|8/30/2012 12:01:00 AM|
Western wit and wisdom: Katie Lee, Gail Steiger headline 'Folk Sessions'
Poets Katie Lee and Gail Steiger perform at the Prescott Center for the Arts in a Folk Sessions evening of storytelling Friday.
The Daily Courier
Katie Lee, whose celebrity extends from environmental activism to fame as an author and folk performer, takes center stage in an evening of storytelling Friday at the Prescott Center for the Arts.
The special event also features cowboy poet Gail Steiger and Arizona Culture Keeper Jody Drake. Drake described the trio as "three separate artists who express their art in three different ways." The show starts at 7 p.m. Tickets are $12 and are available by calling PCA at 445-3286. For information, visit www.folksessions.com.
Lee, now in her early 90s, isn't running out of the steam that launched her career decades ago. The native Arizonan and Jerome resident started out in 1948 as a stage and screen actress, performing bit parts in motion pictures in Hollywood and running parts in major NBC radio shows, such as "The Great Gildersleeve" and "The Railroad Hour" with Gordon McRae. In the early 1950s, Lee left Hollywood and spent the next 10 years "singing folksongs to her guitar" in coffeehouses and cabarets across the United States, Canada and Mexico.
Lee's vigor has also shown itself in her passion for Glen Canyon and the Colorado River. She expressed this in her book, "All My Rivers Are Gone," which details her many years journeying down the Colorado and her exploration of Glen Canyon. In 1953, she was the 175th person to run the Grand Canyon after John Wesley Powell's first run in 1869 and the third woman to run all the rapids in the Grand Canyon. Because of her affinity for Glen Canyon, she forged a protest against Glen Canyon Dam, a structure she lamented because "it left a truncated Grand Canyon to shift for itself with intermittent flows of ice water - a river no more."
In addition to being a popular performer, Lee has been a prolific author. Her first book was "Ten Thousand Goddam Cattle: A History of the American Cowboy in Song, Story and Verse," and another, "Sandstone Seduction," is a collection of essays about growing up "in the laid-back town of Tucson with her cowboy buddies and Mexican border friends."
Lee's performance at Prescott Center for the Arts will entertain the audience with readings from her free-verse Western adventure called, "The Ballad of Gutless Ditch," which she wrote in the 1950s "driving the folk song circuit across the country," she said. These were long drives from East to West in her '55 T-Bird, always with a pad and pencil at her side so she could jot down what came to her.
"The lines just dropped out of the goddam sky," she said of her ballad, and she kept adding more as she traveled. "The story just took me along, but I had to get in the car and drive" so that the story would flow. The 60-page poem that she composed came out in book form this past January. It is the story of four "pat Western characters of the late 1880s" and what happens to them, with several "mysterious twists," Lee said.
The lines of "The Ballad of Gutless Ditch" had just popped into her head, and finding an artist to illustrate her book was serendipitous as well, she said. Lee's search was futile until her artist friend Robin Anderson came to her home for a visit and seized the opportunity to draw etchings to illustrate her story.
Anderson, a landscape painter, produced "a dozen gorgeous etchings," she said. "The etchings are worth the whole book."
Drake made a play out of "The Ballad of Gutless Ditch," which was on the Sharlot Hall Museum stage twice, and Lee herself has performed it for audiences. But she wanted the story to reach even more people, so she decided to publish it.
"Before I die, I'm going to get this story out there," she said. "People will love it."
Drake and Steiger will dig into their pasts, too, with anecdotal yarns. Drake will talk of her "colorful days" spent in her father Joe Baker's rock quarry in Drake. Steiger will talk about Lee, his lifelong friend, and his grandfather, Gail Gardner, a Prescottonian who left an indelible mark on the community.
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