LIVE: New Yorkers Against Fracking @ The Egg, 5/15/12

New Yorkers Against Fracking @ The Egg, 5/15/12 (photo by Andrzej Pilarczyk)
Dan Zanes, Mazz Swift, John Sebastian, Joan Osborne and Natalie Merchant (photo by Andrzej Pilarczyk)

Review by Kirsten Ferguson
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Additional photographs by Jason Spiro

A backdrop of Lady Liberty pummeling oil rigs with her flaming torch served as the visual call to arms for New Yorkers Against Fracking, a coalition of more than 100 groups that rallied at the New York State Capitol on Monday afternoon before holding an all-star anti-fracking benefit concert at the Egg later that evening.

“Safe fracking is a fairy tale,” read a neon-green-lettered sign carried by one of the more creatively dressed concert attendees – many of whom sported anti-fracking stickers, signs and buttons at The Egg before the concert. Dressed as a “frack fairy,” she also had black bat wings, combat boots and a turquoise tutu.

But among the many emotional appeals of the night to prevent New York state from allowing hydrofracking – a controversial process for extracting natural gas by injecting a high-pressure mix of water, sand and chemicals deep underground – the most convincing image may have been a jug of murky, yellowish water that sat on a table in The Egg lobby.

It came from Dimock, Pennsylvania, a place where residents say hydrofracking has contaminated their drinking water with hazardous chemicals. Although the Environmental Protection Agency recently stated that natural gas drilling was not the source, residents disagree and Dimock has become a flash point in the Northeastern anti-fracking fight.

There were Dimock residents in the audience for The Egg concert, pointed out from the stage by actor Mark Ruffalo, who brought posters from his latest film, “The Avengers,” to be raffled off for the cause. Ruffalo and “Treme” star Melissa Leo made for passionate hosts of the event, which delivered its anti-fracking message through a volley of media: slideshows, videos, poetry readings, testimonials and performances by an ever-shifting ensemble of musical stars.

If there was one primary theme during a night dedicated to raising awareness and appealing to Governor Cuomo to ban hydrofracking in New York’s gas-rich Marcellus Shale region, it was about the need to protect clean water, and what happens when people lose access to such a critical resource.

Leo read a moving letter from Coitsville, Ohio, resident Jaime Frederick, who says she became gravely ill after moving into a home next to property leased to a gas company without her knowledge. A segment from the documentary “Gasland” rattled off alarming statistics about the hundreds of chemicals found in fracking fluid, and a Pennsylvania dairy farmer spoke of the farm’s ruin from water contamination in a clip from the film “Frack.”

Those who came to the event primarily for the musical bill – featuring big names like Meshell Ndegeocello, Natalie Merchant, Dan Zanes, Joan Osborne, the Felice Brothers, John Sebastian and Medeski Martin & Wood – may have been disappointed by the high percentage of the night devoted to speakers. That left much of the event’s musical star power seeming under-utilized on a set devoted largely to cover songs.

Native New Yorker Natalie Merchant appeared the most, performing Paul Simon’s “American Tune” and her own “Texas” with guitarist Erik Della Penna. In one of the night’s best musical moments she traded vocals with the gravelly voiced Ian Felice on her lovely “Motherland,” while backed by members of the Horse Flies and the Felice Brothers. And she marched a large cast of singers and musicians down the center of the stage for a rousing cover of Sweet Honey in the Rock’s worker lament “More Than a Paycheck,” which got the crowd to its feet.

Greg Haymes’ review at The Times Union
Timothy Reidy’s photographs of the musicians
Timothy Reidy’s photographs of the speakers
Excerpt from Brian McElhiney’s review at The Daily Gazette: “Two of the evening’s strongest performances came during the second half of the show. Tamar-kali’s ‘Siren Song’ was a showcase for the singer’s massively expressive pipes, and with John Medeski and Ida helping out, the song reached into the stratosphere. Toshi Reagon, who also wowed in the first act on ‘More Than a Paycheck,’ turned her own song ‘Down By the Water’ into a rousing sing-along. Perhaps best of all though was the traditional ‘I Don’t Want Your Millions, Mister,’ with vocal solos from Dan Zanes, violinist Mazz Swift, Merchant and Joan Osborne, among others. The song perfectly captured the community spirit — and spirit of anger — that permeated the entire evening.”

The Precious Water Song (Ahkwasanse Women’s Choir)
Our Precious Mothers (Ahkwasanse Women’s Choir)
American Tune (Natalie Merchant)
To Ohio (led by Ida)
??? (instrumental (the Horse Flies)
Motherland (led by Natalie Merchant & Ian Felice)
More Than a Paycheck (led by Toshi Reagon)
Fall On Me (led by Joan Osborne)
Hurricane Waters (led by Citizen Cope)
Siren Song (led by Tamar-kali)
??? (instrumental by Medeski, Martin & Wood)
Down by the Water (led by Toshi Reagon)
I Don’t Want Your Millions, Mister (led by Dan Zanes)
??? (instrumental by Judy Hyman)
Turn, Turn, Turn (led by Marc Anthony Thompson)
Heaven (all)
Everyday People (all)

Ian Felice and Natalie Merchant (photo by Andrzej Pilarczyk)
Ian Felice and Natalie Merchant (photo by Andrzej Pilarczyk)
Ahkwasanse Women's Choir
Ahkwasanse Women's Choir (photo by Jason Spiro)
Mark Ruffalo (photo by Andrzej Pilarczyk)
Mark Ruffalo (photo by Andrzej Pilarczyk)
Toshi Reagon
Toshi Reagon (photo by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Meshell Ndegeocello, Tamar-kali and Carl Hancock Rus (photo by Andrzej Pilarczyk)
Meshell Ndegeocello, Tamar-kali and Carl Hancock Rux (photo by Andrzej Pilarczyk)
Melissa Leo (photo by Andrzej Pilarczyk)
Melissa Leo (photo by Andrzej Pilarczyk)
(photo by Jason Spiro)
(photo by Jason Spiro)
(photo by Jason Spiro)
(photo by Jason Spiro)
(photo by Jason Spiro)
(photo by Jason Spiro)
  1. Mr. Reidy says

    nice teamwork by a show full of nice teamwork

  2. Richard Brody says

    Great review and photos. While one might argue that the evening was spent preaching to the choir, this is one choir member who left energized and ready to spread the word about FRACKING. Special mention to Toshi Reagon for bringing down the house with her song “Down by the Water” and to Carl Hancock Rux for his presentation of “A Poem For The Marcellus by Sandra Steingraber. I only wish that Kentucky raised Joan Osborne had performed “Paradise” by John Prine.

  3. Chris Tate says

    Thanks for the great coverage, review, and photos. We preach to the choir because it is the choir that sings! Sing out!

  4. Mathias Kamin says

    Great review and pictures. This concert was a wonderful experience though the venue lacked any real space to dance. 🙂 The instrumental song in question by Judy Hyman of the Horseflies is called Three Shoes.

  5. mark emanatian says

    Many years ago, when I was young, I went to the Palace Theater in Albany, to see a protest concert/benefit for the Grape Boycott to help the Farmerworker’s Union and Ceaser Chavez. I thought it was great. Music and politics….pretty much what I have done for the rest of my life. When I went to this concert the other night, I was back there again and the feeling was GREAT! I loved this concert. The music was wonderful and the speeches were just right. Not a bad thing to say about this one…kudos all around.

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