Dog Winter and Fringe Dwellers

By Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer (Choctaw Nation), Artist in Business Leadership Fellow 2015

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Featured in several publications, including “Montana Americana Music: Boot Stomping in Big Sky Country,” Joseph Running Crane (Blackfeet) represents a new generation of Americana musicians. His early influences were hard rock, though his recent songs have taken on a more wistful tone with an acoustic sound.

Joseph resides in Browning, Montana, and is a 2019 First Peoples Fund Artist in Business Leadership Fellow.

 

Tucked inside the walls of an old skateboard park with live music blasting, they were simply kids, free from the pressures and negative realities of their lives. In Browning, Montana, 300 kids had shown up to hear Joseph’s high-school rock band perform.

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“To be near the center of that celebration made me realize the power my art had and set the tone for the following decade,” Joseph says. “Music for me has always been characterized by community, however small. Any opportunity I’m lucky enough to share my music with a community is a reward. Accolades and recognition are nice, but performance is where I reap my rewards.”

After high school, Joseph spent a decade collecting equipment, stories, and, most important, knowledge. His music has evolved to a punk-influenced Americana style.

Making the shift from hard-edged rock ‘n’ roll of his early years hasn’t been easy, but it is coming together. Joseph now travels solo with his guitar and luggage.

“Performing solo came from a desire to litmus test myself, to strip away all the distortion and theatricality to words and a simple melody, and see if there was any substance to what I was screaming about in those old punk bands,” he says. “I put an exhaustive focus on lyricality and storytelling, which has yielded pleasantly surprising results.”

Joseph recently released his first full-length record: “Dog Winter,” a collection of songs he wrote that was kickstarted by an unexpectedly long stay in Browning during the winter of 2015-2016.

 
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Browning — the reservation, the landscape, and the people — all serve as primary influences on this record. Addiction, heartbreak, family, post-traumatic stress disorder, wanderlust, and stray dogs are recurring themes throughout but seen through the lens of a modern-day Indian on a modern-day rez.

“Being an artist requires honesty, and I’ve taken every step and made every sacrifice to ensure that I’m being as honest in my work as I can,” he says. “Frugality, determination, and integrity are all the do-it-yourself punk rock values instilled in me over a decade in basements and bars. But honesty is a value instilled in me over a lifetime of being Blackfeet. This fellowship serves to promote the honest story of who we are and where we come from, with the hope to further humanize us to the outside world.”