Author, singer and songwriter Dar Williams talks on the identities, history and value of American small towns

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In her most recent book “What I Have Found in a Thousand Towns,” Dar Williams explores her experience as a musician and touring small towns. (Photo by Jess Furtado ’19)

Danielle Mullan

Known for her critically acclaimed pop-folk discography, Dar Williams spoke to Lafayette this Tuesday about her most recent book “What I Have Found in a Thousand Towns,” an anthropological approach to small-town America through the voice of a songwriter. Williams also performed for the audience.

“What I Have Found in a Thousand Towns” is an intersection of Williams’ experience as a musician and her analysis of the small towns she has toured over the years. Williams’ touring is mainly centered in small towns rather than large cities.

Williams is this year’s Pesky Artist-in-Residence at the college. She has brought her songwriting expertise to the music department.

Williams periodically teaches a class entitled “Music Movements in a Capitalist Democracy” at her alma mater Wesleyan University, in addition to hosting a series of summer camps that use music as a foundation for community building.

Towns like Easton prove that corporate retail chains did not lead to the downfall of small towns, Williams said, adding it actually achieved the opposite response—many towns have been able to recover from past afflictions in recent years.  

Williams attributes the success of these communities to three factors: spaces, translation and identity building products. Spaces refer to an inclusive common area where “weak ties” can be formed by townsfolk. Whether these ties lead to companionship or merely the ability to recognize another as a member of the community, Williams’ emphasizes the strength that these ties can have in bolstering a community forward.

“Positive proximity” is the act of bringing a community closer to each other which does not create conflict, rather the opposite—collaboration. Williams said that the narrative of division a self-fulfilling prophecy, especially in smaller communities.

Implementation of this philosophy can be seen locally. Examples like Easton’s farmers market, Baconfest, or taking a walk on the historic arts trail all serve as means of connecting with the community and history of Easton.

Williams is performing at the Williams Arts Center on Nov. 16, sharing her belief in the power of human connection and community through song.