Rockers Honor the Earth

As the world's population hit six billion last October, rock and pop stars concerned about the world's environmental problems teamed up with the United Nations to perform an unprecedented Internet-based global concert called Net Aid (www.netaid.org). Whatever its musical significance, the concert, which featured such performers as Jewel, Sting and U2's Bono, also underscored a new millennium-based activism by the musical community.

Honor the Earth: The Indigo Girls put their careers through "a political and environmental lens."

The UN's Net Aid manager, Robert Piper, believes that the ongoing series of concerts should “raise awareness about issues surrounding poverty, and environmental degradation is definitely a part of that.” An enthusiastic cheerleader for that point of view is Sting, the former Police frontman. He's the founder of the Rainforest Foundation, which has sponsored benefit concerts since it was launched 10 years ago. In 1999, the nonprofit organization raised more than $2 million from a single Carnegie Hall show featuring Elton John and James Taylor.

Of course, musicians in this country have been standing up for the environment ever since Woody Guthrie wrote “This Land is Your Land” in 1940. According to promoters and musicians alike, this resurgent trend shows little signs of abating in Y2K. As Bonnie Raitt explains, “Traditionally, artists have been the conscience of our society. The love, pain, anger and feelings of loss are there whether I'm upset about the rape of the environment or about the way some man treats me.”

Raitt's committed career, which includes many environmental benefit concerts, is a model for Amy Ray and Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls, who use their popular music as a springboard for informing audiences about the issues. In their home state of Georgia, they recently performed a series of benefits for activists fighting a proposed toxic waste plant.

“We founded the Honor the Earth Campaign in 1991,” explains Ray. “The campaign works closely with Native American activist Winona LaDuke to help raise awareness of these issues. At our concerts, we've always had a lot of tabling for mainstream Greenpeace-type stuff, but we decided to put all our efforts into the indigenous sector.” Each year, a four-week tour raises as much as $500,000 for the foundation.

And the group's commitment doesn't stop there. “We also do some lobbying, and try to talk about what's going on both locally and nationally during our tours,” says Ray. “Uranium, coal mining and logging are other issues we've tried to address. Everything we do is through a political and environmental lens.” Buy an Indigo Girls CD and the booklet will be printed with soy-based inks. Not surprising, is it?

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