Music from the heartby Dan Gunderson, Minnesota Public Radio
There's a thriving folk music culture in Minnesota, but musicians find limited outlets for their work. That can be especially true if you live in rural Minnesota. Despite the challenges, there's a veteran folk duo who say the love of music sustains them while they juggle career, family and performance.
Fergus Falls, Minn. — Patty Kakac is deeply rooted in the rolling farmland of central Minnesota, where she lives on a small farm with her husband and teenage daughter.
Her musical roots are in social and political activism. Kakac found her voice when she joined protesters trying to stop a power line project stretching across western Minnesota prairies in the 1970s.
While singing protest songs at rallies, she met Minnesota folk icon Larry Long.
"He said, 'Why don't you write your own songs,'" recalls Kakac. "So I did and people liked them. So I saved my money and got some donations and recorded "Heart of a Woman", and that went well."
Kakac continued writing and singing as a solo act until she met Jodi Ritter in 1998 when they sang together in a community theater production.
When Ritter lost her job, Kakac offered temporary housing. Ritter says that's where the Granary Girls began.
"She (Kakac) has this little granary on the farm and it's got a pot bellied stove and a bed and a kitchen area and a bathtub shower area and an outhouse around the corner," says Ritter. "And I stayed there from October to March."
Those cold winter months were spent playing, singing and writing songs. Jodi Ritter says song writing is as much a part of life as breathing.
"I don't think there's a day that goes by that there's not tunes in my head. There's always tunes, there's always tunes. So words come out of my mouth and if I don't have a tape recorder nearby they're gone, I'm not going to get them back. And sometimes they are so excellent," says Ritter with a chuckle. "And it's like, 'Oh no, where did it go.'"
"Sometimes we're doing this together," interjects Kakac, "and Jody is spitting words out and it's like, 'Jody wait, wait, I'm trying to write them down.' And she's like, 'Oh, they're gone.'"
Kakac and Ritter say song writing often comes from personal experience, and both feel trepidation whenever they share a new song.
"Every song you write is your baby, you give birth to it and the first time you play it you're very vulnerable," says Ritter.
"Sure, it's hard to let them go sometimes," adds Kakac.
The songs written by Patty Kakac and Jodi Ritter reflect folk traditions of activism and connections to the land. They range from gentle ballads about the prairie to hard-edged songs about social issues.
Their activist voice isn't always welcome; in fact they say the Granary Girls have been turned away from some Minnesota venues because of concerns audiences would be offended.
Jodi Ritter says things sometimes get tense when they sing about domestic violence or other uncomfortable issues. She recalls an audience member walking out when the duo sang "Oh Daddy", a view of domestic violence through the eyes of a young boy.
"I watched you beat my mom, you always said she was wrong. Now I'm taking after you. Oh Daddy, tell me what to do. I'm so confused, I only want to be like you."
Ritter says during one performance of that song in Michigan, an audience member did get up and walk out.
"But we don't know why they walked out and that's not for us to figure out," says Ritter. "We just ask that people listen with an open mind to the songs we sing." "I don't want to be preachy or tell other people how to think," says Kakac. "I just want to write songs I need to write. People can take what they want to take from it. It's their job to do that. I just want to write and sing."
- All Things Considered, 01/19/2007, 5:54 p.m.