All together now... 

Amy Martin chats about music, political debate and the \nwonderful dorkiness of the sing-along

When Amy Martin made her annual trip to Columbus, Ga., for the School of the Americas protest last month, she stopped in at a Decatur bar, Eddie’s Attic, which happened to be hosting an open mic competition. Many a Missoula folk fan will attest to Martin’s talent, and apparently the folks in Decatur agree, as Martin won the evening’s competition. Now she’s headed back to compete against the bar’s other open mic winners. If she prevails, she’ll get $1,000 and a few days of free studio time.

“I’m not counting on winning, though,” Martin says with characteristic humility.

Win or lose, she’ll return to Missoula soon after for her second annual December concert at the Roxy Theater. Last year’s Roxy concert turned into a live album and included some emotional sing-alongs on the Martin original “Peace for Paul,” a tribute to the late Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone, as well as on Pat Humphries and Sandy Opatow’s “Paz, Salaam, Shalom.” Martin concedes that the very idea of the sing-along is kind of “dorky,” but it’s a dorkiness that the 31-year-old singer-songwriter embraces.

“I think people in Missoula are more willing to sing than your average community, partly because we know each other pretty well and don’t feel scared to have our neighbors hear us. I love it. I mean, let’s admit it: The whole sing-along thing is totally uncool and has nothing to do with hipness, but that’s part of why I love it. Because everybody has this urge to have their voice heard in all kinds of ways, and I don’t mind being the dork that facilitates that.”

For the rare Missoulian who hasn’t caught a Martin performance to date, her concerts typically consist of original acoustic folk tunes focused on the beauty of the natural world and songs of social justice and activism likely to find a welcome audience at protests such as the S.O.A. gathering at the gates of Fort Benning. Despite the fact that Martin takes strong stances against the Bush administration in songs such as “It’s About Oil,” she hasn’t received as much flack from conservative audience members as one might expect.

The exception to that rule arrived when the Iraq war first started. Martin received a couple of anonymous letters telling her to shut her mouth. She didn’t, nor did she take unsigned letters seriously. However, when a listener cares to identify him or herself, Martin welcomes a challenge to her ideals.

“When I was playing up in Troy, Mont., I was talking about how, you know, this is a democracy and if you don’t agree with me, I hope we can just have a good discussion about it. And there was one lady who just piped right up in the middle of the show after I played a song and gave me her opinion on George W. Bush. And we definitely had different opinions, but it was great because she wasn’t trying to shut me down or dominate. She just got excited thinking about the ideas. I love that kind of stuff.”

One doesn’t typically think of the soft-spoken, peace-loving Martin as a rabble-rouser, yet while she’s not about to pick up an electric guitar and write a punk rock song, she’s also not as subdued as one might guess from her image. Martin laughs as she recalls an evening in which she got a little drunk and used “the ‘f’ word,” (she’s not talking about “folk”)—an outburst that shocked a companion who knew only Martin’s stage persona.

These days, Martin is writing songs of a more darkly spiritual nature, drawing on Bible verses and poking into the dusty corners of the Western world’s Christian heritage. It’s not exactly evangelical stuff, but political commentary veiled behind ancient allegory—perhaps fitting material for another sing-along or two at the Roxy, though not the kind to which Pat Robertson would bring his grandkids. While Martin grew up in a Presbyterian church, she says that religion is “not her bag.” Still, there is a unique spiritual element to Martin’s performance, and even in her drive to play music; Martin describes the way in which she “felt called” to perform folk songs the way a born-again Christian might describe finding Jesus.

While Martin tries to live in a manner that reflects the values of peace and justice she presents in her songs, she can’t say where she’ll be five years down the road. But chances are, she’ll still be making music, and she definitely won’t be “shutting up.” “Who knows?” Martin says. “Maybe I’ll run for President.”

Amy Martin plays the Roxy Theater at 8 PM on Friday, Dec. 12. Tickets for the 8 PM show cost $8 in advance at Rockin Rudy’s or $10 at the door.

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