Music Notes – August 2012

Happy Birthday Woody Guthrie!

Back in 1998 American singer-songwriter Steve Earle recorded a song called “Christmas in Washington.” It had a heartfelt refrain: “Come back Woody Guthrie.” Maybe Woody Guthrie, who died in 1967, never really left us, but certainly this year the great American balladeer’s spirit has been omnipresent. Woody’s centennial has been celebrated far and wide across North America and beyond, culminating with birthday festivities last month in Coney Island, NY, a free Guthrie family picnic in Central Park, and a festival in his hometown of Okemah, Oklahoma. Virtually every folk festival this summer will have paid tribute in one way or another to the composer of “This Land is Your Land,”  whose words and lyrics gave voice to the struggles of the American working class and outlined a vision of a people’s culture. In these times of crisis the relevancy of Woody Guthrie is greater than ever. Two excellent tributes were broadcast last month by Democracy Now, one with Guthrie biographer Will Kaufman, Pete Seeger and Billy Bragg (July 4) and the other with Steve Earle, Guthrie’s daughter Nora and granddaughter Anna Canoni (July 12). View them at For more info visit

 David Rovics in Canada this fall

 A latter-day Woody Guthrie, singer-songwriter David Rovics, will be visiting Canadian cities this fall. His hard-hitting and insightful songs about war, globalization and social justice have been inspiring movement activists across North America and Western Europe for two decades. David Rovics has confirmed dates in Montreal (October 12), Ottawa (October 13), Toronto (October 15) and London (October 16). November dates are also in the works for Winnipeg, Vancouver and Victoria. More details will be published in a forthcoming column, but for now it is known that the focus will be on solidarity with Palestine, and at least two concerts will be benefits for the Gaza Ark project ( Sponsors for all or part of the tour include the Canadian Boat to Gaza Committee, Independent Jewish Voices, Palestinian and Jewish Unity, the Rosa Luxembourg Club (CPC), the United Jewish People’s Order and the Young Communist League. For updates write to this column at

New York musicians against fracking

Singers Natalie Merchant and Joan Osborne, popular jazz trio Medeski, Martin and Wood, and actor Mark Ruffalo joined environmental activists and scientists at a May 15th rally and teach-in against hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’) in Albany, the state capital of New York. Fracking is a technique of extracting natural gas from deep within the earth by injecting millions of litres of water and thousands of litres of unidentified chemicals underground. News leaks have revealed that Governor Andrew Cuomo is planning to lift a moratorium on the dangerous practice and allow gas companies to operate in five impoverished counties near the Pennsylvania border. “It’s a Pandora’s Box we don’t want to open,” said Merchant, former lead singer of the popular band 10,000 Maniacs, who contacted Oscar-winning documentary director Alex Gibney to film the rally. Check out the video at For info on the imminent danger of fracking in Canada visit the Council of Canadian at

Artists & intellectuals vs Bill 78

Sébastien Ricard (a.k.a. ‘Batlam’) of popular Quebec band Loco Locass joined folksinger- filmmaker Richard Desjardins, singer-composer Richard Séguin and 50 other artists, intellectuals and trade unionists on a June 21 march from Université du Québec à Montréal to the office of Premier Jean Charest, where they presented a letter signed by 1200 of their peers denouncing Bill 78 as “abusive, anti-freedom and totalitarian.” The delegation demanded the immediate abrogation of the repressive law that criminalises all protest. Authors of the open letter (“Contre L’Infâme Loi Spéciale”) include writers Marie-Christine Bernard and Jean-François Caron, trade unionist Francis Legacé, researcher Eric Pineault and philosopher Michel Seymour. Search online using key words “Against Bill 78 (Voir)” for an English translation. Messages of solidarity from English Canada are urgently required. For the complete text in French visit

Adrienne Cooper 1946-2011

The progressive Canadian Jewish magazine Outlook paid tribute in its May-June issue to Yiddish singer, teacher and activist Adrienne Cooper, who passed away on December 25, 2011. Cooper was one of the outstanding figures in the contemporary revival of Klezmer music – the popular Yiddish style that originated in Eastern Europe and spread to North America in the early twentieth century. Her recordings include solo albums, compilations, and collaborations with bands like The Klezmatics and The Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band, as well as with her partner, Canadian pianist Marilyn Lerner. Cooper was an executive member of the Workman’s Circle (Arbeiter Ring), and Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, an anti-racist, anti-poverty and feminist New York group that has been active in the struggle against Islamophobia. She was also co-founder of Klez Kamp, the annual Klezmer and Yiddish cultural festival in New York’s Catskills region. For more info visit

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