Music Maker began working with a then-twelve year old guitar prodigy, Lakota John Locklear, in 2010. We’re committed to working with younger artists as time allows – we feel that young artists performing traditional music is essential to the preservation of the Roots. But to us, “young” is under 55 years old. When people see a teenager arrive on the stage they usually think “that’s great, they’re giving a kid a chance to learn the blues.” Then, usually shortly after the first bars of “San Francisco Bay” reach them, they nudge me and ask if he’s really a teenager, thinking that his grizzled, bluesy voice might prove that his youth was just an illusion.
Lakota John performs with his family, mother Tonya, father John, and sister Layla, as “Lakota John & Kin.” When he started working with MMRF, Lakota was a solo act, but the family had been jamming together on Sundays for as long as they could remember. According to Tonya they would just sit around and play, for fun, after listening to the PineCone radio program. Those family jam sessions never seemed like they would become professional to Tonya. In fact, when Tim Duffy heard the Locklears join forces during a recording and suggested they perform as a group, Tonya’s response was “I can’t sing in front of people, no, no, no. And I don’t play an instrument.”
But after a visit to Shakori Hills Music Festival in 2011, she saw a performance from Corn & the Colonels, MMRF-staffer Aaron’s band. Anna, the band’s drummer, gave a rousing washboard performance and that got Tonya thinking that she may have found her instrument. She said, “I was inspired. I sat, and I watched Anna, and I thought ‘I could do that.’ I got a washboard and I picked it up.”
It’s wonderful to watch Lakota John perform solo, but watching him play with his family is truly inspiring. I’ve always had a soft spot for family performers – probably stemming from my obsession with The Sound of Music as a little girl (and still.) And our family can barely coordinate a dinner out, let alone musical instruments, so I am incredibly impressed with not only the Locklears’ talent, but also their family dynamic.
I asked Tonya if she thought performing together helped with “family-togetherness” (if so, maybe I need to try that approach), and she actually said that the family’s strong bond and geographical closeness facilitated the group, not the other way around. Tonya knows they wouldn’t be able to perform together if sister Layla was not in college nearby, so they are happy to seize the moment while it’s there. That joy comes through when you watch them, and reminds us why we work so hard to preserve these musical traditions.