For some musicians, theres no better achievement than winning a Grammy.
Its one of those award ceremonies that will leave legions of music fans satisfied and others completely befuddled. At the surface, its just hype for the music business, handing out a majority of awards to musicians whose main fan base is made up of teenagers who will likely look at their music collection when theyre older and wonder what the hell they were thinking.
Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber or even Milli Vanilli, all Grammy winners or nominees, arent necessarily reinventing the wheel as much as they are winning a popularity contest. Its like giving fast-food restaurants an outstanding food award; not based on the food itself, but rather on the sheer volume of products sold.
But the Grammys awarded for smaller, more specific genres, of which there are hundreds, are doled out appropriately, as has been the case for Bill Miller. The Native American artist and musician is a three-time Grammy winner, most recently for his 2010 release Spirit Wind North.
He will perform Tuesday at Fort Lewis College as part of the Native American Centers Speakers Series.
Millers music defies categorization, although his art is a combination of the music of his heritage, the music of his upbringing and the influence of his contemporaries which is a long list ranging from John Hartford to Bob Dylan to Johnny Cash. Tori Amos described his music as Visionary Rock, and the Grammy selection committee calls it American Roots; Native American Folk may be the most apt term.
I love roots blues, I love rock and roll, but I also love folk music and traditional country, said Miller last week from his home in Nashville, Tenn. Im influenced by a lot of different tastes, I dont disrespect any genre. There are three things in my music: my heritage, my life experience and my faith and spiritual path.
Miller, however, is more than a musician. He views himself and his concerts as education. Hell play guitar, flute and speak. His tours often take him to college campuses, and his appearances at institutions of higher learning number more than 200. Tuesday will be no different, as Miller will also speak in some classes at FLC.
I am big time into educating, and sharing whats real about my life, Miller said. I like to touch a community in more ways than playing a couple tunes. I like the fact that I can come into a community and offer something more diverse. I bring encouragement as well as musical spirit.
Millers attitude toward his performance may be the most refreshing aspect of his art. Its completely void of any notion that hes just a performer pulling into a town, playing, getting paid and splitting. He has his audiences best interest at heart, knowing hes giving them something more than just a handful of songs.
Every performance is going to be unique, I take it as a sacred place, Miller said. This is for families, and its wide open. There are no boundaries at my concerts. Its important for people to see live music.
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. Reach him at Liggett_b@fortlewis.edu.