Artist profile: Harper Stone shares myths and stories about death

Harper Stone shares tales about death Oct. 2 at Honey Moon Mead & Cider.
Harper Stone shares tales about death Oct. 2 at Honey Moon Mead & Cider. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Harper Stone, 31, may be best recognized for the band he’s in, Hot Damn Scandal, but he’s also a storyteller, a camp leader and an organizer of Whatcom SkillShare.

On Friday, Oct. 2, as a participant in the Art of Death Conference and a member of Bellingham Storytellers Guild, he’ll share tales about heroes who met death, those who escaped, those who transformed through his embrace and those who bargained for a better deal, in an all-ages event at Honey Moon Mead & Cider, 1053 N. State St. (behind Pepper Sisters).

Question: What were your growing-up years like?

Answer: I was born and raised in Boulder, CO and educated at alternative public schools. My parents met in a mythology class. I was raised on tapes of storytellers and books of Irish and Scandinavian myth and folklore, and a hefty dose of folk and world music. My dad plays banjo, harmonica and jug in a bluegrass-jug band, sings folk songs and runs a recording studio and a radio show. My mom does psychotherapy, leads Celtic rituals and is a scholar of Celtic and Peruvian spirituality. The apple falls not far from the tree, in my case.

Q: Then what?

A: I studied fine arts at the College of Santa Fe. After graduating, I realized I needed to get my hands in the dirt, so to speak, and add some real life to my education so I traveled in Ireland and lived there for a year and a half, work-trading at farms and homesteads and for a mystical couple of authors.

Q: What brought you to Whatcom County?

A: In 2010, complications in my plans to return to Ireland left me at the end of a summer job not having any idea what I was to do with my life, or where I was going to live. So, I thought to myself, “I’ve always wanted to see the redwoods, I’ll head to California and explore the west coast.” Things kept getting better the farther north I got. In Bellingham, I made more friends in my first weekend than I’d made in Colorado all summer. I’ve since found that for every single one of my interests — storytelling; jug band and Irish music; comics; alternative circus; foam-sword battles; intentional community, permaculture, homesteading and skill-sharing —there’s an active group of people doing it well, and welcoming me into their midst. It’s amazing how many down-to-earth, friendly, creative people call this place home.

Q: What are some of your activities in Bellingham?

A: I am a painter, currently working on commission of paintings based on the archetypes. Or, rather, I’ll soon be working on them, as soon as I finish the cabin studio I’m building.

I am a storyteller, exploring the bardic path: I tell a lot of Celtic myths and folktales, and I have been combining these stories with Irish music with to create a captivating, almost cinematic, experience. I focus on stories suited to an adult audience, stories with complex ethics and a depth of emotion more akin to real life than the simple moralistic stories often intended for kids.

I play music regularly with Hot Damn Scandal and other musicians, on washboard, banjo, guitar, and bones.

I lead Adventure Quest summer camps, birthday parties, and after-school programs, where kids play the heroes of a mythic quest, going on an adventure to solve riddles, negotiate treaties, and swashbuckle with foes.

I am also an organizer of the Whatcom SkillShare Faire, and am part of the newly-forming Cascadian Homesteaders Community Land Trust, which seeks to bridge the gap between landowners with farms or homesteads that they are having difficulty managing by themselves, and folks with an interest in farming and homesteading, but who are priced out of the market.

Q: Why do you enjoy all these activities?

A: Most of the things I do are about bringing people to a state of wonder, joy, and empowerment. When people are having fun, experiencing beauty, and in a state of amazement, they’re more open and better able to take in new concepts. The lessons I feel most passionate about imparting are about regenerative culture — how to live in a rapidly changing world, and how to make it better, while having a good time. But lessons about love and death and pain and joy are eternally relevant, and everybody needs to laugh and dance from time to time.

Q: What do you plan to do for your event at the Honey Moon?

A: I’ll be telling stories about death, along with several other storytellers and musicians — Kelvin Saxton, John Bono, Jan Peters and Brit Keeton. Death has always been a mysterious encounter for humans, and storytelling is the original form of education and entertainment. So stories about death have been around as long as humans have been people. Traditionally, one of the primary functions of storytelling has been to bring people on a journey of the imagination, so they can learn how to respond when they take that journey in real life.

Death is the one thing that every single person on this planet will experience at some point, and so it’s very important that we learn to take that journey well. In stories, death is often personified as a character, because as social creatures, we understand and relate to other people better than we understand abstract concepts. In this way, we can develop a new relationship with death: we can befriend him, we can see the beauty in her, we can find courage and strength where before there was fear.

Q: Where can people see you?

A: Honeydrippers’ Tales is a storytelling series hosted by myself and Kelvin Saxton at the Honey Moon. It regularly features stories and music aimed at an adult audience, though suitable for all ages. Our theme on Oct. 30 is “Meeting the Other Crowd: True Encounters with Ghosts and Fairies.” More at facebook.com/HoneydrippersTales.

I’m teaching classes in Irish music and folklore at the Bellingham Irish Festival on Oct. 3 at Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship. More at bellinghamirishfestival.com.

I’m starting Adventure Quest after-school programs this fall at Lowell and Wade King elementary schools, and Fairhaven Middle Schools, and will be doing more kids’ programs in the spring and summer. More at QuestNorthwest.com.

Hot Damn Scandal will be playing on Oct. 4 at the Green Frog with the Clumsy Lovers, and at the Green Frog on Oct. 29 with the Resonant Rogues from Asheville, NC. We’ll be pulling out a special Halloween repertoire for that show. The following couple of weeks we’ll be on tour through Western Washington and Oregon. Details: facebook.com/HotDamnScandalBand.

Reach Margaret Bikman at 360-715-2273 or margaret.bikman@bellinghamherald.com. Read her columns at bellinghamherald.com/behind-the-scenes.

Art of Death Expo “Storytelling: Honeydrippers’ Tales: The Final Journey”

When: 8:30-11 p.m. Friday, Oct. 2

Where: Honey Moon Mead & Cider, 1053 N. State St., Bellingham.

Cost: Free, but please enjoy some mead or hot tea while listening.

Details: 360-734-0728, honeymoonmeads.com