February 16, 2017
Kris Kristofferson, Bruce Cockburn Bring Star Power to Folk Alliance Awards
by Lynne Margolis
The 29th annual Folk Alliance International conference kicked off Wednesday night in Kansas City with a star-powered awards show that signaled the organization’s growing influence, despite the fact that none of its musical award-winners accepted in person.
Michael Kiwanuka, Sarah Jarosz and Parker Millsap did record video thank-yous for their respective Song, Album and Artist of the Year awards; Kiwanuka and his band, Inflo, won for “Black Man in a White World,” Jarosz won for Undercurrent and Oklahoma native Millsap was recognized in part on the strength of his 2016 release, The Very Last Day.
And Bruce Cockburn showed up to accept the inaugural People’s Voice Award from performer/presenter Kris Kristofferson, who drew swoons from emcee Paula Cole earlier in the night. Meanwhile, Actress Megan Mullally, who presented the music awards, cracked irreverent jokes and promised to get “naked and wasted” at her own late-night musical showcase. But the evening had many moving and meaningful moments as well, including the acceptance speech by Spirit of Folk Award winner Ramy Essam, whose song, “Irhal,” became the anthem for Arab Spring protesters. He became known as the movement’s “musical voice” — for which he was imprisoned and tortured in Egypt. Now living in exile in Sweden, he said he was lucky to witness the strength music has to unite people of different backgrounds, and how it can “describe people’s hearts when they can’t speak and talk.”
“Dictators are really afraid from the art, the music,” he said. “I saw it when my music was forbidden in my country. I saw that when they arrested me two times; I really saw it in their eyes. They were afraid because art and music is the only thing that dictators can’t stop … that they will never be able to stop. … So, music all the time!”
For veteran Folk Alliance conference-goers, the night’s most poignant moments came during the tribute to former executive director Louis Jay Meyers. Meyers passed away on March 11, 2016, just weeks after last year’s conference and hours before he was to attend then-President Obama’s opening speech at another conference Meyers had co-founded: South By Southwest. A nine-minute video memoriam drew both tears and laughter; even the fact that it had to be restarted when the images failed to appear caused amusement. Speaker Doug Cox joked afterward, “I [was] backstage, about to start crying, and then Louis turned the power off. Thank-you, Louis.”
Cox is director of the conference’s music camp, which Meyers started after he stepped down as executive director in 2014, after nine years, to become special projects director. Original director Mark Rubin called it Meyers’ “last great vision” and Cox announced that the camp was being renamed in honor of Meyers, who took a somewhat identity-challenged organization and turned it into a stronger, growing entity. Attendance at this year’s conference rose to 2,781, nearly 300 more than expected, from 2016’s figure of 2,423. About 1,000 are attending for the first time.
They include Cockburn, who noted his award — which the organization created to recognize “an individual who unabashedly embraces social and political commentary in their creative work and public careers” — was the first honor he’s received in the United States. A Canadian citizen who now lives in the U.S., Cockburn first gained stateside fame with his songs “Wondering Where the Lions Are” and “If I Had a Rocket Launcher.”
When he became known as a political writer, as opposed to previous tags of Christian writer or “the John Denver of Canada,” he said, “I had not thought much about the effect of the political aspect of my songwriting; I’d always felt, and I still do, that the job is to tell the truth of the human experience as we live it.”
“I’ve never been interested in protest for its own sake, or in ideological polemicizing,” Cockburn added. “Just fuckin’ tell it like you see it and feel it. If you don’t see it and feel it, write about something else. Songs need to come from the heart, or they don’t count for much.”
Earlier in the night, singer-songwriter Eliza Gilkyson presented another inaugural award, the Clearwater Award, named after the first organization to receive it, the Clearwater Festival. It will go annually to a festival “that prioritizes environmental stewardship and demonstrates public leadership in sustainable event production.”
The Elaine Weissman Lifetime Achievement Awards, named for the Folk Alliance organization’s co-founder, were presented to composer David Amram (Living), activist and songwriter Malvina Reynolds (Legacy) and Canadian folklorist Helen Creighton (Business/Academic).
Other Spirit of Folk awards went to musical activist Barbara Dane, Australian festival producer Chloe Goodyear, outgoing FAI board president Michelle Conceison, writer and producer Si Kahn and LGBT advocate SONiA disappear fear.
FAI also inducted its first honorees into the new Folk DJ Hall of Fame: Oscar Brand, Mike Regenstreif, Howard and Roz Larman and previous FAI award winners Rich Warren and Gene Shay.
And Meyers’ niece, Laura Callahan, announced the formation of the Louis Jay Meyers Music Project, which will foster and support new and emerging talent and “his insatiable desire to make a difference … by providing and being an advocate and voice for independent music and those who make it.”
The conference continues through Sunday at the Westin Crown Center in Kansas City.
Photo by Lynne Margolis
February 16, 2017
Kris Kristofferson Presents Bruce Cockburn with First-ever People's Voice Award
by Kim Hughes
Bruce Cockburn will need to clear some space on the proverbial mantel. On Wednesday (Feb. 15), the legendary Canuck singer/songwriter and activist received the inaugural People's Voice Award from U.S.-based non-profit Folk Alliance International.
The award, presented to the San Francisco-based Cockburn in Kansas City, Missouri by no less a towering talent than Kris Kristofferson, recognizes “an individual who has unabashedly embraced and committed to social and political commentary in their creative work and folk music career.”
Indeed, the long-standing Folk Alliance International (a.k.a. the FAI and founded in 1989) could not have chosen a better torch-bear for its advocacy, professional development and networking initiatives than Cockburn.
His 40-year career has consistently highlighted environmental, social, and indigenous issues globally on behalf of such diverse NGOs as Oxfam, the UN Summit for Climate Control, Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders and Friends of the Earth.
With some 30 albums spanning folk to jazz to rock, the 71-year-old Ottawa-born musician has drawn deep from his travels through Africa, Asia and the Americas, offering first-hand testimonials on environmental and social plights.
Speaking of that crowded mantel, Cockburn is also the recipient of 13 Juno Awards, the Allan Waters Humanitarian Award (in 2006), nine honorary doctorates, the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement (1998), and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal (2013).
He has been inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame (2001), and is an Officer of the Order of Canada, a promotion he received in 2003 after first being awarded the Order of Canada in 1983. Pacing the Cage, a documentary film about his life, music, and politics was released in 2013. His memoir, Rumours of Glory, was published by Harper Collins in 2014.
Oh yes, and then there’s the seven million albums Cockburn has sold worldwide since his 1970 self-titled debut, notably Humans from 1980 (see the singles "Rumours of Glory" and "Tokyo”); Stealing Fire from 1984 ("If I Had a Rocket Launcher," “Lovers in a Dangerous Time"); and most recently, 2011's Small Source of Comfort.
In an interview with Rolling Stone in 1985, after observing the horrors of refugee camps along the Guatemalan-Mexican border, the normally pacifist Cockburn confirmed that he went back to his hotel room, cried, and wrote in his notebook, "I understand now why people want to kill."
The experience led him to write "If I Had a Rocket Launcher" from the above-mentioned Stealing Fire. It remains one of Cockburn’s best known and most iconic songs.
“We can’t settle for things as they are,” the straight-shooting Cockburn has said. “If you don’t tackle the problems, they’re going to get worse.”
In addition to Cockburn’s People’s Voice Award, the FAI also presented the first-ever Clearwater Award in Kansas City this week, feting “a festival that prioritizes environmental stewardship and demonstrates public leadership in education and sustainable event production.”
The winner? Its namesake organization, the Clearwater Festival, dedicated to celebrating and preserving New York’s Hudson River, now in its 50th year and recognized as one the world’s largest and most proactive environmentally focused cultural events.
February 16, 2017
'Keep singing': Bruce Cockburn calls on folk artists to push for free speech
by David Friend
Folk singer Bruce Cockburn is encouraging U.S. musicians to keep pushing for free speech under the Donald Trump administration.
While accepting an honour at the Folk Alliance International awards show in Kansas City, MO on Wednesday night he took a moment to address the volatile political climate.
"It seems evident that the current administration is not much interested in democracy," he said in prepared remarks.
"They are trying to stifle opposition across the board by a range of means. Looks to me like they're just getting started."
The Canadian singer, who lives in San Francisco, then urged musicians to be a catalyst for dialogue and debate.
"We may get tired, but we have to keep singing," he said.
Country singer Kris Kristofferson presented Cockburn with the People's Voice Award in recognition of his role in social and political commentary. His 1984 track "If I Had a Rocket Launcher" is widely considered a staple of activist music.
Cockburn reflected on his experiences as a young performer during the Vietnam War, and on later years when he found his voice during the U.S. presidency of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.
He then turned to the current U.S. political climate and told songwriters to consider their music as more than just words, but a "focal point for collective energy" of the community.
"Doesn't mean we can't sing love songs," Cockburn reasoned.
"But if you think you can keep your head down and ignore the political side of things, it's liable to be waiting for you with a blackjack in the alley when you come out the stage door."
February 15, 2017
Folk Alliance International
Kansas City, MO
February 2, 2017
Cape Breton Post
Sainte-Marie, Cockburn on the return of the protest song and power of music
TORONTO — Folk singer-songwriter Lindy Vopnfjord climbed into bed stunned on the night Donald Trump won the U.S. presidency, but he awoke the next morning feeling activated.
Bristling with an urge to speak out, the Icelandic-Canadian musician wrote a series of lyrics that might've seemed alarmist at the time.
And even two weeks ago, when he finally released "Darkness is the Day" to coincide with Trump's inauguration, some of the words didn't resonate quite as much as they do now.
"Opinion is king, one-plus-one is three. The loudest truth is the truest, so repeat after me," Vopnfjord sings. "It takes a little time to get the spin to unwind. It takes a little time."
Vopnfjord is stunned by the evolution of his song's significance.
"There's so much that keeps feeding into the lyrics," he says. "There was more to it than maybe even I realized."
He's just one of countless musicians using their voice to push against what they see as an alarming political climate. Over the past month, prominent artists have contributed a chorus of anti-Trump anthems, which started flowing out ahead of the election last November.
Tracks by Arcade Fire and Mavis Staples ("I Give You Power"), Fiona Apple ("Tiny Hands") and the Gorillaz ("Hallelujah Money") have stood out as recent highlights.
Before that, artists like Franz Ferdinand ("Demagogue"), Jimmy Eat World ("My Enemy") and Amy Mann ("Can't You Tell?") collaborated for "30 Days, 30 Songs," a project that counted down to election day in the hopes of drawing attention to Trump's potential power. The campaign recently expanded to 1,000 songs that will be revealed throughout Trump's presidency.
Listeners appear eager to hear more protest songs too.
Several anti-Trump anthems became viral hits last year, including Ledinsky's "Donald Trump Makes Me Wanna Smoke Crack" and YG & Nipsey Hussle's "FDT," a rousing rap track which pairs an expletive with the president's initials.
All of this newfound inspiration has longtime social-activist musician Buffy Sainte-Marie a bit suspicious. She questions why some artists only decided to write protest songs when there's "going to be money" in it.
But she's also not against more people speaking out.
"The art of the two-and-a-half minute song — it's such a powerful tool," she says.
"If you can say something in three minutes that somebody else had to write a 400-page book about, the book is going to be shelved. The song can live forever."
Sainte-Marie says she writes her songs with the mindset of a photographer capturing snapshots of history.
Her 1964 protest anthem "Universal Soldier" was a portrait of the Vietnam War era while "Now That the Buffalo's Gone" tackled the centuries-old plight of indigenous communities that still continues today.
She wrote "Universal Soldier" as if she was a student crafting an essay for a hypothetical professor who didn't see eye-to-eye with her perspective.
"I was determined to get an 'A-plus' out of this guy," she says.
"(I was) deliberately trying to give people a different point of view than they may have come across before."
Fellow activist songwriter Bruce Cockburn is cautious when it comes to deciding how to express his opinions through music.
With a career spanning nearly 40 years, he's found himself inspired by causes like the environment ("If a Tree Falls") and the devastation of war ("If I Had a Rocket Launcher"). But so far, the U.S. election hasn't motivated him to write anything pointed, and he says it might not.
He says he doesn't want to veer into territory where he's just spouting his political views against a backdrop of bad music.
"It's not always obvious to put it in a song that (doesn't simply become) a propaganda diatribe," says Cockburn, who will receive the People's Voice Award at the Folk Alliance International awards show in Kansas City, Mo., this month in recognition of his social and political commentary.
So many political songs just capitalize on anger, he argues, but don't have any artistic merit. He points to 1965's "Eve of Destruction," a song recorded by Barry McGuire that topped the Billboard charts, as one example of a misfire.
"It was a huge hit, but a terrible song," he says.
Cockburn suggests the track was too literal and sounds especially dated now. Many protest songs that attack their subject head-on suffer the same fate of becoming irrelevant, he adds.
Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind" stands as a far superior example, he suggests, or "We Shall Overcome," which began as a hymn in the early 1900s and evolved into an anthem of the civil rights movement.
"It had tremendous application over the years to any number of causes," he says of the latter.
"It's absolutely timeless."
January 10, 2017
Posted by Jerod Rivers
Folk Alliance International to Launch People's Voice and Clearwater Awards
As part of a permanent commitment to honoring the socially-conscious roots of folk music, Folk Alliance International (FAI) will launch two new awards during the 2016 International Folk Music Awards show.The People’s Voice Award will be presented annually to an individual who has unabashedly embraced and committed to social and political commentary in their creative work and folk music career. The Clearwater Award will be presented annually to a festival that prioritizes environmental stewardship and demonstrates public leadership in education and sustainable event production. Additional awards include Lifetime Achievement, Spirit of Folk, and Album, Song, and Artist of the Year presented on Wednesday, February 15, 2017, at the Westin Crown Center in Kansas City, Missouri.
Folk Alliance International Awards Show
Wednesday, February 15, 2017, 6 pm
Westin Crown Center Hotel, Century C Ballroom
Open to FAI conference delegates and registered members of the press.
Bruce Cockburn to Receive People’s Voice Award
The inaugural People’s Voice award will be presented to multi-platinum recording artist Bruce Cockburn, whose 40-year career has consistently highlighted environmental, social, and indigenous issues globally.
Bruce Cockburn has been all over the world to Mozambique, Nepal, Vietnam, Baghdad, Nicaragua, and Guatemala to protest refugee camps, landmines, and Third World debt. He has been tirelessly vocal in support of native rights, the environment, the promotion of peace, and has highlighted the work of Oxfam, the UN Summit for Climate Control, Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders, and Friends of the Earth.
His songs "Mines of Mozambique" from album The Charity of Night, "Stolen Land" (Waiting for a Miracle), and "If a Tree Falls" (Big Circumstance) have traveled the globe providing context for some of the world’s biggest issues of the day, while exhorting to all who listen for engagement with our shared humanity.
In over 300 songs on 30 albums that range from folk to jazz-influenced rock, he has sold more than seven million records worldwide and prolifically captured the story of the human experience through protest, romance, spiritual searching, and politics. In an interview with Rolling Stone in 1985, after observing the horrors of refugee camps along the Guatemalan-Mexican border he shared that he went back to his hotel room, cried, and wrote in his notebook, "I understand now why people want to kill." The experience led him to write "If I Had A Rocket Launcher" from the album Stealing Fire.
Cockburn is the recipient of 13 Juno Awards, the Allan Waters Humanitarian Award, nine honorary doctorates, the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement, and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. He has been inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, and is an Officer of the Order of Canada. Pacing the Cage, a documentary film about his life, music, and politics was released in 2013. His memoir, Rumours of Glory, was published by Harper Collins in 2014.
“We can’t settle for things as they are,” Cockburn has warned. “If you don’t tackle the problems, they’re going to get worse.”
Bruce Cockburn Book Signing
Thursday, February 16, 2017, 12 pm
Westin Crown Center Hotel, location TBD
Open to FAI conference delegates and registered members of the press.
Clearwater Festival to Receive Eponymous Award
The inaugural Clearwater Award will be presented to its namesake organization, the Clearwater Festival now in its 50th year and recognized as one the world’s largest and most proactive environmentally focused cultural events.
Held along the banks of the Hudson River in Croton-on-Hudson, New York, the Clearwater Festival (also known as the Great Hudson River Revival) has roots based in the environmental movement.
Founded in 1966 by Pete and Toshi Seeger, the Festival began as a fundraising initiative in order to build a one-masted sloop called the Clearwater. The ship has been used for research, education, and advocacy to help preserve and protect the Hudson river, surrounding wetlands, tributaries, and waterways as well as communities in the river valley. To date, over half a million visitors have learned about the river while aboard.
Fifty years after the first event, the Clearwater Festival has become a steadfast defender, supporter, and advocate for the Hudson River. Through music, dance, storytelling, education, and activism it has helped over 250,000 people experience the wonders of its shores and has featured such luminary artists as Janis Ian, Arlo Guthrie, Tom Paxton, Michelle Shocked, Odetta, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Dar Williams, Taj Mahal, Christine Lavin, and Buckwheat Zydeco, among many others.
The event strives towards zero festival waste, and the goals of sustainability and social responsibility inform all decisions and programs. Use of carpooling, bicycling, and public transportation are encouraged, and the entire festival is wheelchair-accessible and staffed with American Sign Language interpreters. There are many elements to the festival, including seven sustainable bio-diesel-powered stages, environmental education exhibits, Handcrafters’ Village, Green Living Expo, Working Waterfront, Artisanal Food & Farm Market, and Circle of Song. All proceeds go to support research, education, and advocacy to help preserve and protect the river.
The festival is produced by the nonprofit, member-supported, environmental organization the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Inc. The organization has received global recognition for advocacy, leadership, and its role in helping to pass landmark environmental laws including the federal Clean Water Act. Most recently, Clearwater, Inc. played a key role in the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to remove manufactured organic chemicals (PCBs) from the Hudson River.