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Education and art combined in Granfalloon: A Kurt Vonnegut Convergence



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Waxahatchee performs May 12 at the Bishop in Bloomington. The performance was part of Granfalloon: A Kurt Vonnegut Convergence, which took place May 10 through May 12.  Zheng Guan Buy Photos

Kurt Vonnegut fans and scholars from around the country gathered in Bloomington this weekend for Granfalloon: A Kurt Vonnegut Convergence. The festival featured a number of events, including panels, speakers, musical acts and a staged reading of a musical adaptation of “God Bless you, Mr. Rosewater.”

The festival concluded Saturday night with Bloomington Clubfest, a collection of musical acts spanning across various venues. Beforehand two keynote speakers made presentations about Vonnegut in Bloomington City Hall’s Council Chambers. 

Novelist and journalist Dan Wakefield spoke about Vonnegut’s views on religion in his keynote speech titled "Kurt Vonnegut, Christ-Loving Atheist." Having attended the same high school in Indianapolis as Vonnegut, Wakefield shed light on the novelist’s views on religion, particularly his admiration of Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount. 

While Wakefield’s speech focused on the personal connections he shared with Vonnegut, the second keynote speaker, Ginger Strand, focused on Vonnegut's formative years. Stand discussed how the scientific work of his older brother, Bernard, influenced his writing. 

“Kurt has such a unique voice that I think when we talk about it him it’s easy to lapse into the great man theory of literary production,” Strand said. “It’s no more true than it’s true of anyone. Books don’t emerge in a vacuum. Kurt was supported by a number of people who made vital contributions to his formation and his continuation as a writer."

Strand’s book “The Brothers Vonnegut: Science and Fiction in the House of Magic,” explores the connection between the weather control experiments Bernard conducted as a leading scientist at General Electric and Kurt’s writing, particularly his iconic novel “Cat’s Cradle.”

After the keynote speakers, another staged reading of “God Bless you, Mr. Rosewater,” took place at the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center and at 6 p.m. Bloomington Clubfest kicked off at Rhino’s Youth Center with a performance by Noname. 

Clubfest ended at the Bishop Bar with Waxahatchee performing a solo show. Katie Crutchfield stood onstage with only a microphone and her guitar, creating an intimate atmosphere as her powerful vocals transcended the crowd. 

“It’s always nerve-wracking to play on a Saturday night because people want to party,” Crutchfield said between songs. “I don’t know if they’ll want to listen to sad songs, but you guys seem to like it.”

The crowd attentively listened to Crutchfield throughout her set, swaying to the music and only breaking their silence to applaud at the end of each song. The mood was reverent as Crutchfield played a mix of old and new material. 

Though Vonnegut was the central focus of the weekend, the musical acts added a level of pure entertainment to the conference. 

Joe Hiland, communications specialist for the Arts and Humanities Council, said festival organizers worked with Spirit of ’68 Promotions to create the lineup for Bloomington Clubfest as well as the other musical acts of the weekend, including a solo performance by Father John Misty. 

“We worked with them and Secretly Canadian to identify bands that we thought would have a big draw here,” Hiland said. “So, it’s mostly based on recommendations from them, and we tried across the three venues to get acts that were sort of complimentary to each other.”

While it was the first year for Granfalloon: A Kurt Vonnegut Convergence, Hiland said the turnout was great. 

“It’s been even better than we could have hoped for,” Hiland said. “I think everything’s been at least 85 to 95 percent full, that includes all of the lectures that were at the Lilly Library yesterday, the Cinema event on Thursday was full. We’re really happy about that.”

Although Hiland said organizers have not received final word on whether or not the festival will happen next year, he is hopeful the Arts and Humanities Council will receive the funding it needs to put the event on again. 

“We kind of did an impromptu survey of people here and we got people from all around the country and a few people traveling internationally here, which was one of our big goals," Hiland said. "So I think we’re pretty pleased about it and we’re really hopeful that we’ll be able to make it happen again next year.”

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