"The young musicians in this film are a reminder of the important roles art and nature play in making the world a better place."
- Robert Redford
In the fall of 2016, the centennial anniversary of the National Park Service, the four members of the indie folk band “The Infamous Flapjack Affair” set out on a journey through the public lands of the Colorado River Basin. Their goal: to meet people who have crafted their lives in the Basin; to hear their stories about the places they love and the challenges that face those places; and to write music inspired by those encounters.
From the rim of the Grand Canyon to a ranch in Northwest Colorado, from the contended lands of Bears Ears National Monument and the awe-inspiring vistas of Canyonlands to the sweeping alpine forests of Rocky Mountain National Park, from the banks of the free-flowing Yampa River in Dinosaur National Monument to the imposing Glen Canyon Dam, Confluence explores one of the world's most important, most spectacular, and most endangered river systems.
This film paints the Colorado River as a metaphorical confluence of ecological regions, diverse human cultures, and intense controversy over the use of land and resources. The people the band meet -- an NPS ranger, a Havasupai medicine woman, a Navajo musician, a Colorado rancher, and a USGS scientist -- all leave their mark on what becomes a profound and moving story of human connection to place. Music may be just the tool we need to inspire a new conversation, to let our public lands unite us instead of dividing us.
Amala Posey - Park ranger, grand canyon
"When you can read the lines of the land / this place is a classroom with lessons to teach. / I am small but also empowered, / raised by wonder to listen and reach."
FROM “CANYON WREN”
Amala, who focuses on youth engagement within Grand Canyon National Park, sees the canyon as not only a wondrous landscape but also an educational tool. “She’s clearly found the thing she loves and devoted her career so far to helping protect that beautiful and complex place,” says Sarah Noyce, The Infamous Flapjack Affair’s lead singer and fiddler.
In addition to sharing the song of her favorite bird, the canyon wren, with the band (which became a featured melody), Amala spoke of the importance of listening to and respecting the first nations people who called the Canyon home long before it was a national park. “We have eleven traditionally associated tribes who have lived here for up to twelve thousand years, and the longer that we go without listening to them and taking into account their lessons learned, we won’t get anywhere.”
Dianna uqualla - havasupai medicine woman
"She knows the pain of a mother. / She bears the weight of the real. / She knows we have power / to hurt but also to heal."
Dianna is a medicine woman with the Havasupai tribe who met with the members of The Infamous Flapjack Affair on Mather Point, on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, to teach them about the canyon’s first nation history. The Havasupai people were forcibly moved from their land to make room for Grand Canyon National Park in 1919. “It was a horribly traumatic thing, and the scar tissue is still there,” says Ben Barron (banjo/guitar/vocals). “But Dianna just moves forward and focuses on simple shared human qualities like compassion and gratitude. That bowled me over.”
Dianna encouraged the band members – and by extension, all people – to examine what skills they had to offer the process of healing the wounds caused by a history of cultural and environmental mistreatment. We must protect the Colorado River, she told the band, because “the river is the spine of the Mother.”
Pete sands - Country Musician
"No black or white. / All bends to gray.”
FROM “WIDE WATER”
Pete Sands, a country musician and member of the Navajo nation, grew up in Utah’s Bears Ears region, which former President Barack Obama named a national monument only to have its borders shrunk by 85 percent by President Donald Trump during his first year in office. Pete’s community has opinions on both sides of the argument and sees the continuing conflict as the definition of a gray area. “That mindset is so apt for finding understanding in today’s divided political environment,” IFA cellist James Mitchell says.
Pete has been a regular performer at events to rally support in favor of the federal protection Bears Ears, sending a clear message about how important the region is to the people with long cultural traditions there, and the threats the region will face if it is not protected. “A lot of the land around here is always in danger because there are always natural resources that people are going after,” said Pete. “You have to decide if the people who live in the area are not as important as the resources that they need somewhere else.”
Jenny Briggs - Research ecologist, usgs
"Pine needles are my carpet, / trees my pillars and walls. / Can I find myself at home here / before I come to fall?”
Jenny is a USGS Research Ecologist specializing in the pine beetles that wreaked havoc on the lodgepole pine trees of Rocky Mountain National Park. Jenny taught the band about how climate change created conditions that allowed the beetles to thrive beyond their normal numbers – so much so that nearly half the lodgepole pines in the park are now dead. “Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the gravity of these human-fueled impacts, Jenny was such an optimist,” says Ben Barron. “She was constantly curious, and grateful to spend her days learning about an area as beautiful as Rocky Mountain National Park.”
When speaking with the band about the dead pines, Jenny added “My eye is always tuned to the little ones that are popping up. They are going to represent the future generations.”
Kyle Monger - Rancher
"If nothing else, as you go, / As you make your way, / hear this: / Go and light up the world.”
FROM “WIDE WATER”
After chasing an acting career in Hollywood, Kyle came back to the Yampa River Valley in Colorado to help his sister, Tyra, maintain the ranch that has been in their family for decades. “Even though their mother insisted that her children pursue their interests and passions wherever that would take them, the next generation has gravitated back to the ranch, fostering a deep love of and care for the land, despite a challenging economic backdrop,” says David Carel, guitarist for the Infamous Flapjack Affair.
The Monger family shared their hospitality with the band – including grilling burgers from their own ranch – and also shared their concerns about land and water use on the Yampa, the Colorado's last major free-flowing tributary. Kyle explained to the band that he and his family took no issue with people moving in and living the lives they want to live, then continued, “We just want people to respect the history, and the heritage, and what we’re all about too, you know?”
The infamous Flapjack Affair
"When we leave this place, / when we journey on, / we'll be thankful to have breathed at all, / to raise our voice in song.”
Formed in 2013 in Oxford, UK, The Infamous Flapjack Affair is an indie folk quartet comprised of Sarah Noyce (Sheffield, UK - lead vocals, violin, guitar, mandolin), Ben Barron (Boulder, CO - lead vocals, banjo, guitar), James Mitchell (Tulsa, OK - cello, vocals), and David Carel (Philadelphia, PA - guitar, mandolin, vocals). IFA has toured in the United States, United Kingdom, and South Africa, bringing their characteristic inventive arrangements, tight harmonies, instrumental virtuosity, and infectious enthusiasm to an ever-wider audience.
In addition to music, the four members of IFA share a love of the outdoors. Confluence was born from their desire to use their music as a tool to spark dialogue around a contentious environmental situation.