Into a new frontier

The premiere performance of a new collaboration between author Scott Russell Sanders and a group of prominent folk singers will be presented at 4 p.m. Sunday at the Brown County High School auditorium.

“Wilderness Ballads” features Sanders’ stories of frontier life in the Midwest in the early 1800s, as seen through his books “Wilderness Plots” and “Bad Man Ballad.” Sanders’ narration of his work will be interspersed with original songs inspired by the books and written by a group of 10 musicians, led by singer-songwriter Tim Grimm of Columbus, organizer of the original “Wilderness Plots” project in 2007.

The concert will feature some of those songs, but also will incorporate new stories, songs, songwriters and musicians. And since there are no immediate plans for a repeat performance, the show might represent the only opportunity to hear this new collaboration.

The concert is a project of the Brown County Literacy Coalition, and is the culmination of the annual Community Book Read. The third annual community reading project, co-sponsored by the Brown County Public Library, is centered on “Wilderness Plots.” All profits from the show will help fund coalition activities, which are focused on educating Brown County children younger than 5.

The performers

Sanders is a distinguished professor emeritus of English at Indiana University, where he taught from 1971 to 2009, and an award-winning author of more than 30 books.

Grimm, who was recently named as the top artist on a national folk radio survey, has recorded more than a dozen albums. He is also an accomplished actor who appeared as an FBI agent with star Harrison Ford in the 1994 release, “Clear and Present Danger,” and has been involved in several theatrical projects since.

Joining Sanders and Grimm will be Bloomington-area musicians and songwriters Krista Detor and Tom Roznowski, who were part of the original “Wilderness Plots” project. The new performers are Ben Bedford, a Springfield, Illinois, singer-songwriter, and The Underhills, an energetic young band from Bloomington.

“Wilderness Plots” became an Emmy-nominated public television music special and the CD, featuring 19 songs, has become a highly prized collector’s item.

“For those who have seen a version of our original ‘Wilderness Plots,’ it will not be too dissimilar,” Grimm said. “In this production, we’ll be blending songs and performers from past shows with new material and younger singer-songwriters. I would guess about one-third of the songs will not have been in past shows.

“Our original Wilderness group members were very interestingly disparate writers — but, we were all fairly close in age (now 40s and 50s). I’m interested in expanding our range, so to speak, and our two new acts do just that — on a couple of levels.”

Bedford has released three recordings and “has become known as an exceptional writer of historical fiction in song,” Grimm said.

“The Underhills are all in their early 20s and their writing can be quirky and unpredictable — and I mean that in the best way. They are a dynamic group, blending old-time music and bluegrass. With three writers and three different lead singers in their group of six, they can bring a lot to the plate. I’m very enamored with them.”

The weekend also features the National Maple Syrup Festival in Nashville, which Grimm sees as a great connection to the concert. Both are examples of doing things by hand, he says, on a human scale, and represent windows into a simpler time.

The messages

The “Wilderness” tales hold important messages for both Sanders and Grimm.

“For better and for worse, many of our attitudes toward nature and native people were shaped by the period of settlement, which in Ohio and Indiana occurred roughly between 1780 and 1840,” Sanders said.

“The experience of driving out the indigenous people, cutting down the forests, draining the wetlands and plowing the prairies gave us an exaggerated sense of our power and of nature’s inexhaustability. In order to address racism, environmental degradation, exploitation of the commons, glorification of violence and other problems that beset us today, we need to understand that they have their roots in our frontier past,” Sanders said.

Grimm relates on another level, as well.

“We have an innate desire or need to sit around the campfire — or the front porch, so to speak — and tell our stories and listen to others tell theirs,” Grimm said. “It’s the essence of being human, of knowing where we come from. And more importantly for me, in this day and age, these stories of the past inform us about our present and future and take us out of our self-absorbed moment in history.”

Out of the wilderness

WHAT: “Wilderness Ballads,” a unique concert presenting songs and stories of the Indiana and Ohio frontier.

WHO: Author Scott Russell Sanders will narrate portions of his books “Wilderness Plots” and “Bad Man Ballad” and original songs relating to the books will be performed by Americana artists Tim Grimm, Krista Detor, Tom Roznowski, Ben Bedford and The Underhills.

WHEN: 4 p.m., Sunday.

WHERE: The Brown County High School Auditorium, located northeast of the intersection of State Road 46 and State Road 135. Plenty of free parking.

WHY: The concert is the culmination of the third annual Brown County Reads project, and will raise money for the Brown County Literacy Coalition’s projects including tutoring, Little Free Libraries and preschool education.

HOW MUCH: Advance tickets are available for $15 each by contacting the Brown County Literacy Coalition at 812-988-6960 or At the door, tickets will be $20.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: “Wilderness Plots” and “Bad Man Ballad” are tales of the Ohio and Indiana frontier in the early 1800s, written by Scott Russell Sanders, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences whose honors include the Mark Twain Award, the Cecil Woods Award for Nonfiction, the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana Authors Award, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.

ABOUT THE MUSICIANS: Tim Grimm is an actor and singer-songwriter who has released more than a dozen albums. His song “King of the Folksingers” was named by as the most-played folk song in the nation in 2014. Krista Detor has five well-received CDs, and her work has been called “a small miracle” by Rolling Stone magazine. Tom Roznowski’s work includes four music CDs, a book and many segments of historic stories for National Public Radio and Public Television. Ben Bedford has released three albums and the Underhills have released their initial CD.

SPONSORS: Support for this project is provided by the Brown County Community Foundation, the Ronald McDonald House charities, the Brown County Visitors and Convention Bureau, the Brown County Public Library and the Brown County Literacy Coalition.