This weekend, I had the pleasure of attending a one-of-a-kind event–featuring climate activist and indigenous rapper Xiuhtezcatl and several mini performances by a collection of passionate local Minnesota artists. “Band Together” was a night of music and storytelling, hosted by Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy and in partnership with EFFECT and MPR News’ Climate Cast.
Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy is a nonprofit dedicated to climate literacy, climate change education, youth leadership and community engagement for climate change solutions and innovations. Since 2006, they have been building climate literacy and action among educators, youth, and the broader public. So, what do they do? Here is an abbreviated list of their core programs (read a more detailed run-down on their website, here):
• Educating students and professionals on climate and energy literacy.
• Hosting public convenings on climate change to elevate stories of individuals engaged to build local solutions.
• Building youth networks in Minnesota such as Youth Environmental Activists of MN (YEA! MN), and Youth Convening Minnesota.
• Sharing personal climate stories, personal accounts to shed light on the very emotional connection to climate stories and connect with others.
• Sending delegations of youth, educators, and multi-sector representatives to annually participate in the global UN climate negotiations: the Conference of the Parties (COP).
• Providing an array of training to empower individuals to incorporate climate change solutions into their daily life– from professional development to public workshops.
Music, storytelling, advocacy–these are pretty easy dots to connect here. Music has the power to connect people. Band Together offered up a spotlight for local artists to voice their concerns about climate change, share personal accounts, and (do what they do best) connect with the audience through music.
First up was funky, soulful crew Astralblak. They put on a joyful, upbeat show. Fitting into the theme of the evening, they played a couple tracks off the 2018 album Seeds. The album presents a metaphor of growth, sustainability, and the cyclical nature of life. As MMYYKK shared in a city pages interview, “I think we were all kind of going through our individual experiences of letting go of certain things. So, sometimes you inadvertently sow the seeds that grow the tree.”
Their goal of the evening was to draw attention to all the gifts mother earth has given us and continues to give to ensure we can survive and thrive.
“What concerns me most about the climate crisis is the effect it is having on our oceans – the rise in water temp is wreaking havoc on the coral reefs and many aquatic creatures. We take for granted all the work that mother nature is doing in the background to ensure that we have an inhabitable planet.”— MMYYKK of Astralblak
ABY WOLF & ERIC MAYSON
Aby Wolf is a multi-talented vocalist and classical musician who has collaborated with a long list of local artists including Dessa, Chastity Brown, and Doomtree. Her latest musical collaboration, Champagne Confetti, features an 11-piece, electro-acoustic chamber orchestra. Eric Mayson, one of the 11 members, joined her on stage Saturday evening.
Eric Mayson, keyboardist and vocalist, is kind of a catch-all musician when it comes to genre and style. He borders the ley lines of minimal electropop, R&B, dreamy soul and a little hip-hop for good measure.
The two make an effortless pair on stage. Both easily fit the role of “sidekick” for a lot of bands and musicians– but, I have enjoyed following their solo ventures as of late.
Before performing, Aby shared some personal stories about growing up in rural northwestern Illinois. The rolling hills and idyllic countryside served as inspiration for Aby’s creativity and curiosity in many ways. She grew up with the belief and understanding that her natural surrounding was something to be shared. She expressed her disappointment over the very disposable culture we live in and her hope for change.
“What concerns me most is that people hear the words ‘climate crisis’ and think, ‘I wouldn’t mind warmer winters.’ But climate is evvvrything – food systems, water, shelter – global survival. We are not separate from our climate, we are of our climate, and we need everyone on board to steward the only home we have.”– Aby Wolf
I’ve had the pleasure to see Chastity Brown perform live numerous times. However, each time she takes stage she reveals a new layer of her emotional depth. She’s honest, humorous, and a very politically engaged artist.
Originally from Tennessee, Chastity has been very open about her personal experiences with family members who share very different views and difficult conversations that are inevitably political. Last time I saw her up close and personal at Red Wing’s Big Turn Music Festival, she opened up about good and not-so-good crowd responses to her emphasis and celebration of being a brown woman. Chastity Brown’s vulnerability on stage turns heads; a reminder that it takes a certain amount of uncomfortable restlessness to be truly vulnerable.
Sauntering on stage with her shades on, Chastity began bantering with the crowd as she tuned her guitar. She even called out a man whose cell phone went off just as she was finishing up her last adjustments–”Thank you, sir!” They both shared a laugh.
It was no surprise that Chastity Brown was invited to be a part of an event like this, an event digging into the very personal effects of climate change and a unified call for action. She was short and sweet but, as expected, Chastity left a lasting impact on the audience.
Chastity played the song “Drive Slow” off her 2017 album Silhouette of Sirens. It was just her and her guitar up there, and the occasional tapping and stomping as she sang along. The stripped-down guitar and vocal performance captivated the crowd.
She shared a story from a trip to Northwestern Whales and 1,500-year old trees called “U trees.” In awe of these “mother-effin’ trees,” she described how these trees actually die on the inside and compost the waste outward to regenerate life. That’s how this type of tree lives to be so old and continues to survive.
Before starting up her second song, she professed her love and admiration for Aby Wolf.
“If I would have actually read the itinerary and known that Aby Wolf was going to be here… I would have had her up here with me. Love her. Her voice is the epitome of magic. And when she moves her hands as she’s singing… I swear to God she pulls notes out of the air.”– Chastity Brown
Witnessing one very talented female musician stop and take the time to compliment her friend– that was the epitome of feminist magic. I don’t think we outwardly compliment and express gratitude for each other nearly enough. That was beautiful to see.
Chastity closed out her micro performance with an unreleased song that she’s been working on and played a few months back with the Minnesota Orchestra, “Like the Sun.” She implied that the song was in homage to someone special. Based off her performance, my falsetto-informed, educated guess is Prince.
“I will wait for the sun to come up, you’re like the sun.” The hopeful message of light and renewal left the audience in a lifted mood, shortly before Chris Koza and Lucy Michelle took the stage.
CHRIS KOZA & LUCY MICHELLE
Chris Koza initially came on stage solo to share a little bit of his personal story. “There are two types of people,” he said jokingly, “those who grew up going to summer camp, and those who did not.” He began to learn his place in the world due to his experiences with nature growing up at camp.
“We learn how to be in this world through the communities we cultivate and keep. Tonight we are not going it alone, we are building community.” For Chris, music helps create such a community.
He humorously referred to climate change as a high-speed, runaway train that no one person can stop. Even with the power of community, this runaway train will plow through so much before we can grab on. But, he said, if we work together we can slow it down.
“Maybe we can jump on the back and run across the top like international super spies, break into the front and clock the evil mastermind over the head with a cudgel and pump the breaks. I don’t have a cudgel, I hope someone else does.”– Chris Koza
Chris joked about this dream to stop the runaway train in dramatic, super-spy style. Of course, this kind of effort to derail the “pending train crash” of climate change cannot magically happen in an action sequence. Yes, it takes time. “Not in the choreographed span of Hollywood minutes.”
He emphasized the need for more action. Nothing will move quite as quickly as we wish, but we can’t wait around. “We have to start making any moves today and start making our way up to the big moves.”
Lucy joined him on stage and the two of them performed a duet cover of “Shoulder to Shoulder Around the Fire” by Rogue Valley. I had never heard it performed as a two-part duet. As much as I love Rogue Valley–their album False Floors is absolute gold– I actually preferred the Chris-Lucy version. The harmonica was a nice touch, Koza.
Lucy Michelle I had the pleasure of seeing perform for the first time. She’s the frontwoman for rock-pop quartet Little Fevers, formerly known as Lucy Michelle and the Velvet Lapelles when they were a six-piece crew. Little Fevers is more rock than folk, but Lucy took up her acoustic guitar Saturday night to perform a heartfelt, folksy rendition of “Heart Race.”
“I think as one individual it’s hard to feel like you’re making an impact, so it feels good to be part of something that allows me to use my music towards greater awareness of the immediate need for a change in how we live.”– Lucy Michelle
LAZERBEAK (WITH LONGSHOT & MIXED BLOOD MAJORITY)
After a brief intermission, and for many a beer break for some Bent Paddle, Lazerbeak got things going with an instrumental track off his latest 2019 release, Luther. Soon, everyone settled into their seats as the bass got louder and louder. Within a couple minutes, Lazerbeak had everyone captivated.
This Minneapolis producer has been around for decades and has collaborated with just about everyone. Yes, everyone. Queen Lizzo, Trampled by Turtles, Minnesota Orchestra, GAYNGS, Speedy Ortiz. Oh, and the dude founded artist collective Doomtree (Dessa, P.O.S. & Shredders). No big deal.
Naturally, he had some buddies with him to perform a couple tracks. Longshot and Mixed Blood Majority came on stage and briefly “turnt” O’Shaughnessy into an impromptu rap party.
For a banging producer and father of three, you could say that the guy has done a lot. However, Lazerbeak is incredibly down-to-earth and easy to relate to. Up to this point in the show, there were countless poignant speeches about climate change and eloquent pre-performance stories. Lazerbeak busted things open with a confession of sorts.
Lazerbeak has been called “towel man” in his day, notorious for wasting paper towels. He admitted to “patting himself on the back” in the past for doing the slightest eco-friendly thing like recycling or buying metal straws.
“When the straw thing went down last year, we ordered some metal straws off Amazon Prime. And, it came in like a lot of cardboard and plastic. Oh, I tell everyone about it. I’m using those metal straws, baby. No plastic straws for me.”– Lazerbeak
He came to discover that, well, he thought other people had this shit figured out. But as of recently, after hearing more and more stories about climate change, Lazerbeak has admittedly “woke up to this reality.” He’s a little groggy from “37-some years of apathy,” but he’s eager to be involved and learn.
BEN WEAVER & STRONG BUFFALO
Ben Weaver is best described as a “songwriter and poet who travels by bicycle.” He feels very much connected to his natural surroundings and draws inspiration from that connection. His most recent project, Music for Free, resulted in him riding 3,000 miles by bicycle from Canada to Mexico along the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. Only carrying the basics–alongside his guitar and banjo–Ben made stops along the route to offer impromptu, free performances.
Wilderness, “music by bike” tours are not new to Ben Weaver. Nine studio albums and five books of poetry deep, he’s been writing and creating for quite some time. Ben gave a brief, introspective talk and poetry reading alongside fellow poet-musician Strong Buffalo (Tatanka Ohitika) before his performance.
Strong Buffalo is an incredibly strong presence to encounter. A member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota Oyate and decorated Vietnam veteran, he’s been writing poetry all his life. His words have been translated in more than 17 languages and three published books and call for a world without war, racism, and exploitation–a world where there is a space for everyone.
Strong Buffalo stood comfortably on stage with a drum in his hand and a book of poetry before him. He shared a poem called “The Spot,” a poem about a place that we all call home. This place, this home, is for all and cannot be given to some people and not others.
“That beautiful spot lives and will always be the treasure of our dreams. So, come all! Come here! To the home of the American Indians. It’s been over 500 years. The refugee for the world’s refugee. Why stop now? Don’t let hate stop the dreams. There’s enough space for everyone to make a home. There’s enough for all of us to make a way of life. Come, come by the way you want and be yourself. God gave us this homeland to share. There’s no walls around our home. There is no one better and no one worse. Come and care! Come and share! This land, this land is our home. It is home for us all! So, come all! Come to that spot! Right here, right now! It’s in me, and it’s in you. Over there and over here, that spot was given by God, given by God! It’s God’s place, it’s God’s spot. So, come all!”– Strong Buffalo
Jeremy, similar to Lazerbeak, also began his climate story in the form of a confession.
I, Jeremy Matthew Messersmith, am a terrible, terrible person. Just an overall garbage human being. I read the last page of every book first. And I only bother to read that book so I can spoil the upcoming TV show. I love spoilers, I can’t help it. As a kid, there was barely a birthday or Christmas that went by without complete foreknowledge of the presents. I would rifle through notebooks and snoop through closets looking for clues… it’s a deep character flaw. A symptom of a fragile and brittle mind. But, for me, not knowing is pure agony. I can’t bear tension and I hate surprises, so I spoil everything. And, I live my life by the wisdom of Oscar Wilde who said, ‘the only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.'”– Jeremy Messersmith
He went on to joke about how, in the world of fiction, tension is something that can easily be resolved. Whether it be reading the last page of a book before starting, or predicting a movie based on the trailer. But, in real life, it’s not that easy. This brought him to the big topic of climate change.
In movie trailer terms, he painted a dramatized picture of a desolate wasteland in an age of extinction. In his words, “Yup, this is some supremely dark shit. God, it makes me want to find a beach somewhere and bury my head in the sand. It’s too much to process! The problem is too big to comprehend, it’s paralyzing. How can one mourn a planet? What song can I possibly sing for all my fellow creatures?”
Fair question, what can one with a quirky personality, sing-along-voice and a ukulele do?
Jeremy, in true spoiler fashion, told us about his burning desire to know how it all ends. This led him to a Wikipedia rabbit hole on a page called, “Timeline of the Far Future.” Naturally, he goes to the very end of the timeline. In an entry 7.59 billion years from now it reads, “The earth and moon are very likely destroyed by falling into the sun.”
“Truly a balm for the soul… hot-diggity-dog,” jokes Messersmith, “Now you might ask yourself, what kind of psychopath finds comfort with the idea of the earth falling into the sun? Fair enough. I guess it reminds me, while it’s pretty much the end of the story, fade to black, roll the credits… it’s not the end of my story. I have a remarkable superpower right now that I won’t have in 7 billion years: I’m alive. Most people aren’t.”
The crowd was loving his dark, witty humor about the end of the world. But he had a point, we are alive and that can be considered a superpower of sorts. Even though the outlook seems bleak, for the first time we have the ability to shape and protect our fragile world in a way our predecessors could not. Jeremy ended with a rather uplifting message, shortly before performing the fitting song “Little Blue World.”
“I have spent and will spend the vast majority of time benched on the galactic sidelines. What a joy to be in the game, alive here and now, in the thick of it. Alive and able to do something about it.”– Jeremy Messersmith
He ended his micro show– or stand up performance, depending on who you ask–with a lovely little ditty called “Everybody Gets a Kitten.” Take a look below for a clip of his performance.
Last, but not least, native rapper Xiuhtezcatl (pronounced ‘Shoe-Tez-Caht’) ended the evening with a high-energy performance. Joined by a few other musicians and a DJ on stage, he got everyone on their feet. Right away, they asked the crowd to “put their lights up.” The crowd proceeded to light up the arena with the glow of cell phones swaying back and forth.
Xiuhtezcatl Martinez is a 19-year-old indigenous rapper and activist. From performing for the U.N. General Assembly to leading the Youth v. Gov. lawsuit against the Federal Government, his experience has informed his music with a strong, empowering message. He grew up immersed in the indigenous Aztec traditions of his father and advocating for social and environmental justice with his mother. A wonderful fit for an event like this.
Alongside his brother and sister, the Earth Guardians, he creates and performs eco-themed hip-hop music. Their first album, Generation Ryse was released in August of 2014, featuring tracks like “What the Frack” and “Speak for the Trees.” Through his music, he emphasizes national environmental issues and more specifically relevant to his state (Colorado).
Xiuhtezcatl recently released his first solo album, Break Free Spring, in 2018 which features songs like “Sage Up” and “Young.” He performed a couple songs from his latest album alongside younger sister Tonantzin Martinez.
“Is everyone having a good time tonight?” After opening with a rap, Xiuhtezcatl expressed gratitude for being in the presence of such talent and passion.
“I just want to remind everybody in this building, personally, we gather here around the music and around these stories and this passion, this love we have for our planet, for this cause that we’re fighting for. These are just the seeds being planted, it’s up to each and every one of you to go home, go forth and plant these seeds…I am just a reflection of y’all, and what you see up on this stage is a reflection of our people, our community and where we come from.”
After his performance, he continued to lift the audience with words of motivation, speaking to the power and influence we all carry with us.
“The climate crisis is the defining issue of our time. Fighting for climate justice is about much more than protecting the environment, or moving away from fossil fuels. The moment humanity faces is an opportunity for re-imagination of how our world can function with justice, equality, and a regenerative relationship with the earth at the forefront.”– Xiuhtezcatl