Old 97's Frontman Rhett Miller on His Trip to Havana: 'I Can't Stop Having Dreams About Cuba'

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Rhett Miller of Old 97s performs on May 9, 2015 in Dallas, Texas.  

Old 97's frontman Rhett Miller, 45, reflects on his February trip to Havana,  where he performed at the city's culture hub Fábrica de Arte Cubano.

To my shame, I knew very little about Cuba before this trip. I'm not a political person, but it took me being invited to finally feel galvanized.

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We played three nights at [La Fábrica], and I was afraid the audience would leave when they discovered [my] show was just a guy with a guitar. But those who came out to see me wandered up with rapt attention. They see anyone who throws themselves into making art as equally beautiful; they're hungry for expression. That's why, technically, musicianship is insanely good over there. Wi-Fi connections are few and far between, and there's no Netflix yet, so there is so much time for musicians to hone their skills. I didn't love every piece of Cuban music I heard, but there's something essential in their music and rhythm that has a lot in common with bluegrass and the simple structures of old country music -- things that I really love. That's what I won't be able to shake.

I can't stop having dreams about Cuba, and I have never dreamed so vividly in my life -- I'm not sure if it's because the tour was so fast-paced or if it's the ghosts of this culture keeping me up. I've made a couple of Cuban musician friends and we're talking about writing songs together. I'm also hatching a plan to line up a band of Cuban musicians [to play with me] the next time I'm there. Politics around the embargo may not work themselves out overnight, but the human connection may break that barrier sooner."

--As told to Rachel Sturtz

​This story originally appeared in the March 12 issue of Billboard.


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