Protest music was alive and well throughout the entire New Yorkers Against Fracking concert Tuesday night in The Egg’s Hart Theatre.
For four hours, a who’s who of New York musicians and artists of all stripes entertained and informed the full house on the dangers of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, as it is better known. While it could be argued that the myriad speakers and performers were preaching to the choir, as it were, the speeches were so impassioned and the musical performances so powerful that it was hard to not get caught up in the cause.
After a traditional prayer from Mohawk Nation elder Tom Porter, the evening kicked off with the Ahkwasanse Women’s Choir performing two short, chant-like numbers. The first, “The Precious Water Song,” was entirely in Mohawk, while the second, “Our Precious Mothers,” was primarily in English. Both were stirring and a fine opener for what was to come.
The music throughout the evening ran through an impressive array of styles — the first half alone included folk, jazz, rock and traditional songs. Natalie Merchant tackled Paul Simon’s “American Tune” early in the evening, her smoky voice easily inhabiting the song’s somber melody. Later in the first act, she performed her own song, “Motherland,” with help from The Felice Brothers’ Ian Felice, though her much stronger voice dominated the proceedings.
The pedigree of musicians that trotted out on stage for each number was impressive, to say the least. The Low Anthem’s “To Ohio” was given an impressive treatment by a mini all-star group featuring John Medeski, John Sebastian and members of The Horse Flies and Ida. For the next number, the full complement of Horse Flies dazzled with an instrumental pitched somewhere between bluegrass and hard-driving folk, all to a slideshow of photos depicting the effects of fracking.
Perhaps most effective was actress Melissa Leo’s three-part reading of a letter from Coitsville, Ohio, resident Jamie Frederick. The first two parts came in the first half of the evening. It was hard at times to believe that Leo wasn’t the one who experienced this, as she passionately read (often screaming) a letter detailing mystery digestive ailments that plagued Frederick as gas companies began fracking on her neighbor’s property.
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.