Yamma Ensemble in Hill City, SD
By Eric Young Smith
The week in Devils Lake was packed so full that it seemed over before we were ready to say goodbye. Every day was filled with countless adventures that bred new friendships through the great hospitality of the Devils Lake community. Before I realized our stay was over, we were packing our belongings for the trek to Hill City.
When plotting our course, we realized our time on the road to Hill City would be long. We decided to saddle-up and leave early in order to have a relaxed time and afford ourselves a few stops along the way. After spending all day on the road, we arrived in Hill City exhausted and slept soundly through the night.
When morning came, we woke to find a glorious landscape of natural beauty. Rolling foothills, mountains, and valleys were everywhere, and every member of Yamma Ensemble was wearing a smile. This was a very welcoming sight: morning in Hill City and Custer, nestled in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
We were hosted by the Hill City Arts Council and Custer Arts Council. Both are very active in their communities and have wonderful outreach programs that bring many kinds of art to their schools, students, and communities. Yamma’s enthusiasm was met in kind when we were introduced to our primary Arts Council contact and Black Hills guide, Marsha Leininger. Marsha’s warm character and smile made all Yamma members feel welcome. When we later met up with other members of the Arts Councils at a reception, every member of Yamma fell into comfortable conversation and had a great time.
Our first morning was a real treat. Simply driving from Hill City to Custer for a day of workshops was an eyeful to enjoy, with winding roads through valleys and hills. The kids of Custer were warm and welcoming. The members of Yamma were impressed by how well the kids listened, and they noted the friendly interaction and the great questions at the end of each workshop. As the week went by, we proceeded to Hermosa and then to Hill City, and the kids in each school made sure we knew that we were welcome.
We came to find, even on the streets, most folks here knew who we were and were familiar with the mission of Arts Midwest World Fest. And they were all looking forward to learning about Yamma! We were so frequently greeted with warm smiles and friendly handshakes that each Yamma musician began to feel as if they were at home. I overheard a few members of Yamma talking about making plans to return to the Black Hills with their family for another visit.
As the end of the week drew near, so did our realization that our tour was ending. Through the week, we had many opportunities to pause and remember folks we met along the way. The morning of Yamma’s public concert in Hill City brought an opportunity to reflect on the places we’d seen, the journey we’d taken, and the many smiles along the way.
When the seats in the Hill City High School Theater filled and the lights went down, Yamma held nothing back and made every member of the audience know how much their experience in Hill City meant to them. Their performance was filled with emotion and expression, and each audience member I met after the show wore a smile that spoke of heartfelt emotion and thankfulness.
Many thanks go to the Hill City Arts Council and the Custer Arts Council for hosting our residency. Thanks to Jan and Steve Johnson for giving us beautiful and comfortable accommodations at Pine Rest Cabins in Hill City, and thanks to Erica Welu and Kristin Standard of the Arts Midwest World Fest committee of the Arts Council, to Marsha Leininger, and to the entire Hill City and Custer area communities for the extraordinary generosity, enthusiasm, and warm genuine friendship.