We had the good fortune of connecting with Dakota Driskill and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Dakota, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
Anything worthwhile comes with struggle, I learned this from an early age. Growing up in the countryside of Loganville, GA – I’ve had my fair share of skinned knees, scrapes, and face plants in the red, Georgia clay. As a child, risk is not an object of concern when there are trees to climb and adventures to be had. We collect those playground injuries, like badges, and then somewhere we learn to play it safe. We learn not to laugh so loud, we learn to make ourselves smaller. Why risk embarrassment, rejection, or getting hurt again? The stings of those first hurts can live in our memory for decades, it was a risk to enter my first community singing competition at age 10. I’ve always loved to sing, and I always wanted to share that love to anyone willing to listen. I won 3rd place, but in my head – I lost. I felt the swell in my heart, and my tear ducts fill like dams about to burst. I remember the feeling of wanting to run home to the safety of my bedroom and never seeing the light of day again (always had a flair for melodramas, too). How dare I? Who did I think I was? Why did I even want to put myself out there to be judged like this? When I look back – I often try to channel the courage of the little girl who cried all the way home to lick her wounds only to find a fire. I sought every avenue possible to get better as a performer, start training as a musician and artist, and keep practicing day and night to muster the confidence to share and believe in my own voice. I was in the band, I joined the chorus, I was the face of my high school’s theatre department, and every Summer I spent it away at Firespark! – a fine arts summer camp hosted at Brenau University. It was better than Disney World.

Through my years I learned the creative process is not linear, it ebbs and flows, and inspiration moves in waves. It requires discipline, tenacity, and risk to make your vision a reality. It requires living on the edge of comfort, like constantly scaling the side of a 50-story building and trusting that your work is enough to keep you grounded. In these moments, I learned to look toward the horizon, instead of straight down to the bottom. What if I fail? What if they don’t like me? I was a big, tropical fish in a country pond, it was a risk to leave all that was familiar and move to the city. By the time I graduated from Loganville High School, I had a fine arts scholarship, years of training, a collection of experiences, and an army of supportive family and friends to pave the way for a life in the arts.

Eventually for me, the fear of never knowing what I could be outweighed my fear of failure. If I had stopped trying after that day I walked up to a microphone to open my big mouth before a crowd for the first time, I would have never known the friendships I know today. Being an artist is all about community, and the more I shared my vulnerability, the more I found kindred souls like myself – like the home I found at Kennesaw State University through the KSU Tellers. This is where I honed my craft of storytelling and performance, and had opportunities to travel around the Southeast sharing the thing I love most – bringing people together with art by sharing stories of joy, of truth, and of failures – because something magical happens when you bring other people in to see what you see, to feel what you feel, and believe what you believe – we are reminded that we are never truly alone in this life. But to do that, it takes a lot of risk. Not everything I have created has been a slam dunk, I often tell my friends “Yea, it’s not great… but it’s getting there.” Honoring where you are in the process, learning to be kind to yourself and to the child inside, and remembering the reasons why you wanted a life in the arts serve as the fuel to keep me going in my darkest hours.

It was a risk to go out on my own, break away from the established companies I worked for, to create Party Peaches Children’s Entertainment. It was a risk to invest thousands of dollars in quality costumes and supplies. I learned I was not taking myself as seriously as I should as an entertainer, I wasn’t just a party princess for kids. I was a creator of magic, a bringer of joy, a maker of childhood memories – the strongest kind. I knew in my heart of hearts that I owed it to myself and my self-worth, it was time to acknowledge myself as a capable, artistic professional. I needed hold myself to those standards. It is a risk to not allow others to define my worth, sometimes the most hindering obstacles are the people telling you (directly or indirectly), “No, I’m sorry, you’re not worth that much.” Ask yourself, what do you have to gain? And what do they have to lose? More often than not, the answer is you. Choose you. It’s easy to feel as an artist there is not much opportunity to say no, but trust me, once you learn to value your craft first and foremost – the floodgates will open.

Never, ever settle. Without risk, without challenge, without struggle – you will never how your story can flourish. And never, ever let someone else pick up the pen for you to write your dreams. You are the author and the hero of your own story, so write it.

Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
As a storyteller, I draw deep inspiration from mythology all around the world. As a theatre student at Kennesaw State University, I studied the ins and outs of mythology, folklore, and history. It’s impossible now for me to not see how mythology still shapes our modern day world. It’s a fascinating, expansive world of riches – and a genius way to understand the human psyche, human emotions, and motivations. All of my stories have an allure of the unknown, the eternal, and of the mystical. I have cultivated a voice of reverence, one I believe I get from my father. He spoke like rolling thunder, and I vividly remember his stories of the Mississippi River on our trips to Louisiana. Stories of the lady in the water who sings at night for those who have ears to listen, the horror tales of the giant crawfish monsters, and of course – good ol’ Huck Finn – my first literary crush. The South is a storied landscape – the crossroads for so many diverging cultures, perspectives, and tensions. I’ve always wanted to tow the line to find this tension, the points where we come together and the true South comes alive. Our mythology is all around us. I believe in revitalizing our myth, revitalizing the American Tall Tale, and bring these colliding tensions together to create a new South that is open, inclusive, truthful, and welcoming to all. There is so much heart here, it just takes a whole lot of love to make our hearts beat in sync. I guess it takes one crazy Puerto-rican cowgirl from Louisiana – one of mixed race, grew up speaking two languages, with one foot in two different worlds at all times to make that vision of the South a reality. This is my home, too.

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Taking a stroll down the Atlanta beltline holds all the beauty you need to know about this city. So many places to stop for a drink, and so many different people to make you feel the spirit of this city. The music, the art, and the good vibes is always a great time. I’d also recommend Dad’s Garage and their improv/comedy shows for a great date night. You can’t go wrong with an evening with the most kind, fun-spirited, and talented artists this city has to offer. Their space and the live-entertainment provides an authentic view into the lives of Atlanta born and bred artists. And because I am still a child at heart, Zoo Atlanta and Stone Mountain Park is always a great place for a family fun day.

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I truly stand on the shoulders of giants, we all do. I tell stories to remember those who came before me, who loved me, who carried me here today. When stories are all that remain, the only way to move forward is by sharing the story. This is what my older brother, Joey, taught me. He taught me how to keep laughing and how to keep smiling. He taught me everything I know about unconditional support and love. Our childhood left behind many unanswered questions, but I never doubted my parents loved me. I come from a young mother, and a father who lost his way – mistakes were made, there were many moments I have questioned my purpose. Joey always wanted me to be proud of where we come from – a little place called Driskill Mountain in Louisiana. He wanted me to be proud of our name, proud of our land, despite the wounds our childhood left behind. My brother was a veteran of the Iraq War, who took home a Purple Heart after fighting in the 1st and 2nd Battle of Fallujah. I never once heard him complain or lament or regret his choices, he followed his dreams and he lived his dream. Why complain? He was the most prideful person I knew, I only wish I knew the depths of his struggles, but even then there wasn’t much I could do to take his physical pain away. He lost his battle to heroin addiction in 2016. I lost my father to addiction in 2021. The past few years have been nothing short of dark – a twisting, never-ending tunnel of thorns and generational cycles coming to rear their ugly heads in my present-day. But through the muck, I am finding my truth. I have learned to forgive my father, to let go of my brother, and let him finally rest. I am learning to understand my mother, and the fear she held for so many years. I have sewn together the pieces of my patchwork heart, diving deep into a history that I denied myself – the history of the Driskill family. Sharing and creating my own tall tales of Driskill Mountain, the larger than life adventures of the people who loved me. I share these stories in hopes that others can also find and cherish their own truth, their own roots, and soften their hearts to forgive the ones that lied, that cheated, that stole from us – they are also a part of our story. I am grateful for them, too. And I think I understand you – you felt so unloved that you wanted others to feel it, too. No matter the cost.

Before I told stories to escape, now I tell stories to find myself.

My mission now is to just love and to just be – this is what the people (and animals) that brought me joy have taught me. I wouldn’t be where I am today without these selfless pioneers I call my friends and family, my disciples of love. When people look at me, I want them to feel the power of the generations that came before, I want them to know I am a person who knows exactly where she comes from – and while my story is not perfect, it is mine. And I’m not going anywhere, I’m just getting started.

Website: driskillmountaintales.com

Instagram: @dakotatales

Image Credits
Jasmine Lackey Photography

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