Archive for Steve Earle


Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 12, 2016 by midliferocker
From left, Robert Plant, Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle perform during the Lampedusa: Concerts for Refugees at The Vic Theater in Chicago, Oct. 13, 2016. (Christian Fuchs Ñ Jesuit Refugee Service/USA)

Robert Plant, Emmylou Harris and Steve Earle perform during the “Lampedusa: Concerts for Refugees” Tour. (Photo by Christian Fuchs/Jesuit Refugee Service USA)

The Lampedusa concerts cast a beam on a growing humanitarian plight.

By Steve Houk

Lampedusa is a tiny island in the Mediterranean Sea, about 70 miles off the coast of Italy. Its name has a few known connotations, including “rocky” given its stony shores, and yes, those well-known Lampedusa oysters, found in the waters surrounding the seven square-mile island.

But surely its most evocative meaning, given the island’s history as a passage for refugees, is “torch,” named so because of lights that were often placed on the shores for sailors to find their way. Since ancient times, Lampedusa has been both a bright beacon of hope for some, as well as a flickering ember of sadness for others. Most recently, hundreds of souls perished there in different boat sinkings offshore, all as they were fleeing the horror of their homeland. Coincidentally or not, Pope Francis, during a visit to Lampedusa soon after the 2013 boat tragedy said, “May (Lampedusa) be a beacon that shines throughout the world, so that people will have the courage to welcome those in search of a better life.” Torch, indeed.

Those words of hope from the Pontiff prompted the Jesuit Refugee Service to embark on an effort now in the second year of a five year campaign to raise $35 million to increase educational services to refugees in both camps and urban settings. Currently, JRS serves some 750,000 refugees in 45 countries annually — and 130,000 attend JRS school programs. “We want to be able to double that number by 2020,” said Gail Griffiths, Director of the JRS’ Global Action Initiative. “We often say that an education is the only thing you can offer a refugee that cannot be taken away.”

Advancing this Lampedusa beacon was the “Lampedusa: Concerts For Refugees” tour, which blazed through eleven cities in October, completing its run at Washington’s Lisner Auditorium. Featuring such luminaries as Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Patty Griffin, Buddy Miller, The Milk Carton Kids, Joan Baez and Robert Plant, the ever-present power of music helped both raise funds and cast its own ray of light, illuminating the gravity of this worldwide crisis.

Jesuit Refugee Service/USA Board Members Dave McNulty and Margaret Green Rauenhorst, singer/songwriter Emmylou Harris and JRS International Development Group members Margaret Chin-Wolf and Elaine Teo visit the JRS project in Mai Aini refugee camp in northern Ethiopia, June 8, 2016. The camps are home to refugees from Eritrea, and a significant percentage of the population are unaccompanied children. (Christian Fuchs — Jesuit Refugee Service/USA)

Emmylou Harris at the JRS project in Mai Aini refugee camp in northern Ethiopia, June 8, 2016. (photo Christian Fuchs — Jesuit Refugee Service/USA)

Griffiths, Harris and Earle had combined forces in the past with the “Concerts For A Landmine Free World” tour in the late 90’s, so it was a natural fit to do another tour in service of the refugee plight .

“For me, (Lampedusa) was this place where so many have tried to find refuge,” said Harris, who had previously visited Ethiopia to see the predicament first hand. “Refugees who have tried to find a place to go to get away from, you know, the war, the fact that their homes were gone. It’s a place of safety, or limbo, in a way, where so many people have died trying to find another life. In one sense it’s a place of sorrow, and in another, it’s a place of hope.”

“This issue’s about all of us,” said Earle, who’s always been politically active. “I think it’s like America itself, a constantly evolving thing. The Irish that came here originally were refugees. World War II sent alot of people here. It’s who we are. And I hope this tour shed a little light on that.”

Robert Plant and Emmylou Harris perform during the Lampedusa: Concerts for Refugees show at the Lisner Auditorium on the campus of The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., Oct. 21, 2016. (Christian Fuchs Ñ Jesuit Refugee Service/USA)

Robert Plant and Emmylou Harris perform at Lisner Auditorium in Washington, D.C., Oct. 21, 2016. (photo by Christian Fuchs/Jesuit Refugee Service/USA)

The concerts, which featured all the musicians on stage at the same time alternating songs, were lauded for being able to maintain the delicate balance between awareness and preachiness, often a challenge in such settings. In the end, the players just wanted people to hear great music and come away with some knowledge they didn’t have before. And by all accounts, they succeeded in their mission.

“If they weren’t aware of the issue, then it’s just the information that they got, just the sheer number, the 65 million refugees,” Harris said. “This is a terrible crisis and there are awful things going on, but I want them to remember these are people full of promise. All we can do is raise the issue and see it in a positive light and make them realize that this is the right thing to do. We are all in this together.”

“I hope they take away from it that it’s OK to stand up for who we are, for immigrants, and refugees, even though that’s become a political football in this cycle,” Earle said. “I expected a little flak from this tour, and there really has been almost none.”

And once again, it’s music that’s proved to be an enlightening beacon of its own.

“These particular musicians come from the same musical tradition as folk icons of conscience from a prior generation,” Griffiths added. “Artists who are willing to use their incredible gift to change the world for better. Music is the ultimate connective tissue, in my view. You can use music to distill a complicated policy issue, and reduce it to its essence. In fact, we co-op’ed Steve’s song ‘Pilgrim,’ because it does just that. As he says at the close of the concert, ‘We are all pilgrims, and everyone deserves a home.’ ”

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Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on March 20, 2015 by midliferocker

Mary Gauthier and Allison Moorer_2

By Steve Houk

It’s hard to believe a concert that addresses squirmy topics like homelessness, autism, divorce, alcoholism, suicide and other human struggles could be considered revelatory, elating and ultimately positive for both musician and listener.

But you put Mary Gauthier and Allison Moorer on a stage together, and well, that’s exactly what you get. The “Really Depressed Tour” was what I think Gauthier jokingly referred to it as, saying at the show’s outset amidst laughs from both the musicians and the packed crowd,”If you came here to feel better, you came to the wrong place.” But, by show’s end, somehow, some way, we felt a helluva lot better.

On the first date of their short co-headlining stint, two of Americana/folk/country music’s most open and emotional songwriters laid it all out there on the stage and then some, as will most likely be the norm throughout their heralded run. And what they seemed to do for both themselves and their audience was both unusual and miraculous. As they alternated between their own songs on a sparse stage at Jammin Java in Vienna VA, they keenly and clearly illustrated the power of music as a healing force, not only for themselves, but also for their audience.

Allison Moorer (L) and Mary Gauthier at Jammin Java 3-19-15

Allison Moorer (L) and Mary Gauthier at Jammin Java 3-19-15

Both Gauthier and Moorer have had their share of hard times over the years, I mean really hard times, and that’s what has drawn them to one another and kept them close. And it was plain to see that the cathartically powerful nature of their songwriting has been a warm and supporting hand for each of them as they have dealt with their demons and bigtime challenges. But their music also provides us, the consumers of their music, with a method by which we hear how others express their emotions about some damn hard things, and then helps us get some context and often even some comfort in dealing with those things ourselves. It’s a rare gift, and both of these amazing women have it in spades.


Moorer, 42, has been at her craft about as long as Gauthier, 53, has, even though she’s 11 years younger. Music has been her passion from early on, and her exceptional songwriting and vocal skills have provided her with a solid and substantive if not superstar career. Nominated for an Oscar for best song when she was 26 (“A Soft Place To Fall” from The Horse Whisperer), the clearly weathered but still stunningly beautiful Moorer has endured childhood trauma beyond measure that surely fueled her emotional palette early on, as well as that of her sister, revered singer/songwriter Shelby Lynne. But more recently, a second divorce (this one from Americana legend Steve Earle) and a devastating diagnosis of autism for her five year-old son John Henry have been the catalysts for her own musical exegisis.

And Moorer brought those struggles stunningly to the stage last night, most notably when delivering a heartwrenching rendition of “Mama Let The Wolf In” off her stunning new record Down To Believin’, which describes both her agony and protective instincts surrounding her son’s autism diagnosis. To intro the song, she described in detail the moment the doctor told her what she and her son would be facing, largely alone, which made the song spill out of her and into our laps in all its excruciating glory. She also piercingly and poignantly addressed her recent divorce from Earle with the new album’s title track, a beautiful tune made even more so with an acoustic delivery. It’s a song where you can just taste her sorrow at the end of a marriage, yet with the possibility of her own personal salvation still hanging in the air. And we’ve all been there, so yes, we can feel her pain while doing some healing of our own at the same time. On a less harrowing but no less emotional level, she played a gorgeous version of “Blood”, an ode to her sister off the new record that she has been quoted as describing as “about loving someone unconditionally, and always having your arms open to them no matter what.” Given what the two sisters have been through, it’s more exceptional than ever that they have been able to so eloquently convey their emotions for so long while also keeping it together.


Gauthier also deals searingly and passionately with pain, suffering and redemption with her quite different, gloriously deep and powerful storytelling, and tonight was no exception. Her style and demeanor is androgynistic and direct yet also beautifully caring and compassionate, with her lilting Louisiana drawl accompanied by poetic and descriptive lyrics. Her latest record Trouble and Love addresses a painful breakup with a partner on nearly every song, and on this night she played three, first it was “False Or True” with the opening words, “Jagged edges/broken parts/where you end/and where I start.” Later, she returned to the ache of moving on without a love on “Another Train”: “I’m moving on through the pain, through the pain, waiting on another train, another train.” The hurt resonated further as she goes on by herself on “How You Learn To Live Alone”, a song covered on an upcoming episode of ABC’s Nashville. “It don’t feel right, but it’s not wrong/It’s just hard to start again this far along/Brick by brick, the letting go, as you walk away from everything you know.”

Gauthier has the innate and rare ability to take pain and her own healing and convey it onto her audience, so they can feel her pain and yes, perhaps heal as well. She also rolled one of her most powerful story songs, “The Last of the Hobo Kings” which makes you think about the pain of others and that one can find true glory out of the dregs. Makes you think. Again.

The pair ended the evening with Gauthier’s tender yet bracing “Mercy Now” which asks for mercy for a swath of characters in the songwriter’s life. Her father, brother, church and country and are pleaded for, but in the spirit of the open arms of healing and salvation that pervades both artists’ work, the song concludes with this oh-so inclusive verse: “We all could use a little mercy now/I know we don’t deserve it but we need it anyhow/We hang in the balance, dangle ‘tween hell and hallowed ground/And every single one of us could use some mercy now.”

Thanks to the brilliant music of Mary Gauthier and Allison Moorer, we had an arm around us tonight, telling us, “Hey guys, it’s gonna be alright, I mean, look at US, we’re still standing.”