Poets and Prophets Come to Austin

Dr. Steve Bishop is the Associate Professor of Old Testament at Seminary of the Southwest.  Steve served as an ordained minister in the Church of Christ prior to undertaking graduate studies.  Steve's academic interests include the poetry of the Hebrew Bible and literary translations of it into English.  

The week of Spring Break in Austin is one that brings visitors from all over the world. They don’t come for our beaches because we have none. They come for the South by Southwest technology, film, and music event known everywhere as SXSW. The cost of the event and the press of crowds however prevent many from attending ‘showcase’ events. Happily there is a group of Austin residents whose love of music and creativity combined with a disdain for the corporate opportunism that funds the event offer a free alternative. As you might guess it is dubbed Not-SXSW!

The genius of Not-SXSW is that you can see many of the same artists people pay to see for free. In addition, you get to see many who live and work under the radar of the planners of SXSW. I look forward to attending the ‘underground’ events. These are stocked with names you don’t hear on many radio stations: performers such as Betty Soo, John Fulbright, Larry McMurtry, or Dave Olney. These are singer/songwriters who have a keen eye and a poet’s mind as they observe the world. They don’t hesitate to critique, in articulate prophetic language, the inequities and injustices they observe.

As one who loves the Old Testament for its language, imagery, and passion I have found some of the artists I mentioned above to be the reincarnation of Amos, Jeremiah or one of the prophets who could not keep themselves from commenting on their society. They, like these singers, held up a mirror to their time and asked people to look carefully at who they are, what they have done, and what, with imagination and love, they might become.

One of my favorite songwriters at the moment is John Fullbright. He is a twenty-something artist from Oklahoma whose songs are filled with allusions and images taken from Scripture. Not only do his song titles conjure up biblical images, songs like “Jericho” or “Satan and St. Paul” but his lyrics escort scripture into a contemporary modality. For instance, in “Satan and St. Paul” he sings “I got nothing left in turn/ except this empty bag of promises/ and second degree burns/ on the tips of my fingers/ from touching certain fruit/ that I never should have touched in the first place”. The relationship he mourns is connected to the Garden of Eden.

My favorite song of his is “Gawd Above” here he sings in the voice of God and confronts the world with the dire consequences of ignoring God’s love for creation. He sings, “I tip my hat to all of your creations/ you can fly like birds/ destroy entire nations./ Go curse my name with your last breath/ if all that I brought to your life is death.” This song always makes me feel like I have heard the voice of a prophet.
 So look for me at the several free venues where John will play and if you can’t go to them then go to his website http://www.johnfullbrightmusic.com and listen for the prophetic voice. To find a list of these ‘underground’ events go to http://bobkinney.wordpress.com/2014/03/08/notsxsw-2014-austin/