Kevin Costner’s epic road trip at 18 led to a life of storytelling and his latest adventure: HearHere
Actor, producer and director Kevin Costner is a world-class storyteller. With HearHere, he entered the world of audio storytelling, along with co-founder Woody Sears. Their solution is an iPhone app that uses geolocation to trigger a location-appropriate story, based on where the traveler is driving at any given time.
For example, Woody notes in our interview below, HearHere turned an otherwise uneventful family walk through California’s 395, into a history lesson at the Manzanar burial camp in which thousands of Americans saw Japanese origin were incarcerated during World War II.
It would have been easy for the family to drive to the old camp site without noticing the historical markers, but with HearHere the story was told to them, as they toured the camp site. Such stories can spark vibrant and educational conversations, especially with children, who might otherwise have their faces sunk into an electronic device.
It saves stories from America’s First Peoples and sparks meaningful conversations that Mr. Costner sees as essential to the company’s mission, noting, “HearHere, for me, has given us the opportunity to tell important stories from across the country. I said to Woody, ‘I’m interested in supporting this idea, but I don’t see how I can be a part of it … unless we are dedicated … to creating and curating stories about (indigenous peoples). ‘ ‘
Real life – more exciting than electronic devices
I started our conversation by asking Woody about HearHere’s value proposition.
(Note: Woody and Kevin’s remarks have been edited slightly for brevity and readability. For their unredacted comments, watch the video. The timestamps below will guide you to specific topics of interest.)
Woody Sears: [1:27] Well, the life of startups, it’s constantly changing, and our product today is designed for travelers to hear stories about the places they go through, and we really want to give people more perspective and give them a story and give them information and anecdotes about… America. On the roads, as they hear about things like history, natural wonders, local ideas about a region.
So this all comes in the form of an iPhone app downloaded to your phone, set up location access, and then when you head over to these stories, they automatically appear and play on your phone or send you a push notification. so that you can choose to listen to it (later). So that’s what we’re offering today, a way to increase the joy of traveling and give people a better insight into the places they venture.
Budget road trips in the 1970s
We then talked about the creation of the company and what motivated Kevin to get involved. I mentioned that I took a driving vacation growing up and staying in a budget hotel was a highlight of our travels.
Kevin Costner: [3:38] … Look, I wasn’t born in Hollywood. I was in the same backseat as you on vacation, I was going up to Bishop (California), I was going up in the High Sierras … we didn’t have the kind of money and I know the hotels you are talking about .. All of these hotels had their little pools right across the highway, with a chain link fence around it. He always said “heated” and he was never heated. It was like foam, and… I remember (it was) my first experience with fake advertising because I wanted to smell a hot pool.
[04:43] So, I had the same experience, but for me it was these bronze markers that always made me. I used to look at my dad, I would point him and we just keep walking. It’s probably the bane of my existence for my own children, stopping and looking at these simple paragraphs about places where great dramas often happened, great drama often happened, and which have always ignited my imagination.
Kevin’s cross-country ski trip at 18
I then asked Kevin about a road trip across the country he took with a friend when he was 18, in an old motorhome with $ 350 in his pocket. At the top of the motorhome was a canoe that Kevin had made so that he could cross the rivers taken by Louis and Clark.
Costner: [06:06] This trip informed me. Along the way, I met foreigners, I went to the KOA camps. I’ve always loved history and suddenly I knew I was driving in the middle of it. So I didn’t have to train my dad to quit. I stopped. My travel companion got a little upset at one point, but what’s a road trip if you don’t get angry with who you are with?
But yes,… this trip took me to work on commercial fishing boats, the pipeline in Alaska had just opened, my ears were wide open. I was ready for the adventure in my life. The canoe was to descend the rivers descended by Lewis and Clark. I was in the wrong century, there is no doubt about it.
[6:56] Those markers were something to me … (when) Woody explained to me the immediate ability to handle stories, secure stories that are long gone, understand where you live, and see the people who were here in first … the drama that took place, the deception, the level of ingenuity it took to create a life and chase someone else out of their life is, however embarrassing and shameful it is , it’s also interesting for me to know where I live.
Celebrity hood ornaments do not have to apply
I then confessed that I’m generally not a fan of startups that take advantage of a celebrity’s notoriety and followers, as the value they add is often temporal and unsupported.
Costner: [10:56] I was very enterprising… I have a mortgage analysis company that I helped start. I am in a personalized nutrition company that I was the first to make money with, and I love a story.
[12:21] I get the celebrity thing, you know, when you’re a hood ornament, when you’re used. I understand this and I cannot speak against or for it. I don’t think I’m above or below it all, but I like helping whoever comes up with the idea. I like to help them. I’m not running away from the idea and I wonder how much I’ll get out of it.
Two historical markers – Two very different stories
I then asked Kevin about an experience during a day of filming his hit series, Yellowstone. He climbed up the Lolo pass and came across two historical landmarks, relatively close to each other, which told a very contrasting and tragic story of the old west.
Costner: [13:09] The interesting thing about the Lolo pass is a system of streams perpendicular to the Bitterroot valley, there are probably 26 of them (streams). If you imagine a long river that runs almost north and south, there are these tributaries flowing in it and one of them was called Lolo Pass.
They (the First Peoples) would go to the plains to hunt buffalo and then when they had enough meat they would go home. So it was a forced march to get out there and then retreat to the hills where they were safe, and it had been going on for thousands and thousands of years.
[14:05] So I found the marker where Lewis and Clark had stopped that night with Sacagawea. Only six or seven days later, she would save their lives. She had been captured and raised elsewhere, but was now returning to territory she understood, and that mentioned that in 1703 Lewis and Clark were there. For me, it was exciting, right? I had the canoe. I’m the guy who built it and wanted to go down those rivers.
So as I walk back I now see a marker on the other side. I remember seeing where Louis was, about 200 yards away (further). The first marker was 1703. The second marker was 1765. And what was so pronounced, so sad and so telling that in this place, 60/70 years later, a barricade was put up by white people… and they said : “You will never come here again. So the hand of friendship, “Please help us” was extended in 1703 and in less than 100/60 years later the door has just closed on them.
As a people, they were creative enough, spontaneous, to find their way in the mountains. Going out, and that started their boredom, because once they didn’t go on their traditional routes, and they started to venture into “other territory”, over the centuries they had understood, “what is yours and what is ours”, which caused them to argue with their neighbors. So these two signs, exciting times, and one was the story we know spawned from sea to light.
Sears: [17:25] John, you make a good point about… igniting conversation because and we hear it from our users. They take trips with their kids and while not every story has to be … the whole family will love it, some of them may smell a bit of social studies or school … but a lot of these stories really spark a some interest.
This family traveled for two months across the West during COVID and they were coming down on 395 and would not have noticed the signs of Manzanar and that would not have entered the conversation, but the HearHere story did get off the ground, they heard of Manazanar. Their 10 and 12 year old (children) came with a flood of questions, because only this idea of the internment camp and things that had happened, and how we got to where we are today really influenced that and made this conversation. that really makes those memories and for the meaningful things that happen through travel, the things that we don’t learn in other places of our life and put that place, that contextual piece of driving through the physical place, has made such a difference to them and they ‘I will never do another road trip without HearHere.
You can follow John on Twitter: @johngreathouse