Washington DC: The Good Life, the Hard Life
Submitted by Daniel Phoenix Singh, TNG contributor and DC based choreographer/Dancer.
All of us have those urges to quit our jobs, sell everything we own, take what we need in our car and drive off into the sunset to pursue our dreams. Few of us ever follow these dreams.. Except, Buddy Wakefield did just that. Ten years ago, he quit his job as an executive assistant in the biomedical field, gave up his relatively cushy life in Seattle and got on the road as a Slam poetry performer. Living frugally, driving from venue to venue, never knowing what the next place, week, month had in store for him, Wakefield set out to discover and conquer the poetry circuit.
Around 1998, Wakefield attended a Slam poetry event in Seattle, and also stumbled upon the Saul Williams’ film, titled Slam. The film connected with him because of its honest engagement with the hard knocks of life. Wakefield was hooked. He performed his first Slam poem the night after he attended the first Slam poetry event and hasn’t looked back since. He has won numerous awards, has been featured on NPR, the BBC, HBO’s Def Poetry Jam, and most recently signed to Ani DiFranco’s Righteous Babe Records. In 2004 he won the Individual World Poetry Slam Finals and then defended it again in 2005. He is currently wrapping up a tour promoting his new book Gentleman Practice and will be appearing at the Fridge in Washington DC.
Ten hard years later, when I asked him if he would do it all over again, Wakefield said, “Absolutely yes, but with some smarter choices.” One of his biggest lessons has been learning how to take care of himself on the road with healthy food, exercise, sleep, and avoiding the traps of a touring artist that lead to a volatile mindset. His advice to anyone who wants to give this a try: eat, sleep, exercise, and most importantly remember to breathe.
Wakefield had the unique opportunity to work with Ani DiFranco, a renowned poet, performer and activist on several shows. I asked him to describe his experience working with her. Wakefield said, “Ani influenced me off the stage just as much as she did on the stage. As an artist, she was very comfortable with what she knew and how she explored her creativity. I’m not sure how much we influenced each other, but her off stage grace is very powerful. She has been speaking with a purpose for the past 20 years. Watching her on stage is a treat, but the personal conversations with Ani were undeniably magical experiences.” Wakefield recalled driving through the national monuments in Colorado with DiFranco when somehow the conversation moved to flights. DiFranco remarked to Wakefield that the mere act of engaging in conversation puts her in fight-or-flight mode. DiFranco’s honesty in addressing her vulnerability touched Wakefield in a profound way. Contrary to common stereotypes that performing artists are crazy people, he fondly regarded DiFranco as someone who is grounded, has taken time to experience life, participate in life, and contribute to the psychological evolution of life. This special friendship reaffirmed the role of organized, hard working, and talented artists for Wakefield.
When asked about the show he will perform this weekend at the Fridge, Wakefield said that everyone is going to enjoy jamming together, and that he will talk about fun and serious topics. He asked everyone to come ready to engage, and have “an experience” together. He also said he doesn’t shy away from his sexuality if it comes up in the course of an evening’s performance, but that he is more interested in the universality of life and less on micro identities.
This May 12th will complete 10 years of living on the road. Wakefield is hanging up his shoes after a grueling but inspiring phase of his life as a performing artist on the road. The May 13th performance in Seattle is a homecoming show and his last show as a touring artist. Wakefield has fallen in love and is looking forward to settling down on five acres in the middle of nowhere. He will run a landscaping business with his partner. He said he is looking forward to create a more central role for stillness, grace, groundedness in his life, and focusing his energies on one person. I’d be willing to take bets that his gypsy spirit will be back on the road in a few years, partner in tow, bringing us more of his wonderful poetry. For now, come check out his show this weekend at the Fridge.
Saturday, May 7 from 7:30pm – 10:30pm
The Fridge (close to the Eastern Market Metro)
Rear Alley, 516 8th Street, SE
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