Kristy Larson traces her earliest consciousness of literacy to childhood. "I remember being read to as a kid by my grandma," she remembers. The veteran country-roots chanteuse remembers the shelves of her grandmother's home being stacked with books. "Her world was books," Larson recalls. That environment left an impression, introducing Larson to her life-long love for books.
This Sunday, March 1, Larson will join a stellar lineup of local musicians for the Literacy Network's 35th Anniversary Celebration Concert. Scheduled for 3-11 p.m. at the High Noon Saloon, the benefit will feature performances by the Oak Street Ramblers, Blake Thomas, Josh Harty, Richard Wiegel and Tom McCarty, Bill and Bobbie Malone, the Cork 'n Bottle String Band, John Fabke and Dan O'Brien and the Kristy Larson Trio. The suggested donation is $10, with proceeds supporting the not-for-profit agency's provision of literacy services to Dane County adults and families.
The Literacy Network estimates the number of adults in the county with reading and writing skills insufficient to read their child's report card, a doctor's prescription or food labels at more than 17,000. Serving a population that skews toward lower incomes, its menu of ESL, integrated English and civics education and workplace literacy programs are a portal to a better quality of life.
Larson -- a 30-year veteran of the local music scene who has fronted such ensembles as the Wild Blue Yonder Boys and the Banzai Buckaroos attests to the value of literacy. From Dick and Jane in the first grade to an immersion in books about Civil Rights during junior high school to The Book Thief, which she has just started reading, Larson has found great worlds of discovery and insight in the books she has read.
"Reading was more important to me than television or movies when I was young," she says. The payoffs were frequent and varied. By the time she first visited New York, at 15, she had read so much about it that "I already understood New York when I got there."
Larson also perceives a link between her life-long love of books and her profound affection for Americana and roots music. "I love country music as a form of expression," she explains, "the storytelling, the emotional content is something I can step into."
She and her husband, the multi-instrumentalist Mark Roeder, have likewise raised their two sons in a literary milieu. Even if she didn't read 10 or 20 books every year, she notes, literacy is prerequisite to a host of abilities ranging from completing practical daily tasks at home or work to reading subtitled translations in foreign-language films. "The ability to read," she observes, "is just a huge connection to the world."