Putting the ‘I can’ into Americana:
Holk builds musical momentum
with album of protest songs
By Billi London-Gray
With the understated grace that marks many folk musicians, Victor Holk introduced his honors thesis to a roomful of Texas State professors and fellow Honors Program students this past spring: “I’d like to play some protest songs for you.”
His thesis — a wide-ranging study of protest songs including the now-iconic standards of Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger and others as well as Holk’s own compositions — culminated in a 30-minute solo performance and discussion of the songs and their role in society. He also announced that he planned to complete a recorded collection of the songs.
Since graduating in May with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, Holk has transitioned from university life to the full-time pursuit of his passion for music. He will release his promised album of protest songs, With Words as Strong as Warriors, at a performance tonight, Nov. 11, at Triple Crown in San Marcos.
For Holk, the album and a steady performance schedule are the fruits of an abiding drive to create and share.
“Since I was very young I wanted to be a musician, or entertainer of any sort, really,” he says. He recalls begging for a guitar at the age of 5; being inspired to become a comedian at the age of 13; and finally charting his course for a career in music at the end of high school, playing in bands around Austin.
“The idea of the stage always intrigued me,” he says. “I felt that there wasn’t a place for me in typical American society and figured that music would be my escape from the drudge of typical career serfdom.”
Having had several family members attend Texas State, he enrolled at the university after earning an associate degree in commercial music management from Austin Community College. Parting ways with his previous band mates, he got a job running sound at Cheatham Street Warehouse, the venerable San Marcos honky-tonk run by “the godfather of Texas music,” Kent Finlay.
Holk also became a regular at Finlay’s weekly Songwriters Circle, where he received mentoring and encouragement from veteran artists. Through these sessions and his academic studies, Holk found inspiration and direction for his own compositions.
“Studying philosophy at Texas State helped expand my mind to new ideas, forever changing how I view life, and this is certainly reflected in most of my work,” he says. The changes rose through his songs and his abilities as a performer, and in 2009 he won the Kerrville Folk Festival University Student Songwriters Competition.
Holk’s work as a songwriter naturally included an interest in American folk music. He says his discovery of Pete Seeger coincided with a communication studies course in protest movements, inspiring the idea for his honors thesis project. When considered amid the contemporary context of what he calls “the current American conundrum,” the project became a bridge between the past and present, allowing Holk to feel “the poignancy of the protest work of former generations,” he says.
Holk is paying close attention to the creation and inclusion of protest songs in the Arab Spring and Occupy movements. “Music is definitely helping these movements change our world,” he says. “During the writing and recording of the album, I began to grow pessimistic about the power of song, especially in regard to my generation. As the movement in the U.S. begins to grow, I am feeling a little more optimistic.”
That optimism focuses his creative aims for With Words as Strong as Warriors: “There’s a lot of different societal things that I’ve always felt uncomfortable with. My goal [in releasing the album] is to simply air these concerns, in hopes that I’m not alone in having them.”
Holk will promote the album at three upcoming local shows:
- Friday, Nov. 11, at 10 p.m. at Triple Crown in San Marcos
- Tuesday, Nov. 29, at 8 p.m. at Red Eyed Fly in Austin
- Saturday, Dec. 3, at 8 p.m. at Tantra Coffeehouse in San Marcos