The Sacred Resilience of Shea Freedom and the W.A.R. Gathering
Juneteenth is fast approaching, and what better way to celebrate than with the magnificent Shea Freedom? A musician, speaker, workshop creator and founder of the W.A.R. (We Are Resilient) Gathering, Freedom aims to provide artists with intentional, sacred spaces where their creativity can flourish and they can find community. If that beautiful dream sounds like a place you’d like to be in, we’re happy to say it’s a reality—on June 20, the W.A.R. Gathering is bringing Juneteenth: A Celebration of Black Voices to the Clubhouse on South Temple (850 E. South Temple). This live music, all-ages event boasts appearances from Freedom, Wynter Storm, Honey and more with general admission doors opening at 6:45 p.m. W.A.R. is also dedicating a portion of proceeds to local organizations Genderbands and BIPOC at The Front, so make sure to grab your tickets at juneteenthslc.bpt.me.
SLUG: I saw that you’re the speaker for the W.A.R. Gathering Juneteenth event! How are you feeling about this opportunity? Can you tell us more about this event, what it will entail, who all will be performing, etc.?
Freedom: As the founder of W.A.R (We Are Resilient) Gathering, I am honored to bring these events born in Oakland, CA, to Salt Lake City, UT. I was nervous at first with relocation during these precarious times; I for a moment was unsure of how W.A.R. Gathering or I would be received by the local communities. I will say that this is the first event in which I’ve reached out for sponsors to help guarantee payment for artists, as I couldn’t be sure of the ticket sales during this difficult time for humanity. I am overjoyed that the folks at Utah Pride Center, Project Rainbow, Equality Utah and SLUG Magazine reached back [out] with excitement about this and to have them allied in sponsorship.
SLUG: What was the inspiration and motivation behind founding W.A.R.?
Freedom: I founded W.A.R. Gathering out of an ambition to create a safe, sober, sacred place for artists from Bioneers Conference 2018 to perform as they were wrapping up a year of touring (myself included). W.A.R Gathering was also created with the desire to do things differently by creating a sacred, intentional gathering of artists and community that I often find missing from events while on tour. I also wanted to create a way for me as an artist and curator to be able to give back financially to organizations and artists I believe in.
SLUG: What has your musical journey been like? How would you describe both the journey and the music you create?
Freedom: My musical journey has started out magically or ancestrally, I would say. My mother’s death while I was in foster care made tangible the saying, “It matters most what we leave behind when you go.” When my mum passed, I picked up her guitar and sang myself from the streets as a homeless, former foster youth; a young, trans man singing in coffee shops to mainstage performances internationally as [the] spirit that is before you today. I can describe the musical journey and the music I make as nothing less than my audience has described it to me: We call it “musical medicine.” I create and channel music that nurtures the soul, tells stories that folks can relate to while being of [a] tempo you can chill or dance to. I make music for all ages and all people. I like to say I make music that makes party people think and thinking people party.
SLUG: What do you want audiences to take away when you perform?
Freedom: It is my deepest desire that my audiences take away these three things from my performances: One, we are a human family and everyone of us is deserving of love and respect, no matter our past transgressions or differences; two, I want my audiences to leave feeling uplifted and/or delightfully contemplative; three, I hope folks like my music and carry it with them, sharing it with those they love.
SLUG: What do you want audiences to take away from W.A.R. Gathering and the Juneteenth event?
Freedom: I hope folks take these three things away from W.A.R Gatherings: One, it is important to know the history of the land we stand on and be in relationship with the land; two, you do not need to be drunk to have a good time; three, it is important to create spaces that uplift the voices and creations of people who are marginalized in today’s society and have been historically persecuted.
SLUG: Why do you create, and who do you do the work for?
Freedom: Creating is a way I honor my mother and the gift of music she left me in her passing. I create to bring people together via song and dance. This is true, however the most important thing to me as someone blessed with a mic is to be able to humanize former foster youth and homeless trans folk in the eyes of my audience—to make them see the very real impact love, acceptance, luck and constant healing can have on a life if given the chance to be embraced.
SLUG: In addition to being the founder of W.A.R., you also are a workshop creator. What inspired you to create TRANScend 101, and how has it been implemented so far?
Freedom: While touring at festivals in particular, I noticed a lack of LGBTQIA folk and [often] experienced … a lack of familiarity with us, especially in places that had “sacred fires” and promoted a sort of “woke” mentality. Thus, I took a dive into what sacred roles we held in history as trans and gender non-conforming folks and I asked Creator what my sacred role as a spirit/transman during these times is.
SLUG: What does the curriculum for your TRANScend 101 workshop consist of?
Freedom: I created TRANScend 101 for all ages to explore the sacred roles held by trans and gender nonconforming peoples throughout the world and history. The full workshop/playshop for adults consists of breaking the ice with the coloring of the well known “Gender Unicorn” and introducing ourselves with them. Next, we break down a bit of terminology, get into history and sacred roles. Lastly, we play with a few packers and talk about safe methods of binding and organizations available to help folks with mental health crises and transition processes.
SLUG: How do your intersecting identities shape what you create? Do your identities shape how you see Juneteenth and the event you’re hosting?
Freedom: I just hope to be a lighthouse creating a safe harbor for those around me. I hope to be a beacon of light that lets folks know they are on their path, as some have been for me. Often I am the first Black trans man that folks meet; understanding this, I hope to leave folks with a positive and inspiring first interaction. My love for the Earth and people is what drove me to host this event the day after Juneteenth on the solstice. I’d say yes indeed my identities and the lack of voices like mine in the music industry worldwide led to the creation of W.A.R Gathering.
SLUG: What are your next steps for you as a musician and beyond?
Freedom: I am currently working on my fourth album, which I am self producing. I am lowkey fundraising for the conversion of my van Pegasus, while working on becoming an AMGA Multi-Pitch guide and saving for top surgery.
SLUG: How can people connect and support you and the other musicians, artists and activists at the W.A.R. Gathering event?
Freedom: The best way folks can support the event is by getting tickets via juneteenthslc.bpt.me. Masks are required at the event. The other way is to check out, share and purchase or gift if possible the works of myself and these artists via SheaFreedom.com, voiceofhoney.com, wynterthepoet.com and EssieShaw.com. I encourage folks to go check out the project Essie Shaw and I created called “Freedom.” It is on exhibit as a part of SLC Queer at the Urban Arts Gallery, which is up all month. The artist reception is on June 18 from 7–9 p.m.