BONNIE 'PRINCE' BILLY with LIGHTNING DUST at the Crofoot Ballroom

TUESDAY MAY 12, 2009
doors at 8PM
tickets: $15 in advance (buy tickets)


The Crofoot is honored to present a rare area appearance by BONNIE 'PRINCE' BILLY (aka Will Oldham). An actor and playwright turned country-rooted musician and founder of the Palace Records label, Will Oldham, a native of Louisville, Kentucky, spent the 1990s staking out a distinctive turf in the world of independent rock. Commonly referred to as a marketing person's nightmare, Oldham, intending for his music to stand on its own merits, recorded under a variety of names, among them the Palace Brothers, Palace Songs, Palace Music, Palace, Bonnie Prince Billy, and, for his 2000 release Get on Jolly, Marquis de Tren and Bonny Billy. "I didn't want to record under my own name, but also not under an implied group name," explained Oldham to Washington Post contributor Mark Jenkins. "I thought it would be better if there was sort of an implied character. Somebody that people could live with. If they had the record in their house, they could feel 100 percent comfortable about living with that person. I just mean that when they hear the voice, they're allowed to disassociate it from the life--the lives--of the singer. Hopefully, people identify the songs with themselves, and not with the singer."

The elusive, soft-spoken rule-breaker likewise never remains long at the same address and never keeps a steady band. Instead, he works with a varying pool of musicians, including his brothers Paul and Ned, members of bands like Slint, Gastr del Sol, and the Dirty Three, and even writers and professors on leave from their teaching positions. Over the years, Oldham, despite unanimous critical acceptance, also developed a reputation with journalists as a difficult interview. Reluctant to discuss his music in great detail or assume a consistent persona, Oldham, though not combative, often provides tangled, non-specific remarks.

However, the singer-songwriter has his reasons for maintaining a certain sense of anonymity. As he observed in an interview with Spin magazine's Terri Sutton: "Assuming that a voice and guitar implies confession or self-expression doesn't seem like a very productive line of thinking. I suggest that a song is no guarantee of its singer's honesty, wit, sensitivity, or politics. I will always rewrite a song that seems like it is too connected to a real event. Because the intention is always to create the hyperreal event, so that--ideally--more people can relate to it."

Born and raised in the city of Louisville, Kentucky, Oldham initiated his performing career as a theater and film actor, most notably in John Sayle's acclaimed 1987 motion picture Maetwan. While still in high school, Oldham also wrote his own play, Inside Out, Upside Down, which went on to performances at the Kennedy Center. "I don't think it would be far off to say that movies are almost like a chemical addiction with me," Oldham, who spent his childhood years taping, renting and studying films, admitted to Rolling Stone writer Greg Kot. "But I eventually came to realize that 98 percent of what goes on is not even that interesting except on a very basic level. I enjoyed the work itself, but I didn't like the onstage part, the repetition aspect of it."

Thus, at the age of 20, Oldham abandoned acting, dropping out of Brown University after one semester. He returned to Louisville with little direction until he received a cheap, Korean-made acoustic guitar. Although he couldn't play the instrument, Oldham was determined to write music with it. While he describes himself as "not a very good musician," Oldham transitioned to music naturally. "I grew up around music, and people who were playing music," he recalled to Jenkins. "All the time I was in the theater I was hanging around with people who were doing music. I saw people doing something that was real, and they were getting paid for it, like the old-fashioned guild system." However, he does not view songwriter as a successor to writing plays. "I was involved with writing, but I was definitely much more involved with performance," he continued. "I think of music as much more performance than it is writing. I spend a lot of time writing, but I feel like I'm performing when I write."



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