Backstage at the Utah Arts Festival 2022: Shea Freedom: ‘I make music that makes party people think and thinking people party’

Shea Freedom: June 24, 6:15 p.m., Park Stage

The Utah Arts Festival’s inaugural Emerging Artists program is an impressive mix of artists, literary figures and musicians who see their creative expressive and community activism as going hand in hand. With an expanding base of international shows, Shea Freedom is one of the program’s most dynamic examples. Freedom uses his music as a platform for advocating for the issues and causes of Black transmen like himself, as well as foster youth, environmental conservation and human rights and the dignity of equality.  

Freedom decided to live in the streets after leaving the California foster care system and eventually developed his creative style as a musician. He is the creator of the TRANScend 101 workshop, which has been featured at festivals as well as organizations around the world. The workshop encourages participants to learn and apply the history and heritage of transgender, non-binary and gender nonconforming individuals around the world. Freedom has been a keynote speaker for Mental Health of America as well as the California State Foster Parent Association. 

Freedom’s music serves many uses and settings. For example, be was invited to Lascaux II in Lascaux, France to film his song Water is Life.

Freedom graciously answered a few questions via email from The Utah Review. 

Shea Freedom.

TUR: Who have been your most significant musical inspirations and how have they expanded and evolved as you add to your music catalog and performing experiences?

SF: My most significant musical inspirations will always be my mother, Sherry Blythe. My mother left me her guitar when she jumped the great divide (passed away) and that gift combined with emancipating from foster care changed the projection of my life for the better. I recently started finding inspiration from R.A.P and look forward to creating music that showcases more of my ability to spit bars. 

TUR: How would you characterize the style of your music? Is the term folk hop encompassing what you envision or do you see a more comprehensive way of describing your work?

SF: I will most likely always characterize my style of music as “Folk-hop” for me. The Aspen Times said it best when they said “Freedom layers fast-paced rhymes and sung choruses over a folky base of acoustic instrumentation.” I make music that makes party people think and thinking people party. It’s music you can chill, heal and groove too. 

TUR: Activism and music go hand in hand. How have you seen your music and your work in activism cross-pollinate each other?

SF: From the us to the England, Wales, France and back I’ve been blessed to have a platform from which folx can’t unhear the things I sing or say. As Uncle Ben said to Peter Parker a/k/a Spiderman, “Remember with great power, comes great responsibility.” This power and responsibility led me to create and carry on my tours a workshop I call TRANScend 101: An exploration of the sacred roles held by trans and gender non conforming folx throughout the world & its history. I have also made a point of hosting WAR Gatherings (We Are Resilient) which fosters community by uplifting the voices of historically persecuted peoples via arts. I look forward to bringing WAR Gatherings into the outdoors in the hopefully near future.

TUR: What have been your favorite QTBIPOC film, television series, book, play, music, visual art or individual, which has resonated with you over the years?

SF: (QTBIOC films and tv series or books exist? Omg where?) 

I recommend The Bold World: A Memoir of Family and Transformation by Jodie Patterson to parents and family of young trans / gnc folx. To young folx I recommend Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender

TUR: What are your plans for upcoming music, releases and touring?

SF: I am sitting on a  couple albums’ worth of songs. Still on hiatus from touring, though I am accepting gigs that feel right and make sense financially. I honestly want to get back to touring in the UK and more of Europe.

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