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Navajo Country-Rockers Blackkiss Gear Up to Play Sundance

An interview with Pete Sands, whose band Blackkiss will be playing the Concerts at Sundance in Park City, Utah.
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On Saturday, January 18, Utah-based country-rockers Blackkiss, fronted by Navajo musician Pete Sands, will play a set at Concerts at Sundance. To get the gig, the band had to compete against over 2,000 other acts for one of 20 spots -- and Sands believes he's the first Native musician to have this sort of opportunity during the Film Festival. On the eve of the show, Sands took a few moments to speak with ICTMN about the event and his story as a musician.

What style of music do you play, and how long have you been doing it? 

My style is that of country, blues, and rock all fused together. I've been at this since 2007, but between 2010 and 2011 I hung up my guitar for awhile. But it was in 2012 that I started playing again and now I am back stronger than ever. Early on I was heavily influenced by the likes of Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, but now it's Shooter Jennings, Hank3, and Jamey Johnson, but mostly the Man in Black. Nevertheless, I consider myself more of a storyteller rather than a "musician", mostly because as a kid growing up on the Navajo reservation, I was raised by elders with deep-seated traditional beliefs. So the storytelling is what I find most important; creativity and huge imagination. And I love heavy metal as well.

Where did you grow up, and did you learn or play Native music as a kid?

I was born and raised on the Navajo Indian reservation. I spent many years living with my grandmother and other elders, who were all heavy traditionalists. My grandmother would take me to all sorts of Navajo ceremonies and there I learned how sing some of the old songs, but what I loved the most was the stories and mythologies that made up our beliefs. Each sacred Navajo song or prayer I was taught always told a story of some sort and so my songs reflect that style. Much like old time country music, which also tells the best stories. So Blackkiss incorporates all of this.

Can you take us through the process that got you to this gig?

After last year's Sundance Film Fest, I looked into ways I could at least get an opportunity to contend for a spot. As fate would have it, I wandered onto the Utah Musicians Network and there I found Stephanie Elaine DeGraw, who is A.R. at Power Media Records and the Founder/Director at Concerts at Sundance. She was looking into forming a mini concert series at this year's Sundance Film Festival. I contacted her, asking that she keep me updated about the progress of her ambitious endeavor. So it as it came to be, it did. I submitted by linking my music profile on to our entry forms. After it was all decided there were 2,338 entries and only about 20 were chosen, including myself.

Where and when will you be playing, and how long will your set be?

I will be playing at the prestigous Hotel Park City in Park City, from 8:00-8:45pm on Saturday night.

As far as you know, you're the first Native act to be included in this event -- interesting because Sundance itself (which is not officially affiliated with Concerts at Sundance) makes such an effort to showcase and enable Native filmmakers. Do you feel like a standard bearer, and do you feel this music event would benefit from being pro-Native in the way that the Festival is?

I think most Native artisans look into Sundance for the main purpose of getting into filmmaking, as they very well should, but there are so many other outlets available there that should be utilized. There are numerous other ways to get into the house that Redford built, and he welcomes anyone who dares to dream. I don't see myself as a standard bearer at all, I mean, I am not anyone special but I know my style is one that is unique. If there is anything I would like for my fellow Native musicians to take from all this is that don't limit yourself to only "Native" oriented opportunities because by doing that you're only limiting yourself from sharing our culture and talents with the rest of the world. The Concerts at Sundance music series is in its beginning stages and it already gives a chance for the little guys, the independent artists, a stage to showcase their musical abilities at such a huge event, that they probably wouldn't have the chance to otherwise. So in that sense, its already pro-Native, but to include a day-or-night Native Musician showcase probably wouldn't be a bad idea. Although, I think putting on such a showcase shouldn't be their burden to bear, if anything, it should be us Natives bringing this into fruition. Nevertheless, I am very grateful for the opportunity they afforded me and I will try hard not to disappoint.