I’ve lived my life with a vagabond’s heart.
— Bobby Bridger, “Stages”
Bobby Bridger releases his first new studio album in over a dozen years today thanks to a successful crowdfunding campaign to support Vagabond Heart.
I’ve talked about crowdfunding before, so you know I’m a supporter — not just in spirit, but in pledging my funds to recording artists and filmmakers particularly: Uranium Savages, New Monsoon, When We Were Live, and The Tower, among others. One of the bigger pledges I’ve made was for Bobby Bridger’s album.
See, I’ve been a Bobby Bridger fan since the 70s when he showed up at one of my RTF classes to talk about the process of audio production. All us young wannabe creators knew the basics of multi-track recording and layering sounds, but few had ever heard someone talk about the actual process. By this time, Bobby was a recording veteran with several singles and an album already to his name.
He played us some partial tracks he had used to build his song, “The Sculpture,” which appeared on his 1973 album, And I Wanted to Sing for the People, explaining the recording sequence and choice of instruments and how they were mixed.
Of course I went out and bought the album. Unfortunately, I was one of the few who did — this album fell victim to lackluster promotion by a belt-tightening record company.
Still, it served to hook me on Bobby’s music, and I became a forever fan. Later, I would hear him perform at the Kerrville Folk Festival, where his beautiful song, “Heal in the Wisdom” became the official festival anthem years ago, closing out each year’s festival with a heartfelt crowd sing-along.
No simple minstrel, though, Bobby decided to craft an epic song cycle, and so began work on his historical saga, A Ballad of the West, a musical re-telling of the exploration and settlement of the American West in the 19th Century.
I remember seeing him perform the first part of that saga, Seekers of the Fleece, in the old Chicago House coffeehouse. Wearing a wolf-head mask he personally had made, he sang of the early explorers of the West, the mountain men, like Bobby’s distant relative, Jim Bridger.
Later, he would complete the trilogy with a second section, Pahaska, telling of “Buffalo Bill” Cody, and and a final section, Lakota, telling the spoken stories John C. Neihardt captured in Black Elk Speaks through Bobby’s songs.
Eventually, Ballad of the West would be mounted as a theatrical production at Ft. Bridger, Wyoming, where it was performed for over 30 years. After a final performance on July 4, 2011, Bobby donated his costumes and related memorabilia to the Fort Bridger Historical Association.
Bobby also wrote an excellent history of some of the events of this time in his book, Buffalo Bill & Sitting Bull: Inventing the American West, making the case that Cody aided the Indians in avoiding assimilation and helped them protect and maintain at least part of their way of life.
Now, however, despite his lengthy musical career and many honors, Bobby has been bypassed by the modern music industry.
Traditional industry gatekeepers remain befuddled about how to adapt to the internet age, ignoring a number of proven artists and performers.
That’s where crowdfunding can help out. Bypassing the gatekeepers and asking fans and supporters to fund a project allows artists to produce more freely.
For Vagabond Heart, Bobby set an ambitious goal for a crowdfunding campaign: $30,000. He explained this would not only fund the entire production, but also allow for post-production promotion. “A lot of these projects end up ‘million sellers’,” Bobby’s friend and producer, John Inmon quipped. “They end up with a million copies in their cellar.”
They also worked with a crowdfunding campaign coordinator, Erin Galey, herself a veteran of crowd funding film success (Brave Girl). Erin helped guide them though the entire process from initial proposal to promo video to establishing premiums for people pledging support to running the campaign itself.
One of the premium packages featured a special get-together with Bobby and John Inmon during the fund-raising campaign for people making larger pledges. They used this time to tell us more about the Kickstarter campaign, the upcoming production process, and, of course, to share some songs with us, including this work-in-progress.
Every crowdfunded campaign is a tough push and when you’ve set goals high enough to cover all your expenses, including promotion, it gets even tougher. Erin videoconferenced into the meeting to enlist our aid in raising the final funds needed before the end of the drive.
So, during the closing days of the Vagabond Heart campaign, I posted repeated plugs on social media to help get the word out. Those last days and hours can seem harrowing as you try to close the gap, knowing that if you fall short, the project will not be funded at all.
Maybe that final push by donors helped push it over the top. I don’t suppose we’ll ever know what impact that actually had on the final tally and that’s fine. We made it — that’s the important thing.
And that is precisely the feeling: “We made it.”
Now, I get to walk along with Bobby Bridger’s Vagabond Heart further down the road.