The Hardin County Performance Series opens their 2013/14 season with Susan Werner dubbed by NPR as the "Empress of the Unexpected," at 7 p.m. Oct. 7 at the South Hardin High School Auditorium. Tickets are available now at the Hardin County Savings Bank in Eldora, Green Belt Bank and Trust and Chamber Main Street-Iowa Falls.
Singer/songwriter Susan Werner confirms her reputation as an artist changeable as the weather with her newest recording Hayseed. Paying tribute to American agriculture and to her Iowa farm roots, Werner keeps her audiences guessing and laughing simultaneously, lending her wry humor and passionate voice to subjects such as farmer's markets, agrochemicals, climate change, drought, longing for a sense of place and the movement towards sustainable agriculture. The characters and perspectives are varied and colorful, the lyrics are sharp as thistles, the music is handmade and hoppin', and with Hayseed, Werner continues her reign as one of the most bold and creative forces on the acoustic music scene today.
On Hayseed, Werner employs her signature songcraft and wit to deliver an assortment of tunes as hilarious as they are insightful. "There's a certain sense of humor that goes along with farming because things don't always turn out the way you expected," she states. "If you can't laugh about it, you might be in the wrong line of work."
Opener "City Kids" sets the tone for the record with a wry commentary on what Werner refers to as "the Revenge of the Nerds."
"Truth is that if you grew up on a farm, you always did feel a little square, a little behind," she said. "But times change and tables turn. And who's paying $25 a pound for organic pork these days? It's not the farmers, people."
To a banjo and upright bass accompaniment, Werner practically spits out the title phrase: "All the city kids, they had fluffy little dogs, a dog that sits and begs, a dog with all four legs, didn't smell like hogs." The wacky, folky "Herbicides" is an instant campfire classic.
"Agrochemicals are a fact of farm life, but I didn't know quite how to address it. This seemed like a novel approach," she said.
The reflective, tender "Something to Be Said" is at the heart of the record which turns out to be a tender heart, indeed.
At age five, Werner made her debut, playing guitar and singing at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Manchester, Iowa; she learned both piano and guitar by ear. After earning a degree in voice from the University of Iowa, she attended Temple University in Philadelphia, performing in numerous recitals and operas while completing her graduate studies. On occasion Werner, who calls Chicago home now, still closes any one of the 125 club dates she plays annually throughout the US and Canada with "Un Bel Di" from Madame Butterfly or "Habanera" from Carmen, but ultimately, she opted to forgo a career as an opera singer, dedicating herself to songwriting instead, building a reputation at jazz clubs, coffeehouses and folk festivals along the Eastern Seaboard.
"There's a changing of the guard taking place in American agriculture," Werner said. "Farmers like my father and mother are retiring, and new farmers are starting out. I wanted to honor my parents and their way of life, and I want to be part of the conversation about what happens next, what farming looks like this year, next year, ten years from now."
The ultimate purpose of making Hayseed, though, is broader, more light-hearted. "Maybe the reward of it all is just this simple: to write a song like 'Egg Money' or 'City Kids,' to see a song like that make my parents laugh, my brothers laugh, my cousins, my high school friends, and see people all across the country laugh," she finishes. "Well, there you have it. Mission accomplished!"
For more information about the Hardin County Performance Series and Susan Werner, visit www.hardinarts.com.