A Song to Save the Salish Sea: Musical Performance as Environmental Activism

A Song to Save the Salish Sea: Musical Performance as Environmental Activism

A Song to Save the Salish Sea: Musical Performance as Environmental Activism

A Song to Save the Salish Sea: Musical Performance as Environmental Activism


On the coast of Washington and British Columbia sit the misty forests and towering mountains of Cascadia. With archipelagos surrounding its shores and tidal surges of the Salish Sea trundling through the interior, this bioregion has long attracted loggers, fishing fleets, and land developers, each generation seeking successively harder to reach resources as old-growth stands, salmon stocks, and other natural endowments are depleted. Alongside encroaching developers and industrialists is the presence of a rich environmental movement that has historically built community through musical activism. From the Wobblies' Little Red Songbook (1909) to Woody Guthrie's Columbia River Songs (1941) on through to the Raging Grannies' formation in 1987, Cascadia's ecology has inspired legions of songwriters and musicians to advocate for preservation through music.

In this book, Mark Pedelty explores Cascadia's vibrant eco-musical community in order to understand how environmentalist music imagines, and perhaps even creates, a more sustainable conception of place. Highlighting the music and environmental work of such various groups as Dana Lyons, the Raging Grannies, Idle No More, Towers and Trees, and Irthlingz, among others, Pedelty examines the divergent strategies--musical, organizational, and technological--used by each musical group to reach different audiences and to mobilize action. He concludes with a discussion of "applied ecomusicology," considering ways this book might be of use to activists and musicians at the community level.


A band in a small boat bobbed up and down on Puget Sound. Behind them, a giant oil rig moved slowly along, dwarfing their trombones, drums, saxophones, and tuba. Movitas’s goal on May 16, 2015, was to stop the behemoth machine from coming in for repairs and going back out to drill in sensitive Alaskan waters. the band’s music did little to stop the oil rig’s slow advance, but their celebratory sounds lifted the spirits of protesting kayakers while bringing national public attention to the dangers of offshore oil drilling. the protest was nicknamed the “Paddle in Seattle.”

As we sat and talked a month later, members of Movitas made it clear that they never expected their music to work Joshua’s magic. Instead, they make music hoping that their rousing marches will add to fellow protesters’ esprit de corps, bring public attention to important matters, serve as an alternative headline service, help organize a movement, bring protest events alive with sound, and provide band members themselves with a little pleasure and camaraderie. There is great magic in that.

Months earlier, and many miles east of Seattle, singer-songwriter Dana Lyons performed his witty repertoire for conservative ranchers throughout Montana. It was a different audience with similar goals. the ranchers wanted to quash an energy company’s plans to ship coal through eastern Montana and on toward the coast. They did not want their ranchlands invaded by twenty mile-long coal trains a day, dirtying local streams and pastures on the way. So the Bard from Bellingham was there to help them . . .

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