The title of San Francisco Performances’ PIVOT Series this season is ‘Vox Populi’ – and one of the featured artists, composer and singer/songwriter Gabriel Kahane literally went on a journey in search of the voice of the people, just after the 2016 election. He boarded a train in New York, and over two weeks, traveled almost 9000 miles, and wrote songs based on his conversations with strangers.
There’s more information about his concert, and the PIVOT series at the San Francisco Performances website.
He wanted to explore what America was thinking at a time when it was so clearly divided along political lines, so he left his phone at home, kept his laptop in airplane mode and just struck up conversations. “I spent a lot of my time in the dining car, talking to strangers, whom I’d been seated with. If you’re a solo passenger, you’re placed at the next available table, and so I was having meals with somewhere between six and nine strangers a day… I wanted to tuck myself behind the curtain, and have this sort of, I don’t know, quasi-Studs Terkel-esque experience of trying to understand the country not through the powerful, but through the people. I tried as much as possible not to look for argument or disagreement, or to convince people of things. But rather just to listen. I think it was fundamentally about listening.” His journey took him from New York to Chicago, to Portland, down to Los Angeles, back to Chicago, down to New Orleans, and home to New York. “A lot of people told me very very intimate things about themselves, and some of those things I felt very conflicted about putting into song, but the basic working model was that I would have these conversations in the dining car, then I would return to my seat, and I would transcribe as much as I could remember as quickly as possible, and then repeat, and so on and so forth… I felt that if I were able to talk to people without the mediation of technology, without the mediation of the media, and the political space, I might find where we have things in common.”