Ani DiFranco, Buddy Wakefield, Amber Tamblyn, and Sage Francis help us preview three months of shows and workshops with “the world’s most beloved spoken word artists.”
The art of livestreaming has offered artists a chance to explore the potential of a certain medium with inventive results. Most streams have taken place in basements and living rooms, while others have occurred in abandoned buildings and even empty stadiums.
Starting on June 2, the Heavy Hitters Festival, put on by the creative writing community organization Awful Good Writers, promises to take it to a whole new level all summer long. More than 40 spoken word artists from all over the world will perform 90-minute sets in a digital format, plus there will be deep-dive writing workshops and intimate conversations with notable poets in an effort to heal and interrupt self-sabotage during these crazy times.
The festival goes through August 31, with performances every Tuesday and Saturday in June, every Wednesday and Sunday in July, and every Monday and Friday in August. One of the June headliners is Providence rapper and poet Sage Francis, who will showcase his talents on the 16th.
“When [Awful Good Writers co-founder] Buddy Wakefield approached me about this, I was already in the midst of figuring out how to do something interesting in a streaming environment outside of just doing an online performance,” Francis says about how he got involved in the festival. “It was perfect timing for me because he saved me the headache of having to figure out the platform or approach. I’m developing a ‘curriculum’ of sorts to make sure that writers, or people interested in writing, step away from my 90-minute presentation feeling inspired to not suck. I mean, inspired to create something unique and great. It’s a great honor to be included in an online festival that features some of my favorite writers.”
Francis adds, “I’m going to approach my 90 minutes with a fair amount of humor while explaining my personal ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ of writing, but I’m taking all of this as seriously as I would a job interview. I’d like to continue doing workshops of this sort moving forward, whether it continues to be online or at schools.”
Buffalo singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco will perform on July 5, and at that time will livestream for the first time ever. She’s been slightly apprehensive about the whole concept, but her faith in the festival organizers gave her confidence that it will work.
“So far, I have chosen financial ruin over engaging in any livestreaming events myself, that’s how adverse I am,” DiFranco says about the medium. “I think I am a bit terrified to turn my laptop into a window that anybody can walk up to and look through, but here’s the thing, I deeply love and respect my friend Buddy Wakefield and I trust that whatever the hell he is up to with this series [is] something cool and renegade and I will be in good hands. So this is my first ‘yes’ to the world of live-streaming and the world of trying to engage with people, make art and inspiration happen through this sneaky secret window on my kitchen table. I have a feeling I’d better get a handle on this livestreaming thing and hopefully Buddy and whoever else shows up for this seminar are gonna show me how.”
You might know Santa Monica actress Amber Tamblyn from the television series Joan Of Arcadia, among her many acting roles, but she’s also an accomplished poet with three collections published. She’ll be doing some teaching and a reading of her work as part of the festival on August 17.
“The Heavy Hitters Festival was born out of a necessity to maintain an intimate connection between artists and audiences alike during the COVID-19 pandemic.” Tamblyn explains the vision: “This festival has an extraordinary lineup of some of the most brilliant artists living today, from musicians to poets to activists. These are artists who deeply desire to maintain the vibrancy and magnetism of sharing a room together for the sake of art, even if that room is temporarily virtual.”
Tamblyn continues, “I came on board to teach a writing course and do a reading of my work because I love the concept of this festival, and because it is the brainchild of one of my favorite people, author Buddy Wakefield. Our hope is to create a summer-long program that packs a creative punch and will leave audiences feeling inspired, allied, and pulsing with nostalgia and creative joy.”
Wakefield, who along with being the co-founder of Awful Good Writers is a three-time world champion spoken word artist, hopes that the virtual series provides a different look at the art form. His goal is to provide an engaging experience for the viewers while also having some of the world’s best involved.
“For those who are new to spoken word, this is not a hit-or-miss coffee shop poetry hour.” Wakefield talks about what to expect: “The Heavy Hitters Festival is three-months of smart, entertaining poetry and insightful workshops with some of the heaviest hitting, most tested and proven performance writers in the world. We’re giving fans intimate, uncensored access to spoken word legends set inside the magic of a new digital venue.”
Each performance of the festival will start at 9pm EST, except for the Sundays in July which will start at 4pm. Tickets are available via Awful Good Writers’ website, with the cost to view all the performances amounting to $175. Ticket holders will have access to a recording of the performance they paid admission to for 24 hours after it airs. The festival also offers a payment option allowing fans to purchase tickets now and pay in installments. Educators, organizations and student groups who are seeking a group rate may reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was produced in collaboration with the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism as part of its Pandemic Democracy Project.
Rob Duguay is an arts & entertainment journalist based in Providence, RI who is originally from Shelton, CT. Outside of DigBoston, he also writes for The Providence Journal, The Connecticut Examiner, The Newport Daily News, Worcester Magazine, New Noise Magazine, Northern Transmissions and numerous other publications. While covering mostly music, he has also written about film, TV, comedy, theatre, visual art, food, drink, sports and cannabis.