Bill Frisell / Disfarmer – Emery Theatre

A strange thing occurred to me as I watched the increasingly diverse crowd shuffle into The Emery.  Perhaps, just perhaps… the best thing that ever happened to The Emery was its abandonment for over a decade.  The lobby and aisle-ways are filled with patrons and volunteers whose passion for The Emery is rooted in saving a once great theatre and restoring it to it’s former place as a premier venue in the Cincinnati area.  I wondered, if we had not come so close to losing The Emery forever, would there be such a fervor to preserve and rejuvenate this theatre?  In the words of Joni Mitchell, “you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.”

A testament to the revival of The Emery is the diversity of music and art that has taken shape within its walls over the past 11 months since it’s re-launch on 11.11.11.  It’s played host to rock concerts, dance performances, theater, film festivals, art shows, and most recently the multidisciplinary event featuring the photography of Mike Disfarmer and music it inspired. The music, written and played by Grammy award winning guitarist Bill Frisell and the 858 Quartet was written as a direct response to the mood and the stories in Disfarmer’s photos.  Disfarmer was an eccentric, enigmatic man who may have never known the impact that his work in the small town of Heber Springs, AR would have.  Not only are they wonderful photographs, they are a window into the era in which he worked.  Through these photos we have a view of 1930’s small-town America.

Looking at his photographs is certainly inspiring.  So much so that Bill Frisell wrote a whole album, titled “Disfarmer,” inspired by his work.  The lights went down in the house as the final few guests were shown to their seats and Frisell and the cellist, and two violinists who make up the 858 Quartet took the stage.  My first thought as they quietly ease into the first song is the complete absence of ego with which Frisell plays.  He sits back from the others, not taking the front and center spot as I had anticipated and his guitar is simply a part of the mix rather than a soloist riding on top of the the others.  Flanking the four chairs in the center of the stage are two large movie screens that remain blank for now.  As rhythmic, pizzacato cello keeps the tempo and the guitar snakes through and around the violins, corresponding Disfarmer images begin to fade in on the screen.  Seeing the imagery directly next to the music is as if we are a fly on the wall in an intimate moment when these images inspired the sounds that now fill The Emery.

Here’s a short video I shot from the balcony:

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Brian Bruemmer