Relay of Voices & Big Blue Sky music and storytelling event

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Victoria Bradford-Styrbecki and her husband, Tom Styrbecki, departed from the headwaters of the Mississippi River in Itasca State Park on July 9. The couple is on a running and cycling expedition, determined to reach the mouth of the Mississippi River in November, a distance of about 2,375 miles. (Photo submitted)

By Caroline Rosacker

"Relay of Voices," a project of A House Unbuilt, a nonprofit corporation based in Lake Charles, La., and Chicago, Ill., is making its way on a four-month expedition from the headwaters to the mouth of the Mississippi River. 

"Relay of Voices" will embark on a mission to collect individual stories across the Mississippi River region, with the hope of seeking out the common voice of home and rootedness, and disrupting the national narrative of disconnection. The relay teams' endeavor will take place from July through November 2019. 

Relay director Victoria Bradford-Styrbicki will spearhead the event with the assistance of her support team, certified triathlon coach Nic King-Ruley, project manager Dinah Bradford and many regional volunteers.

The group will arrive in Guttenberg on Friday, Aug. 9. Mandy Ludovissy, Guttenberg Chamber of Commerce director, told The Press, "The timing of the 'Relay of Voices' arrival in Guttenberg coincided perfectly with our annual Celebrate Guttenberg event. It is the perfect opportunity for the citizens of Guttenberg to not only celebrate our town and its businesses and organizations, but to celebrate our connection to the river and each other." 

The "Relay of Voices" team will be present at the Friday night River of Music event, and on Saturday at the Guttenberg Farmer's Market and during tours of Lock and Dam 10. "I urge community members to welcome and visit with the relay team as they attend the various activities that are planned for our annual Celebrate Guttenberg event," encouraged Ludovissy. 

Local organizers have assembled a broad cross-section of six area resident "voices" from different age groups, cultural backgrounds, professions, as well as relationships to the river. The sample group includes Joe Ihm, Jamie Ludovissy, Kathy Lake, Becky Hefel, Morgan Tujetsch and Rich Sadewasser. 

Big Blue Sky music and storytelling event

The relay team will "relay" the voices and landscapes from their previous stop in Harpers Ferry to the stories gathered in Guttenberg. They will present the compilation during a storytelling event at the Guttenberg Marina Visitor Center on Saturday, Aug. 10. The public is invited to witness and participate in this storytelling process. The event will kick off at 6 p.m. with music from Big Blue Sky. 

Bradford-Styrbicki, the executive artistic director, explained, "We want to build a culture of listening around the communities of the Mississippi River. We are working to build a vocabulary drawn from the lives of the people of Guttenberg. Through this we hope a story emerges that resonates beyond the river and connects all Americans." She went on to say, "Through accumulation and just being present, we hope to be a catalyst for all the voices of Guttenberg while providing insightful data for scientific purposes."

The relay committee has identified 104 communities that are approximately 20 to 40 miles apart. The group will travel to each community as they make their way down the river through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana, collecting stories as they go. They will finish their journey at the mouth of the Mississippi River at the Gulf of Mexico. 

The organized route will provide an accurate representation of both the river and the diversity of its surrounding communities. The group's primary reason for choosing the Mississippi River region was the dichotomy of the rural and urban communities that reside there, with many of these communities still making a living off the water and land. 

On Sunday morning, Aug.  11, the "Relay of Voices" team will depart from Guttenberg from the Marina Visitor Center and continue on their journey to North Buena Vista. If you would like to run or bike as part of the relay's escort team, either escorting the group into the community on Friday or out on Sunday morning please contact the Chamber office at 563-252-2323 or e-mail Ludovissy at guttenberg@alpinecom.net.

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