August 15, 2019

“1969” / Back To Woodstock: A Conversation With American Nomads

American Nomads

Mike Ragogna: When one thinks about the concept of an American nomad, one might conjure Jack Kerouac, Louis L’Amour, and Henry Thoreau. Do you relate to figures like that philosophically or metaphorically as a definition of your musical approach?

Susan Darmiento: The idea of an American Nomad actually pre-dates Kerouac and L’Amour by over a decade, to the 1930s where in Kerouac’s generation being on the road was the manifestation of the American free spirit. American Nomads, better known as hobos, traveled the country by rail looking for work during the Great Depression. Although there were distinct differences for the reason to pick-up and go, there are correlations.

The same goes for American Nomads as a band. Musicians are on the road traveling from gig to gig. In fact we have a song off our first self-titled album, called “Lost Inside the Chords” that chronicles a musician who spends his entire life on the road and the only home he knows is the stage.

As far as Thoreau is concerned, he kind of invented the idea of “getting back to the garden.” But in the case of Thoreau we are different, in that although he lived in nature while writing “Walden,” he would go home and his mother would do his laundry for him. Our mother’s don’t do our laundry.

MR: The video for your song “1969” is just in time for the Woodstock anniversary festival. What’s its intended message and how does it relate to the event of 50 years ago and now?

SD: The song is an homage to the era of the late ’60s. We tried to capture the look, the feel and the sound of that time. The 1960s were a turbulent time in America and the world, and though we like to think that we’ve progressed beyond some of those issues that were prevalent at that time, we seem to find that we haven’t really come that far at all, in some respects.

Walter Kenul: I actually thought of the concept of 1969, a year ago to commemorate the 50th year anniversary of Woodstock. My intention, when writing 1969 was to capture the sound of that era. Each decade has its unique choice of instrumentation and vocal styling. Because of the diversity of so many great musicians it was my favorite period in the history of music.

MR: What are your favorite moments in “1969”?

SD: My favorite moments in 1969 the year, would be the Woodstock Music Festival, the moon landing, the New York Mets winning the World Series, and even Broadway Joe and the New York Jets winning the Super Bowl. So many unlikely things came together to end a tumultuous decade.

WK: One favorite moment of mine and perhaps the entire world was the astonishing accomplishment of Neil Armstrong’s moon landing. One giant leap for mankind! And of course, Woodstock, a musical life changer for everyone!

MR: Who were some of your favorite musical artists and performances from the original Woodstock? How did the festival influence each member’s musical evolution through the years?

SD: My personal favorites are also some of the most iconic ones, of course, which would be Jimi Hendrix, Janice Joplin, Country Joe and the Fish, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Joe Cocker, Joan Baez, Santana, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Jefferson Airplane and, of course, The Band — one of my all time favorite bands.

WK: Some of my favorite artists included Ritchie Havens, Joe Cocker, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Santana, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin and my all time favorite, The Band. The diversity of styles influenced my writing to be equally diverse. I have written many songs that are outside the realm of American Roots, which has become my foundation.

MR: What are your observations about how the spirit of Woodstock has survived—or not—through the years?

SD: Although I live in Brooklyn, NY, I have a weekend house in Woodstock, NY, and the spirit of Woodstock is very much alive in our small town there. And I don’t just mean tie-dyed tee shirts, long hair, and peace signs; I mean the fact that we are all one on this planet together, that war is bad for everybody, and that peace and love can still cure all that ails us.

WK: I have seen a positive influence in the spirit of peace and unity. It awakened our consciousness to stand up against injustice and aggression. I feel the younger generation now looks to that time as an example of what people can do when they unite together peacefully. They can truly make a change.

MR: The year 1969, with all of its protests and cultural turning points, is one of the most significant eras of our country’s history. When you see how we’re struggling with White Nationalism and racism in general almost exactly 50 years later in 2019, what are your thoughts about such juxtaposition?

SD: Again, our name says it all. In the first question we focused on the “Nomad” part of our name, and now I’ll speak about the “American” part. We are an 8-piece band. We have members whose heritage are from other countries, or who actually were born in countries other than America. Our ancestry is that of Italy, Croatia, Germany, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, France, Hungary, Ireland, Scotland… Yet we are all AMERICANS. That is what America is about. There is no place anywhere for racism, White Nationals or the degradation of immigrants. We are all immigrants. American Nomads is a Brooklyn-based band. We all live in New York City. In New York, we live side by side with practically every culture on the planet. There are 800 languages spoken in this city. There is no better example of how we can co-exist with everyone than right here. It should be an example for all. We call ourselves an American Roots band. That expression comes from the musical lineage of the sound that we produce, but we are truly an example of an American Roots band because the roots of our many ancestries come together to form a strong family tree.

WK: Fifty years later we are still struggling with similar issues. Throughout history there continues to be strife in the world. But, on the positive side, united, as the example of Woodstock ’69, people of all ages, races and religions can come together. Proving to the world that we can make a difference.

MR: When you perform in Bethel, New York, for the festival’s anniversary, how will you absorb the significance of that moment, playing as a part of Woodstock history?

SD: Well, much of like the entire 1960s, it will be quite a trip. A surreal moment for sure! The significance, for me, is almost overwhelming. I’ve read about the Woodstock Music Festival my entire life and now, to be a part of the 50th anniversary celebration, on the site of the actual festival… is really, really special. Bethel Woods, Max Yasgur’s farm, is as significant in the music world as other iconic places are in the world.

WK: This is a musical dream come true for me. I am totally honored and excited to be performing in a place I consider, sacred grounds.

MR: Are you working on an album and what other musical projects by American Nomads are coming our way?

SD: We are a very prolific band. We are constantly writing and recording new material. We are currently on our third album and already have more than ten songs recorded and produced for it. As far as live performances, the day after Bethel Woods we are performing on the main stage at the Hope Rocks Music Festival in Saugerties, New York. We are always either in the studio, at practice, or on the stage.

WK: As we are constantly writing, American Nomads are nearing the completion of our next album with amazing new material. We are looking forward to going on tour to support it.

MR: What advice do you have for new artists?

SD: I could say, run fast, run far, never give up, follow your dreams, and all of that would be true and good advice. You’re going to get rejection, you’re going to get approval and you’re also going to get nonchalant, non-commitments. Believe in yourself. Write what you want to and never forget this is what you love to do. That’s truly the most important thing. Success is defined by you, not by others.

WK: My advise to the next generation of artists is to keep playing and practice all the time. Performing out will help to tightened your music and unify your band. Keep positive and never give up your dream.

MR: Since you will now be part of the Woodstock lineage, do you have any suggestions or thoughts for future generations?

SD: The message of the music of the Woodstock era is timeless because it’s a message of love and a message of unity. I would tell future generations to never forget that. If you look back to 1969, America was torn apart. An unpopular war raged on where we lost tens of thousands of young people. There were riots in the streets and in the home people were divided by their political, religious and socioeconomic views. A new generation stepped forward to try and heal and mend the divide. Music was the catalyst for that. Woodstock was not a place or a time. Woodstock is an ideal. Woodstock is a state of mind. Always, as bad as things seem to get in the world today or tomorrow, look back and remember that three days in August of 1969 began the healing process of a divided nation. It was healed once and can be healed again.

WK: Woodstock changed the world. We must continue to keep the spirit alive through music.

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