Acoustic Warriors contrast Indian culture with rock music

"Did you feel the sacred ground, the blessed power that's here?" asks Andy Connors, referring to the beautiful campus at the Indian Community School of Milwaukee (3126 W. Kilbourn Ave.) where he is Theater Director.

The answer to his question is yes. Once past the protective fence and security system, the grounds are a surprise of well-preserved brick structures and dozens of trees shedding colorful leaves into the warm, October air. In the distance, children laugh from inside the gymnasium, and supposedly, eagles are routinely spotted, something unusual in the city.

It's no wonder that Connors, a writer and musician, finds inspiration in this environment. Today, he and Ron Jones, the other half of his folk-rock duo, Acoustic Warriors, practice music in Connors' office.

Formed eight years ago, the Acoustic Warriors released their first CD, "Coup Stick Warrior," this fall. The music is an original blend of '60s-inspired folk-rock with hints of traditional Native American music for an overall sound that is appreciated by folk, rock and world music enthusiasts alike.

Contrast is a reoccurring theme with this band. It is most obvious in the band members themselves, who are two men with Native American roots and similar visions, but very different personalities. Connors is the gregarious one, yet he is able to swiftly shift gears from telling jokes to talking seriously about his passion for music or Indian identity issues. Jones, on the other hand, is much quieter. He is a master luthier (a builder and repairer of stringed instruments ) by trade with soft blue eyes and a calming air. It seems out of character that he plays lead guitar.

Living in two worlds -- the European American and the Native American -- is a major theme of the album. Connors is a member of the Bad River Ojibwe tribe but he is also half-Irish, and Jones is of Hochungra (Winnebago) heritage. Neither of the men grew up on reservations, so they have learned to thrive in the "White" world, something that was, at times, a source of pain and frustration for them.

The cover also expresses this "dual world" dichotomy by featuring an image of a skyscraper next to a Native American dressed in traditional clothing. This separate-but-simultaneous existence is also explored in Connors' lyrics: "Within is a cry/A voice from the sky/The beat that comes/Some beat from some drum/But is this also real/And with this/How do I feel?" (From the song "Parody.")

Acoustic Warriors explore other themes too, such as nature, the buying and selling of Indian culture, the need for elders to guide one through life and what Andy laughingly refers to as "mixed blood angst."

"Most of all, we want to educate people. A lot of people think Indian music involves drums and flutes, or that it's New Age-y, but we rock," says Connors, who cites Bill Monroe, Johnny Cash, Frank Zappa and The Beatles as influences. "The fact of the matter is: Indians have played guitars as long as anyone else."

The Acoustic Warriors, managed by Milwaukee's Native Voices Booking & Management, have played at Summerfest, Bastille Days, Chicago World Music Festival and many college venues. You can catch them on Wed., Nov. 13 at Moraine Park Technical College in Fond du Lac from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m., or Sat., Nov. 16 at Books & Company in Oconomowoc. They will also perform on Fri., Dec. 6 at H2O Gallery for Gallery Night.

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