possibilities of expressing those gifts more fully.
She recognizes that taking the path of love is risky for many reasons. She counsels people to bring their creativity to bear on any practical obstacles. “If I’d thought the only way to be successful in music is to be the next Britney Spears, I would have bagged this a long time ago,” she points out.
“I’ve had the question, ‘Well, how can you afford to follow what you love?’ The only answer I really have is, ‘How can I afford not to?’ There’s different kinds of costs in this life. It would cost me a lot to not follow my heart.”
Acknowledging that these questions are sensitive, invoking people’s most cherished dreams, she emphasizes that the bottom line of her workshops is safety and compassion. “Transition is not easy, so it’s always approached with a certain kind of respect for where a person is right then and right there,” she says. The word “should” does not factor into the discussion.
Since Sunday’s workshop is relatively short, she plans to introduce tools and exercises to stir participants’ thought processes. One of the tools is Quaker Clearness, which she describes as a way of “mulling a question with a group” to help people find their own direction.
Former vocational reflection workshop participants often contact Newcomer later to tell her about changes in their lives. They may say, “That was a wonderful first step, and I’m in art school now,” she says. “Or, I’m still in the same job but now my boss is allowing me to do really creative work. Or, I’m still working on this one.
“People have always been very generous with me,” she says. “I do get a lot of letters and Emails; people let me know [the workshop was] a help or comfort, or opened a window they didn’t know was there.”
This kind of connectedness represents the kind of new/old sense of community that both Gulley and Newcomer tend to celebrate in their work.
Gulley says he senses Americans wanting to recover that ethos of belonging. “Boy, it seems like the social compact has taken a kick to the gut here in the past 10 years or so, and we need to … remember that we all belong to one another,” he says. “That was the genius of this country: We understood our obligations to one another. We held to the idea that we all sink or swim together.”
In her travels, Newcomer finds that people everywhere are doing their part to heal the world. “I think that if you pay attention to the news, it’s very easy to feel overwhelmed; there’s a lot of sorrows in the world, that’s true,” she says. “But I’m always inspired by the fact that in every community I go to, there are people working hard to make the world a better place. They don’t always get the front page and they don’t always even get the back page, but they’re there, in every community I go to without fail.”
Philip Gulley and Carrie Newcomer: In Word and Song
When: Saturday, 7:30-9:30 pm
Where: St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, 100 W 86th St
Finding and Following Our Life’s Deep Calling: Workshop with Carrie Newcomer
When: Saturday, 2:30-4:30 pm
Where: St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, 100 W 86th St
Registration: $30 (or $40 for both workshop and concert).
Information and tickets: 317-846-3404 x480.