by Lukas Hodge
Cold Cave in Winslow / dancers in Pittsburgh / Cat Power in Barstow
Just after you walk through the front doors of the historic La Posada hotel in Winslow, Arizona, a news clipping hanging from a bulletin board reads "Another City too Strong to Die". An interesting statement when you think about it due to the fact that it suggests that in all likelihood, this is not a place that's supposed to still exist. It almost advocates feelings that this is a city stuck swimming upstream. The question is raised, what here is worth preserving? If you ask a local, or even just walk a single block through the small downtown area, you'll understand quickly that the hope of this town rests on a song written by Jackson Browne in 1972. Everywhere you go there are signs advertising the town crux: a street corner two blocks from the train station named "Standin' On The Corner" park. Dedicated to one line in a single song, it's surrounded by murals, shops, and even a bronze statue which may or may not be in Jackson Browne's likeness. The song, is of course, "Take It Easy" as performed by The Eagles. And while no other part of this tour really comes close to the level of polarization created by an arena-filling rock band, the story of Winslow works as an effective allegory to sum up the meaning of why myself or anyone rode a customized train disguised as a moving piece of art, complete with recording studio, post-production office, dining hall, and one of Frank Sinatra's private rail cars, from New York to California.
The answer comes from multi-media artist, Doug Aitken, who's devoted his life to the pursuit of collaboration and performance. The "Happenings", as Aitken branded them, were never overwhelming. The numbers were intentionally kept low at each date allowing every participant a feeling of intimacy with each piece of art they encountered, whether it be a stark and awkward Cat Power set in the backyard of a railroad inn, or a UFO high above the California deserts and a Beck set featuring a full choir. This was most noticeable at the Barstow date, a little over one thousand people showed up to the happening within the walls of at least a 4,000 capacity drive-in theater. It's obvious that Aitken's focus was not on attendance and not on outsiders but on bringing together different artistic communities that would almost never normally interact. And hey, a thousand witnesses can't be a bad thing.
Levi's ®, who made the public art project known as Station to Station possible, had their own tents that resembled nomadic sculptures, known as Yurts set up at each date where independent artists and designers could create their own denim products out of locally sourced goods under the "Makers" brand. To quote Maker Laura Sato via an interview with Vice:
The Makers yurt was Levi's® artistic contribution to Station to Station. Levi's® Makers is a collective of artisan's from across the country who sell their handmade goods under the label of Levi's® Makers.The yurts which were also traveling with the train and acted as evolving installation pieces. The Nomadic Sculptures range from Carsten Höller's yurt pierced with holes that visitors can throw a Frisbee through, to Liz Glynn's creation of the universe that develops at each stop. At some stops, filmmaker Kenneth Anger screened a film in his Yurt.
For the majority of the trip, we had four other Makers along with the Levi's® Tailor Shop who had their stations set up in the yurt. Forestbound (one of a kind tote bags made of salvaged materials), Folk Fibers (hand-stitched, natural dyed quilts), Junkyard Jeans (customized chain-stitch embroidery), and Tangleblue Weavers. We also had a few guests along the way for a couple stops; Cobra Rock Boot Co.(handmade boots), Chimayo Weavers, and Teranishi (leather goods).
The yurt really gave us a platform to create and collaborate while allowing the public to observe our process and ask us questions. I've worked for the Levi's® Tailor Shop making handmade goods for almost three years, but when I met my fellow Makers on this trip it really hit me what a special thing I'm a part of. I got to work and become close with some of the most inspiring and talented people, all of us tied together with the common thread of loving to create and work with our hands. There was definitely a special energy inside the yurt.
Every stop on the trip included a combination of visual arts, installations, and live music, all in a very unforgettable fashion. Some of the Happenings take place inside actual train stations (Chicago, Pittsburgh), while others exist within hubs at the creative centers of communities (Brooklyn, Barstow). How the tour arrives at each stop is the truly unforgettable part. Within each of the nine train cars, each serving a distinct purpose, it was almost impossible to find someone without their face glued to the windows admiring the little seen landscape from up on the rails or with their hands on one of the many interactive tools ("for the modern frontier") made possible by Levi's ®. Included in these was an original 1901 Underwood No. 5 typewriter linked directly to Twitter, a 1939 web-enabled Graflex Speed Graphic still cam for taking Instagram pictures, . and a 1960's Gibson hollow body plugged straight into Soundcloud.
Aitken has repeatedly begrudged the term "tour" and endorses the idea that the project is an entity which "constantly changes". All posturing aside, whatever you want to call it, it's impressive and ambitious. Each station had a very distinct feel and was drastically different from the happening prior. In Brooklyn, it kicked off in a dark noise-filled soundstage on the river with sets from electronic pioneers Suicide, tour staple No Age, and psychedelic locals Ariel Pink (who performed at multiple dates), as well as a youth marching band from Kansas City. By the time it reached Chicago, Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore had joined for his set with drummer John Moloney as Caught On Tape. The Legendary gospel diva Mavis Staples also performed.
As the train rolled on, it finally made its way to the southwest and, in my opinion, its defining showcases. When the train, decorated in highly visible, flashing, LED lights, pulled up on the beautifully restored grounds of the almost century old La Posada hotel (which was the original Winslow train stop) the traveling event arguably achieved its most characterized evening. Between the location of the stage being only a few feet from the train, and the recently restored Inn doubling as a local art museum, this seemed to be the exact platform from which Levi's ® and Station to Station creator Doug Aitken wished to "make their mark". Jackson Browne tossed out a few classics before finally playing "Take It Easy, which resulted in a fevered reaction from every middle aged resident sitting in their lawn chairs. Another tour favorite was Cold Cave, who in Winslow, played atop an elevated platform overlooking a haystack maze full of puzzled onlookers.
One of the main themes being pushed was that the most important part was not the "happening", but what comes after it. For someone like Doug Aitken who's constantly looking forward to the next collaboration or project, it makes sense that the aim of the entire undertaking was to push imagination into the future while taking educated hints from the past. What better place exists than being in a shuttle riding the exact tracks that helped shape the land moving beneath it?
You already saw pictures and heard more about the NYC and Pittsburgh stops and saw a set of pictures from Chicago. More pictures and some videos from the train along with the Chicago, IL, Winslow, AZ, and Barstow, CA stops, below...
Web-Enabled Tools #MakeOurMark on the Station to Station Train
NYC - Riverfront Studios - 9/6/2013
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania - Union Station - 9/8/13
Chicago, Illinois - Union Station - 9/10/13
The Black Monks of Mississippi
Winslow, Arizona - La Posada - 9/21/13
Cat Power [more pics & dates HERE]
Barstow, California - Skyline Drive-In - 9/24/13
Cat Power [more pics & dates HERE]
On The Train
Chan Marshall (Cat Power)