Activist folk singer Holly Near to perform at Bennington College

Concert will raise money for reforestation effort

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BENNINGTON — Climate Advocates Bennington-350VT plans to take advantage of a bit of "good news" about climate change through a fundraising concert with activist and folk singer Holly Near.

The concert, scheduled for Saturday, March 21, at 7 p.m. at Bennington College's Greenwall Auditorium, will raise money for Climate Advocates Bennington's planned effort to plant 1,000 trees in Bennington County this year.

All the proceeds, less the price of the concert itself, will go toward the reforestation effort, said Naomi Miller, a member of the group.

The concert is sponsored by the climate group, along with Bennington College, Queer Connect Inc., and the Vermont Arts Exchange.

Both Queer Connect and the VAE are helping with logistics and promotion, Miller said.

"They've been great," she said. "We're doing this together as a team."

The college is providing the auditorium, as well as backup support.

Near, a folk icon, has worked in and sung for many of the major social justice movements of the past 50 years, including the anti-war, anti-nuclear, women's rights, gay rights, racial justice and immigrant rights movements, according to a media release.

She has performed with a wide variety of artists — including Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie and Ronnie Gilbert.

Tickets are $25 online and $30 at the door, and patrons can donate an additional $10 to the reforestation effort by paying $35. Tickets are available for $15 for students and those with limited income.

All tickets can be purchased at ClimateAdvocatesBennington.org until March 19.

Sponsorship tickets are also available for $50, which includes concert admission and the opportunity to meet Near before the concert, according to the release.

Organizers are hoping to raise enough money to plant 1,000 trees, "but the more money we raise, the more trees we can plant," Miller said.

They plan to plant as many trees as possible either way. The reforestation effort will kick off with a ceremony on Earth Day, but many of the trees may not be planted until the fall, Miller said. They aim to continue the planting effort in future years as long as there are enough volunteers.

Volunteers sought

Volunteers can sign up at ClimateAdvocatesBennington.org, and no planting experience is required, Miller said.

Near will be accompanied by back-up singer Tory Trujillo, pianist Tammi Brown and bass player Jan Martinelli.

"Holly Near is one of my long-time favorite activist folk musicians," Miller said of how the concert came about.

"She has provided the song line for so many progressive social movements in the course of the last 50 years that she seemed like a natural for this."

Miller said Near also performed at a fundraiser for a women's center in New Jersey that she has been director of almost 20 years ago.

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"She has written and performed and recorded many, many songs over the years that are about saving the planet, and about bringing together people into healing circles, circles that will heal the Earth," Miller said. "She brings her music brings, an ongoing concern and dedication to saving the environment, protecting the environment."

The reforestation effort came about after members of Climate Advocates Bennington read articles regarding a recent study, which showed planting billions of trees all over the planet could remove two-thirds of all the fossil fuel emissions from human activities that remain in the atmosphere today.

"Which is an enormous big deal," Miller said. "It's something that the scientists who did the study had not expected, and they were astonished. It turns out to be something that's kind of the first good news that we've gotten in a long time about the possibility of potentially averting some of the worst effects of the climate change process that we're in."

This is the first time Climate Advocates Bennington has pursued a reforestation project, which is being coordinated by Barbara True-Weber, Miller said.

Full concert

Near said her shows are all different, but she will be presenting a full concert at Bennington College.

"I walk out on stage, and I say, we're all in this together at this moment," she said. "I want very much for the people who attend to walk away feeling a few things — one, better than when they came in to be with community, sit with community, sing, listen to complex ideas [and] laugh, there's a lot of laughter in this show."

Near added that she will be accompanied at the Bennington College concert by a special guest as well — Crys Matthews, of the "new-generation queer community," will be singing with her.

Near's mother attended Bennington College, and she said she remembers performing in Bennington before multiple times, especially during the anti-war movement in the Vietnam era, she said.

"We were working really hard in the late '60s, early '70s to stop the U.S. attack in Vietnam," she called. "Our friends, our brothers, our children were being sent over there and being killed" as were many Vietnamese people.

Corporations were also dropping the highly toxic herbicide known as Agent Orange during the war, she said.

"There were so many trees that were destroyed during the war," she said. "War is counterproductive to the environment."

Near connected that devastation with the reforestation effort in Bennington.

"I find it mentally stimulating and healthy to think of the different ways that forests are being destroyed around the world," she said. "I like knowing that we are these little creatures around the world, functioning with each other."

Near said she likes to work with social change groups, and have her shows associated with some sort of the event in the local community when possible.

Near said she doesn't really focus on advocating for one particular cause in her music.

"But if I think about it as, really what we're doing is asking ourselves whether we want to rise to this occasion," she said. "We get to be here. The only reason we're standing is because of gravity. If you wake up every morning and look in the mirror and say that, it's awesome. My little speck of a person is here for a little speck of time. What would I like to experience, and what would I like to do? The music all comes through that door."

What ties her work together, Near said, is her fascination with humanity.

"We as human beings have the capacity to be horrific, absolutely horrific," she said. "But we also have the capacity to be extraordinary ... Whatever the issues are, I want to present them as a way that says to the audience — can you lean towards the extraordinary? If not, why not? And if so, yay!"

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at pleboeuf@benningtonbanner.com, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.


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