In late July, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stating their concern that a pipeline slated to be built encroached upon ancestral lands.
It’s a five dollar donation to get in the doors of the Standing Rock Solidarity Benefit show, to be enveloped in the warmth, the glow, the murmur of conversations cut frequently by loud laughter. It looks like someone’s family reunion with folding chairs and cheap plastic table cloths, a buffet set-up with six donated Two Cousin’s Gut Buster pizzas and cheap booze. As the place slowly fills with people, the room becomes a beacon in the cold night, a bright light in a row of dim buildings, a convention of friends new and old, setting the stage for solidarity.
September 4th, Dakota Access begins clearing ground for the pipeline, bulldozing over sacred sites and burials. Protesters are attacked by dogs and pepper sprayed.
It took just under two weeks for Aurelio Villa Luna Diaz, Mark Sebastian Jordan, Kathy Fetzer-Goodwin to bring this event into the public eye, being touted in the local papers and drawing over a hundred contributors and participants. It even received threats, though none came to fruition. The K.E. McCarthy building was donated as a space for the show and by door time, all money spent on food, drink, and entrance would be sent to the Oceti Sakowin Camp.
Mark Jordan opens the show as MC and performer and along with Jason Kauffman, Lucas Hargis, and Nate Weiland presents a spoken word piece (Pronouncement: An Invocation for the Standing Rock Benefit Concert). He repeats the question: “who speaks?” over the murmur of the settling audience and we listen, and finally erupt into applause on his final call-to-arms, that “We speak!”
This becomes the theme of the show, the different voices no longer silenced, but calling for an end to injustice. This is a shout for self-expression and for claiming a space in the land.
The Sioux were granted this land in an 1851 treaty signed at Fort Laramie in Wyoming. When the U.S. Government tried to buy the land back, the Sioux would not accept payment. The easement granted by the U.S. Army Corps ignores this Treaty.
The Morning After is the first band, a sloppy guitar and somewhat guttural, somewhat gravelly vocals, calling on a soused muse and a punk rock attitude. The lone singer-songwriter calls into question the strictures of society, making way for Jacob Clark’s account of his time spent as a protester at the Standing Rock camp. Jacob states his sadness at joining the military in order to fight for, to defend police brutality.
This is followed by Pool Boy, a more lighthearted production of that music we call indie. Beginning with a Daniel Johnston cover they move into sincere emotion with Ben Whitley’s signature vocals peaking in tremolo while discussing such topics as getting dumped by a girl, or the bass player’s unsuccessful attempts at dating.
To contrast Pool Boy’s performance, Mark Hersman lent his experienced poetic voice, going deep into an archeological dig to enumerate the significance of our past on our present condition.
The pipeline is slated to pass under Lake Oahe, just a half-mile upstream from the tribe’s reservation boundary where a spill would be catastrophic.
Northern Junkyard Orchestra, an old favorite of this town consisting of an all star cast of Kate Westfall, Orie Rush, and local music staple Jeff Bell, takes the stage next with a tight sound that jovially sets their artistic, DIY dispositions against consumer culture.
They are followed by Tia Kirby in a premier performance of her poetry. She takes the mic dressed in a Star Wars shirt and bright colored skirt, her voice exudes confidence in the face of confining social norms. She stands with a smile that convocates the absolutely mythic beauties she finds in the universe.
October 24, Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault asks the Department of Justice to look into the militarized police tactics…
As Mark welcomes Chase Beaire to the stage, the voice of the crowd grows rowdy in the background. The voices do not drown out the singer’s steady, classic lyrics, but add to a collective mood, a positive electric hum of dialects and cadences in the mutual tone of acceptance and goodwill.
Bill Baker gives an overview of peaceful resistance, and primes the crowd for the new fervor. It’s going on 8pm and the pizza’s half gone and the action is rising. Jai Marina follows adding her classically trained voice and fingerpicked guitar to the melange of speech. She calms the crowd to a heady mumble with her acoustic guitar before Jason Kaufman’s poetry can wake them.
…Such police tactics included using rubber bullets to shoot down drones used to document police activity, destroying canoes used for transport of Water Protectors, and use of tear gas.
Where many of the artists were calm, Jason Kaufman lets the whole room know what rankles. He begins with an angry rendition of his poem #AllLivesMatter, stating passionately: “#BlackLivesMatter is a love letter/ not a condemnation”. In another poem, he blames President Obama for not halting the production of the pipeline himself. Jason’s voice is loud. It damns, but hints at and imagines redemption. It doesn’t give up hope.
Aurelio’s (a.k.a. Chico’s Brother) Avant Ghetto autoharp and lyrics depict waves of loss and the sounds of finding oneself in the wilderness. Together with interstates (etc), the experimental noise/drone/ ambient project from Mansfield local Brandon Greter, their music finds a place that spans hi-fi and lo-fi, disguising and sharpening Aurelio’s lyrics to put new emphasis on the words and sounds. Together, their speech becomes muddled at one moment and sharp and clear and cutting in the next. However vague the metaphor, a clarity emerges that calls for interpretation and introspection.
I follow, shaky-kneed, my first reading into a microphone. It was a different sound looking out from the stage. It is nothing to be afraid of, but rather, I want to do the crowd justice for their collective beauty. My speech, I must say, is timid. I hear the conversations of the crowd between my voice which seems to boom and hammer my ears from the P.A. I step down relieved to pats on the back that keep me blushing for days.
Gratitude seems worth mentioning here. Great waves of it. Thunderous applause and a line of people patting each artist on the back as they leave. The beauty of this show lies not only in the performers, but the artists watching the performers, being involved in the performance. In fact, this place is filled with artists of one variety or another, some performing or showing their work, some merely respecting the spectacle, but all enamored by their peers.
December 4, The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers does not grant Dakota Access Corporation the easement, moving to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for alternative routes…
The Hand Jam Band follows with a great deal of banging on drums and wailing guitar, a freestyle party going wild and spinning lighted hula hoops in the lowlights. A young girl dances. To call it psychedelic would not do it justice. This is primal and it is cosmic.
Speaking of cosmic, Lucas Hargis ditches the microphone to sit in dim lights at the edge of the stage. He wears a bird mask and strikes a walking stick on the ground to emphasize the important notes. The hula hoop spins in the background and listeners gather at his feet intently listening to his mythic words and emphatic voice.
Sovroncourt plays next. Cameron Sharp is a man with the voice of a ghost, and it is not until after his show that I find the true reason behind his spectral tone which is so much more down to earth. He tells me he is singing to himself. His speech is for the listener. It is not to create the listener, to force one to listen, but to invite those willing to listen through the door. The quality of his music mirrors Aurelio’s. Sovroncourt is the rough and jagged mountain to Aurelio’s quiet and fluid waterfall.
…But the fight is not over…
As night draws on and the crowd is in a fervor, The Trio goes on with Al Jenkins asserting his hip hop flow over electronicized jazz standards. They embellish on the past, reimagining Tin Pan Alley with training in the classical and reimagining it on modern instruments. With such a complete understanding of music, The Trio plays with a wink and a nod to a hundred years of music and a sound that has not quite yet been replicated.
Joye Braun, Indigenous Environmental Network organizer states, “We have never ceded this land. If DAPL can go through and claim eminent domain on landowners and Native peoples on their own land, then we as sovereign nations can then declare eminent domain on our own aboriginal homeland. We are here to protect the burial sites here. Highway 1806 has become the no surrender line.”
The crowd dwindles and the last beers are bought, Man Made Bomb closes out the evening. They are loud, holding the stragglers in their swaying dances, keeping the sleepy alive for the last half hour.
I’m overwhelmed and take it all in as sort of a blur. The pieces of art were auctioned and sold, the beer was consumed, the pizza, for the most part, devoured, and Kathy Fetzer-Goodwin counts the donations which reach nearly $2000.
This is pretty good for a bunch of artists living at or around the poverty line. These are not the moneyed elite. These are the downtown shop owners, your baristas and bartenders, your servers and library workers. These are the people who find five dollars on the street and can’t kick the smile. Even so, they emptied their pockets for a cause they believed in.
But to hell with the money. The takeaway from the show is more than this. It is about the collective voice. In all the schisms formed by specific tastes in music and art, all the age gaps, and different visions, it is easy to forget that there are many of us who speak the same type of speeches, hope the same hopes, and believe in a better future for all beings.
At the Standing Rock Benefit Concert we learned that parcels of Wayne National Forest are for sale by our government. This is our land. It is there for us as an escape from the constant rush of life. It is a little slice of peace in the midst of almost constant war. We must protect it.