Wild Ones Live

We have one cardinal rule on 99% Invisible: No cardinals. Meaning, we deal with the built world, not the natural world.

So, when I read Jon Mooallem’s brilliant book, Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at People Looking at Animals in America, I didn’t think we’d ever do an episode of 99% Invisible about it. I just read it for fun.

But then I saw Jon perform stories from the book live with musical accompaniment from the band Black Prairie. And that changed everything. I accosted Jon and the band in the dressing room and told them they had to let me share it with the 99% Invisible audience.

jon and band
From left: Black Prairie members Annalisa Tornfelt, Nate Query, Jon Neufeld. Far right: Jon Mooallem. From their performance at the U Street Music Hall in Washington, DC. Credit: Nalinee Darmrong

What you need to know about Wild Ones is that it’s not a book about nature. It’s a book about how we value nature and try fit it into our modern lives. Wild Ones is about the cutesy stuffed animals, the eco-tours, and the byzantine methods of conservation that evolve when our experience with wild life goes from something natural to something designed. Human-animal interaction has become a designed experience and the story of that transition, as the title of the book suggests, is sometimes dismaying and weirdly reassuring.

WILD ONES book trailer from Jon Mooallem on Vimeo:

Jon Mooallem is friends with the band Black Prairie, and as he was writing the book, they concocted this idea of the band creating a “soundtrack to the book” and the result was an Extended EP called Wild Ones: A Musical Score for the Things You Might See in Your Head When You Reflect on Certain Characters and Incidents That You Read in the Book. The CD case is furry.

Image courtesy of Jon Mooallem

Jon and the band then went on a short tour with the song and story extravaganza. When I saw them perform this live in San Francisco, I freaked out, it was so good. Now you can freak out about how good it is, too. This week’s episode is their performance at the U Street Music Hall in Washington, DC.

photo 4
Wild Ones Live at the U Street Music Hall in Washington, DC. Credit: Jeff Kearns

Wild Ones: A sometimes dismaying, weirdly reassuring story about looking at people looking at animals in America by Jon Mooallem is available in all the usual places. You should get it. And then when you reach that moment where the book is over but you still want more, go check out Jon’s scrapbook of photos and ephemera he collected while conducting research.

Black Prairie is Jenny Conlee-Drizos (Accordion, Vocals), Chris Funk (Banjo, Dobro, Autoharp, Vocals), John Moen (Drums, Vocals), Jon Neufeld (Guitar, Vocals), Nate Query (Bass), and Annalisa Tornfelt (Fiddle, Vocals). Rich Hipp is the Black Prairie traveling sound man and he recorded the show for us.

Special thanks to Jon Cohrs and Dirk Walker for audio help this week.

  1. Gilbert T

    I very much enjoyed this but a small warning to those of you using headphones, the music to voice is pretty loud so avoid pounding your eardrums.

  2. I’ve been listening to 99% for a few months now, having recently become enthralled and ensconced in podcasts. Today I had the very special joy of listening to this podcast and I was.. well, frankly, touched. It has a gravitas. It is emotional, beautiful, poignant and wonderful. Thank you for taking me out of my office environment, even if only for 30 minutes. Keep up the fantastic work!

  3. Rickie

    I just listened to Wild Ones. Wow. The presentation was captivating. I was totally involved with the animals, the speaker, the story, and the music. Jon and Black Prairie painted a picture with words and music that touched me. Thank you. And thank you Roman for sharing.

  4. Loved. This was fantastic. And although I am only writing now, the whole show is fantastic, I love the honesty in the show, I love the perspective.

  5. Kate

    This makes me so.damned.happy! Black Prairie is one of my favorites, and this is all just so brilliant. Just ordered the book. Thanks SO much for sharing this with the wider world.

  6. Loved this episode. It was a nice change from the more traditional format. The music was fabulous and I enjoyed the focus on nature.

  7. Thank you. This was spectacularly good. Beautiful prose, wonderful weaving of music and narrative and the most touching, plaintiff melody in ‘Dear Sir’…
    Curating this kind of material is a special skill. Take a bow – and thank you.

  8. This episode is amazing- but on a side note, I’d like to implore you to left-justify the links below the 99% invisible logo (on the left-hand side of this website, “home,” “episodes,” etc).

  9. Kelvin QL

    Thank you so much for sharing these lighthearted, yet emotional stories with us, Roman.

  10. Geoffrey Caven

    This was the most stunning podcast episode I’ve ever had the joy to listen to, the music was excellent. Expect some kickstarter money from me

  11. Roman I have been deeply touched by this. Thank you for bringing this into my life. I cried with joy. I can’t even remember when was the last time I cried with joy. Thank you Roman for this podcast.

  12. Jen S

    This was amazing… the only disappointing thing is that I went to purchase the audiobook of Wild ones… and its just read by the most monosyllabic voice ever…. it sounds like siri or something. I want to listen to the entire 10hrs of book like this, can we kickstarter to pay Jon and the band to record the entire book?

  13. I have been moved by this beyond words. I cried at the end of the episode. The amazing thing is that I cried for joy. Thank you for broadcasting this.

  14. Paul K.

    Excellent work. Touching, artful, entertaining, and educational. However while dismayed as advertised, I fail to be reassured. Weirdly or not.

  15. Sezshares

    Thank you Roman for showcasing such amazing artists. Listened through the podcast a few times, and have just bought all 3 albums available on the Black Prairie site, along with a couple of t-shirts for good measure. Now off buy Jon’s book…

    “Dear sir…..”

  16. Arianne

    I have been binge-listening to 99PI for a few weeks now and just got to this episode. It was, in a word, delightful. It had me grinning like a little kid as I walked to work this morning, attracting more than a few curious looks from my fellow commuters. This episode absolutely made my day. I can’t wait to get the book and the album for myself and to share it with several friends- people who popped into my mind as I listened because I just KNEW they would love this as much as I did! Thank you!

  17. Grace

    I really hope they make an audiobook out of this with the musical accompaniment. The music & story work so well together, better than either alone.

  18. Barbie

    I love this episode so much! Every time it comes on PRX we listen to it. So much so that my two year old has started singing along and sometimes sings it when we aren’t listing. Thank you for putting it on the air!

  19. shroppy

    One of my top 5 99pi eposides! Thanks Roman for not only being a great radio producer, but also for your master curating skills!

  20. kate

    I cannot listen to this without crying. It’s the good kind, but it’s a little irritating because I’ve probably listened to it about 10 times now… more than a few times at work. I absolutely love this, and I only wish it were longer.

  21. jww

    It’s been a year since this episode was first broadcast, and I’ve listened to it every couple of months since. I’ll get the itch, go and download this one episode, and play it though a couple of times. I’ve played it for my wife and for my kids; I’ve told my friends about it. Thank you, Roman and co.

  22. 1%er

    i think it is hilarious that most of the people protesting against the 1% are actually in that 1% when compared to the rest of the world. if you are making $40K US or more then you are part of the 1%. #dumbass

  23. Paulette

    I listened to this in my car today and as soon as I got home I tried to find a tour date. Sadly, they’re not touring this now.
    It was profound, poignant, sad and hopeful and beautifully captured by the moving music. I would love to see this live.
    Thank you, one of the best things I’ve heard/experienced.

  24. Drew

    This podcast was great! I felt the music was good, but at times took away from the message of the podcast. I think the music to voice sound ratio was off and made it difficult to hear what Joe was saying.

  25. Casey

    Not the first time some of these musicians have backed a story about a crane wife, it seems! I’m a huge Decemberists fan but didn’t know about Black Prairie until now. Thank you Roman, 6 years late, for putting this out!

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