Hayden Pedigo. Photo by Erik Burdett

 

Grassroots on the High Plains

Musician Hayden Pedigo Ventures into Direct Democracy

Experimental musician and Amarillo City Council candidate may seem to be an unlikely pairing, but it exactly describes Hayden Pedigo. The 2019 SXSW Showcasing Artist has been an acclaimed solo musician for a few years, but the 24 year-old has also piloted an unlikely campaign for a seat on the governing body of his hometown, the Texas Panhandle’s largest city.

A self-taught guitarist, Pedigo developed his musical approach in Amarillo’s geographic remoteness and relative cultural insularity, where he absorbed early guitar influences like John Fahey, Larry Gatton, and Wes Montgomery, along with other music that caught his ear, such as free jazz, prog rock and obscure indie noise bands.

“I just made a kind of weird, oddball music with my guitar,” Pedigo explained during an interview at SXSW in March. “How I found my voice was by mixing the guitar stuff with weirdo synthesizer sounds and tape loops, and it became its own thing … I think it’s trying to tap into moods and tones. The idea is to make like a patchwork quilt of the different sounds.”

Pedigo also said that the landscape of his native high plains region is woven into his musical fabric: “I’ve always said that Texans create great ambient music … the sky is huge, and it’s all about space, and Amarillo is extremely like that. It’s flat, it’s spacious and there’s a sense of isolation, a little bit of loneliness.”

 

With his recent transition to electric guitar, Pedigo said that he tries to channel the likes of Robert Fripp and Brain Eno through his Texas Panhandle perspective. “I like to make it relaxed and peaceful,” he emphasized. “I always say that I try to make ‘ambient country music.’ ”

Despite creating largely in his own sphere, Pedigo has not gone unnoticed, having released acclaimed records on such labels as Marmara and Debacle Records. More recently, Greetings From Amarillo, his second effort for Los Angeles-based ambient label Driftless Recordings, has been featured on both NPR and in Aquarium Drunkard. At SXSW, Pedigo performed on a showcase at the Hideout along with avant-garde artists from Sweden, China and Poland.

“…in Amarillo, 40% of the population is under the age of 30, so I wondered why that huge group of people wasn’t speaking up.”

However, lately Pedigo has been getting attention for his non-musical endeavors. Last summer, while sincerely bothered by his sense that city government was not serving the majority of the city’s populace, Pedigo looked for a way to get involved and began a rather avant-garde run for Amarillo City Council.

“I felt like there was a lack of representation for a lot of people in my city,” he said. “Also, I ran because people my age aren’t paying attention to politics, and in Amarillo, 40% of the population is under the age of 30, so I wondered why that huge group of people wasn’t speaking up.”

 
Hayden Pedigo performing at the Hideout for SXSW 2019. Photo by Chevis LaBelle

Hayden Pedigo performing at the Hideout for SXSW 2019. Photo by Chevis LaBelle

 

In addition, he was driven by a genuine sense of civic pride: “I know a lot of people who leave Amarillo and complain that it’s not a great place to live. I disagree, but I think it could be better if we started saying ‘Hey, I want my city to move in a positive direction.’ ”

Still as a political novice, Pedigo lacked the means and experience to get attention as a serious candidate. Then inspired by the gritty look of early Harmony Korine films, Pedigo had a friend film his first “campaign ad” on a phone. In it, he wore a thrift store suit, threw a folding chair across a creek, assessed various distances with a tape measure and said into the camera: “I believe that a lot of local business owners are straight up getting bonked.”

Pedigo believed that the spot would just be shared on social media among his friends for a laugh, but much to his surprise, it gained widespread attention both locally and beyond. More spots were filmed and as his name recognition increased among potential voters, he transitioned into running a legitimate campaign.

Since declaring his formal candidacy, he has accepted no campaign donations and has focused on the true grassroots political work of attending civic events, doing interviews with local media and speaking at local schools and candidate forums at places like the local pipefitters union hall.

“It’s interesting to see how it has grown into this thing that I feel like is bigger than me now,” he said about the buzz behind his underdog bid. “I definitely feel like I’m deep into the campaign season now.”

 

When asked about his chances in the May 4 election, Pedigo was philosophical: “I don’t think my chances of winning are great. I will say that … but starting a conversation among people my age? I think that’s already happened, and I can continue to move it forward. So the end goal maybe isn’t even winning, it’s getting this discussion started and hopefully inspiring other people who want to try to run.”

As for his future vision for his hometown, Pedigo simply hoped that its youth would not immediately look to move elsewhere: “I would like to see us keep young, creative people in Amarillo instead of having them move to larger cities because they want bigger opportunities. Not that I’m against that, but sometimes I wish people would stay in their hometowns and change them instead.”

Regardless of what happens of May 4, Pedigo plans to continue to pursue both his artistic and public service interests. “The music will be a thing I’ll always do,” he said. “With the politics, it will be interesting to see what happens. I joke that this is a trial run for something bigger, but as I’ve realized the weight of what I’m doing, I have been thinking that I can really do something with this.”

UPDATE: Hayden Pedigo placed second out of four candidates in the May 4 election for Amarillo City Council Place 1, receiving 2,089 votes out of the total of 16,180 votes cast.

The 2020 SXSW Conference & Festivals will take place March 13-22 in Austin, Texas.

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