Dessa will have a special collaborator when she sings “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the Twins’ home opener at Target Field this afternoon.
The celebrated Minnesota singer/rapper/writer/whole-lot-of-other-stuffer has worked with everyone from Lin-Manuel Miranda to the Minnesota Orchestra to her buds in Doomtree. But today she’ll share the spotlight with a very special artist: Challenger. He is, according to eagles.org, “the first Bald Eagle in U.S. history trained to free-fly into major sports stadiums, arenas, and ballrooms during the National Anthem!” (The exclamation point is theirs, but we’re feeling it.)
OK, it’s not really much of a collaboration: Dessa’s gonna do her thing, Challenger's going to do his. But the symbolic weight on performing our national anthem in the presence of our national bird was not lost on Dessa. She recently contributed a typically thoughtful essay to the New York Times’ special feature “25 Songs That Tell Us Where Music Is Going” about what it means to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at a politically fraught moment, especially as the Colin Kaepernick-spurred “take a knee” protests, and the reaction against that movement, remind us all that the ritual of performing the anthem is itself a political act.
“Thinking about my own symbolic role in the ceremony, I’ve asked myself: Is there a way to perform this song that communicates respect to the veterans and also welcome to the activists—while still rooting the Twins to victory over the Mariners?” Dessa wrote in the Times.
But, she notes, the anthem itself arose at a time then the United States was in peril. “Whatever symbolic statement the anthem makes, it’s also literally posing a question: Did we survive that in one piece? A year and a half after a divisive election—with fresh strains on race relations, irreconcilable responses to gun violence and increasingly frequent political stalemates—we’re asking the same question in 2018.”
Dessa, you may recall, was originally scheduled to sing the anthem last April, but illness kept her on the bench that day, which may have been the one day in 2017 that she wasn’t doing something creative. She recently released a terrific new album, Chime. This weekend she'll perform at a sold-out First Avenue show on Friday and on Chris Thile's Live From Here at the State Theatre on Saturday. And she’s publishing a book of essays, My Own Devices: True Stories from the Road on Music, Science, and Senseless Love, in September.
Challenger’s debut novel, on the other hand, has yet to find a publisher. Step it up, bird!