NEW YORK CITY AND WASHINGTON — Spencer Battiest took New York City and Washington, D.C. by storm in a pair of concerts at both locations of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.
Accompanied by his brother Zack “Doc” Battiest and bandmates, Battiest showed his flair for melody and lyrics as he performed original pop songs and a couple of covers during the performances.
“It was a beautiful tour,” Spencer said. “A lot of Indian artists have passed through here. It was such an honor to be called by the Smithsonian and having my family here made it even more special. My grandmother [Judy Baker] doesn’t travel, but she came out for this.”
Spencer rocked New York City’s financial district during rush hour Aug. 3. Briefcase-toting commuters, locals and tourists alike stopped to listen on the cobblestone plaza and the steps of the museum. Several spectators in the estimated crowd of 600 stayed for the entire performance while others stopped and listened for a while.
Doc contributed to the energy of the concert with a solo rap performance and a duet of “The Storm” with his brother. As usual, he brought his son Emery Battiest, 6, to the concert.
“This was the most fun I’ve had in a while,” Doc said. “How many times do you get to perform in New York? The crowd didn’t know us from anywhere, but they listened and were great.”
“I love the challenge when people don’t know who you are and they listen,” Spencer added. “That’s the ultimate. It reassures us that we’re on the right track.”
The Washington performance Aug. 5 was held inside the Potomac Atrium, where museum goers took their seats, stood nearby or watched from the multiple levels overlooking the atrium. The music reverberated through the museum.
“Seeing him here in the Smithsonian is awesome,” said June Battiest, Spencer and Doc’s mother. “There is a lot of history here and they did a lot of research when they wrote ’The Storm.’ That history isn’t taught in books.”
Spencer always wears something Seminole onstage. For these performances he wore a long thick strand of beads in medicine colors, carried a shaker made for him by medicine man Bobby Henry and donned a vintage patchwork jacket worn by one of the original founders of the Tribe.
“The jacket was given to June by an elder who helped organize the Tribe,” Baker said. “That Spencer wore it here is meaningful. That jacket could be in this museum.”
The concerts were part of the NMAI’s summer showcase of Native American talent, an annual event held for 11 years in Washington and more than 15 in New York. Over the years, the museums have featured an eclectic mix of artists including Grammy Award winners Buffy Saint-Marie, Rita Coolidge and Bill Miller, as well as John Trudell, Indigenous, Martha Redbone, Dark Water Rising and A Tribe Called Red.
Concert organizers at NMAI had heard about Spencer, who was on their radar for a long time.
“Some of our staff saw him perform at a film festival in California and our Programs Department admired how professional and polished Spencer is as an artist,” program manager Shawn Termin wrote in an email to the Tribune. “He has really developed himself into a multi-faceted artist with very good music.”
The energetic performance and top-notch songs attracted a crowd of about 1,600 to the Washington concert. The audience was younger than usual for the museum, according to NMAI Social Media Coordinator Holly Stewart.
“Storytelling is part of our culture,” Spencer said. “Music is our way of storytelling; we put them [songs] out into the universe and hope people hear them. My career is about empowering, embracing and connecting with other Natives and non-Natives alike. We’re all human and we’re all struggling with something.”
Battiest’s cousin Bobbi Osceola, who traveled to New York for the first time, said it was awesome seeing him perform. Long-time friend Joni Josh said Spencer worked long and hard for his success and she is proud of him.
“If I can brighten up someone’s day then I’ve done my job,” Spencer said. “It’s all about the love. We’re all looking for the same thing; love. That’s my message.”