A Southern Revolution
Anna Shay Wasden
Anyone who walked by Kress on Dexter on the evening of May 24th might have noticed the art exhibit’s usual quiet interior was filled with the sounds of soulful lyrics. Lonnie Holley, along with Lee Bains III, recently came to Montgomery to perform for a select group of fellow art and music lovers. Matt Arnett, Lonnie’s longtime friend and manager, gave an introduction of the performers filled with adoration and respect.
Interestingly enough, Lonnie’s performance at Kress on Dexter had a backdrop of his own art in the showcase: “This is Where You’ll Find Me.” He describes the relationship between his physical art and music as Siamese Twins- separate souls but always together. “Both my art and my music come out of the same brain, and a lot of times influence each other.” He never knows whether a new idea will lead to art or song- but he does hope that they will result in something that inspires others.
As Lonnie and Matt travel across the south showcasing Lonnie’s art and music career, they have an unparalleled relationship. “We’ve traveled thousands and thousands of miles together by train, car, van, tour bus, truck, plane, boat, you name it. We’re like brothers, most of the time. Or an old married couple, sometimes. We don’t necessarily finish each other’s sentences. More like we finish each other’s thoughts, because a lot of our communication is non-verbal or half spoken,” Matt explains.
The two share inspiration and constantly look to find it in new places. Lonnie’s musical performances are each unique, as he never repeats a song. Instead, he allows the words to come to him as each show comes along. “My songs are not music or lyrics written down and performed. I keep all of these things in my memory and sometimes ask Matt to write down ideas or thoughts that I have in a book (that always travels with us). The book is like a book of prescriptions and medicine that would allow wounds to heal.”
Matt grew up in a family determined to preserve art in today’s modern world. His father, William “Bill” Arnett is a curator of cultural art who has spent decades fighting for the acceptance of Southern African American art into mainstream museums and culture. Matt thanks his parents for their forward ways of thinking- something that unfortunately brought a fair amount of criticism and resentment. “I could go on, but I won’t; because despite all of that, this is a happy story: one of triumph and overcoming those many obstacles. My dad never abandoned his beliefs or ideas. And those ideas won.”
Matt’s acceptance of the different cultures and lifestyles in the American South allowed him to see the unique transformation artists have brought to the world. “I have been able to work with folks in my dad’s generation- a generation of artists who toiled, mostly in obscurity, who finally have their voices heard: where those voices are being heard loud and clear and in the most hallowed halls in the art world.” He hopes this time of progress in America is not met with any setbacks, as it has already taken the art world and its contributors by storm.
To Lonnie, Matt and his father have become a second family. As they work to build a team of fellow trailblazers, the men grow closer. Lonnie likens their bond to roots- roots which have an ability to break through even the strongest of human foundations.
Matt’s work differs slightly from his father’s. After being surrounded by the great culture of Southern artists in his adolescence, he has found his own unique voice and way of portraying talents. Matt treasures the intimacy of the smaller, curated events. His experience with large exhibits and shows often pales in comparison to the pure magic a spontaneous performance can give. One of the first performances Matt organized was at his Atlanta location, “Grocery on Home,” and it also happened to be Lonnie’s debut. That event became a music series that continues to this day, still performed at “Grocery on Home.” Matt’s encouragement for Lonnie to pursue his musical talent was the beginning of Lonnie’s fruitful career.
As Lonnie’s talent continues to blossom- showing in places like New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and being featured in prestigious prints like the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times- the opportunities continue to present themselves. The two are hard at work as they film music videos for Lonnie’s new record, coming out this fall. “He thinks on a much higher plane than the rest of us. But he’s kind enough to always make me feel like I’m smart enough to understand what he’s thinking. Truth is, none of us are,” Matt says of Lonnie. Lonnie is currently working on a film to showcase his visionary ways of thinking.
As the duo continues to make a mark on the South’s already unique heritage, their hope is for a culture of acceptance and change. Lonnie believes art is the way to further this frontier: “Hopefully greater opportunities will continue to come in the next few years. I feel like respect is finally coming and I hope that continues. There is so much we can all learn from artists’ experiences and activities, but we must want a better understanding. For the greatness of all.”