Stand Up, Get off the Couch (and Participate)

Folk musician and singer Grant Peeples is a poet, philosopher, and performer with a penchant for pushing audiences out of their comfort zone.

The seventh generation Floridian is participating in the Second Sundays at Stetsons Concert Series at the Beluthahatchee home of author and civil rights activist Stetson Kennedy on August 12.

Peeples played his first professional gig on his 50th birthday at the Gamble Rogers Music Festival in St. Augustine. He has since performed in 400-500 different venues coast-to-coast. Peeples has recorded 10 studio and three live albums. He’s also written two books of poetry and has been known to occasionally read his original poems before performing.

“I started out with poetry, I wrote poetry and stories as a boy. Then, I had an idea for a song. I learned to play the guitar so I could write the song that I wanted to write.”

The Tallahassee native lived on a small island off the Miskito Coast of Nicaragua for 11 years. “I left everything I had and I went there. And when I came back, that’s when I started being a musician,” Peeples says, “My response to what I’d seen was to start writing songs about it. Still today, I feel like many of my songs are coming home songs. Music is something I have to do. It’s something that burns out of me.”

His songs are raw, edgy, and melodically hypnotizing. He’s not afraid to tackle hot-button political issues and also draws inspiration from life experiences and people he’s encountered along the way. His lyrics are startlingly intellectual in a world of popular music, but that should be no surprise. His greatest influencers are not other musicians, but philosophers, world religions, artists, and poets. “I’m writing about things now where the idea is to challenge the listener and make the listener think,” Peeples says, “I want to bring them out of their comfort zone and think that they might discover something they didn’t know was there.”

“I play folk music because that music is about folks,” he says, “That’s not original. I can’t remember who said it, but I want my art to count. My music is about where I’ve been. My music is about where I stand. I think we’re in some really, really critical times and I think folk music has the potential to be transformative.”

One of the most powerful role models in Grant’s journey has been Woody Guthrie. “This will be the first time I’ve ever played at Stetson Kennedy’s and it’s important because Stetson Kennedy was an ally and a very good friend of Woody Guthrie,” Peeples says, “He supported Woody Guthrie. They were very much cut from the same cloth.” Peeples admires Guthrie’s civil rights activism, “Not so much artistically, but humanistically, is how I admire him.”

Second Sundays at Stetsons is part of a concert series presented by the North Florida Folk Network.

“Grant is a unique Florida singer and songwriter in that he writes and sings beautifully and holds nothing back,” says North Florida Folk Network board member Al Poindexter, “His songs can often have political topics and he gets to the heart of the matter boldly and often with humor, but always amazing. He’s a great talent to have at Beluthahatchee. Stetson would applaud him. These concerts are vital to the preservation of folk music in our area and Grant Peeples is a great example of Florida folk tradition that we are privileged to present.”

Poindexter encourages people to come out to Second Sundays at Stetsons for a unique, unforgettable experience. “People can debate definitions of folk music for hours,” he says, “But I believe that folk music celebrates our differences and our similarities and our passions and speaks to our troubles too. But it does it in simplicity and clarity. It comes from our roots, so everyone, I think, hears the longing of their own soul for a good and peaceful life.”

The musician offers these words of wisdom to NE Floridians: get involved, no matter what that looks like in your life. “Stand up, get off the couch, and participate. Whatever you believe in, whatever your values are, get up and participate at whatever level. Get up. Participate. Be a part.”

Activism is a vital theme in his work. In his song “Searching for a Sign” Peeples warns, “It’s hard to start a revolution when your face is six feet from your television.”