By Joe Lawler
November 1, 2011
Ambient noises of birds, crickets and other wildlife were added to boost that feeling.
Something else added to "Field Songs" is a sense of hope. Whitmore, 33, is known for dark folk songs with a heavy sense of mortality, like "Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie." It's in stark contrast to this album's first song, "Bury Your Burdens in the Ground."
"Without meaning to, I started writing different types of songs," Whitmore, performing Wednesday at People's Court, said during a phone interview from his home. "I exorcised a lot of demons and things and these days I feel pretty good. I decided to let music be a healing thing. I don't feel the same as I did 10 years ago."
Wednesday's show is a benefit for the Center on Sustainable Communities, a nonprofit group that works as an educational resource for sustainable building. Whitmore has his own interest in sustainable farming, and sees a mix of family farms and what he calls "industrial farming" in Lee County.
He said he doesn't begrudge people working on the big farms, since they're trying to feed their families, too, but hopes to see a return of smaller farms in Iowa.
"The land likes it better and the bees like it better and we have better food to eat," Whitmore said. "We have some of the best food in the world, I just don't feel like it should be wasted making biofuels that aren't efficient to process, and corn syrup. I don't think that's the best use of the land."
Not long after this show, Whitmore is heading to Europe for two weeks of shows. His distinctly American sound has attracted a strong following overseas, where he's toured 14 times. His songs about farming and rural life seem to go over as well in Holland as in the United States.
"It never ceases to amaze, going to places like Norway or Slovenia and hearing people sing along about black Iowa dirt, whatever that means to them," Whitmore said. "It's nice to be a diplomat in a way. That's what it's all about as human beings: learning from each other."
And when that's all over, he comes back to spend his time in Iowa. He's got some improvements for his farm that he wants to implement in 2012, such as a bigger garden. When he returns home the people in town know him because of who is family is, not for being a critical darling in music.
"People know I play music for a living, but I think the perception is 'He goes and plays banjo for people. He sure is gone a lot,' " Whitmore said. "People have a vague idea, but I like that people don't know exactly."
William Elliott Whitmore
William Elliott Whitmore
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
Where: People's Court, 216 Court Ave.
Cost: $25.50 (The show is a benefit for the Center on Sustainable Communities)
Info: midwestix.com or icosc.com