Image: Rock for the River concert poster, designed by Byron and Jen O'Neil
We've long been interested in the intersection of music and environmental activism, and with a slew of summer festivals upon us, it's a great time for all of the above. One such festival I recently learned about is called Rock for the River and I asked musician Jay Nash and Jennifer Caddick, executive director of Save the River about the event and the environmental causes they are trying to address.
TreeHugger: What is Rock for the River and how did you get involved?
Jay Nash: Rock for the River is a benefit concert that I started in 2004 to support Save the River. Save the River is a non-profit organization that is also a partner with Riverkeeper, but acts to protect the environmental and socioeconomic interests of the 1000 Islands and the St. Lawrence River.
Jennifer Caddick: Rock for the River has grown into our largest annual benefit event, raising tens of thousands of dollars for our river protection programs over the past eight years. Not only is the event a significant fundraiser for Save The River but it's a chance for everyone to come together to celebrate this amazing place. Too often we can get caught up in the day-to-day work on the serious issues facing our river - from Asian carp to sewage pollution - but Rock for the River focuses on the positive. It's so incredible to have this amazing group of great singer-songwriters from around the country come up to our little corner of the world each year to celebrate the St. Lawrence. It's an incredible evening!
TreeHugger: Jay, what inspired you to become active in supporting these causes?
Nash: I grew up spending my summers in the 1000 Islands and actually spent a great deal of my time in my early 20's living there. In a lot of ways, it feels like my spiritual and emotional home. For someone has has never visited the region, it is hard to explain it's beauty in words. In an area of about 7 miles by 30 miles, there are literally thousands of islands...almost 2000 actually. Some of the islands are barely as large as the houses that stand on them and some are quite large, with roadways, businesses and even lakes on them. I've been all around the world and never seen a place so beautiful. It's also a land lost in time. Not much has changed since the turn of the 20th century which is part of the beauty of the place. There is a real harmony between humanity and natural beauty there.
In the 1950s, the St Lawrence Seaway was built, which created a shipway between the North Atlantic Ocean and the Great Lakes. Locks were built and huge sections of the river were dredged and made much deeper. Of course, all of this happened with devastating effect to the natural environment, but it allowed for the passage of large freighters (600+ feet in length).
Now, 60 years later, the Seaway and the Army Corps of Engineers are regularly making efforts to expand the Seaway to allow the passage of larger vessels and increased traffic. Save the River basically keeps the interest of capitalism and the interests of the Seaway in check with those of the people that inhabit the region allow with the natural environment of this truly spectacular place.
TreeHugger: Jennifer, we've covered the issue of Asian Carp before, but for those not aware of the issue, why are they a problem and what is currently being done in your area to address the issue?
Caddick: Our communities are deeply concerned that Asian Carp may make their way into the Great Lakes and on into the St. Lawrence River. And, we hear each day from our members about how frustrating the slow pace of action is on this issue. There are actually two kinds of Asian carp on their way to the Great Lakes - bighead carp and silver carp. The bighead carp are voracious feeders, which would have a significant impact on native fish populations, and the silver carp has a tendency to jump out of the water when startled, making them a serious hazard to recreational boaters.
We've been actively talking with our elected officials in Washington to encourage legislation that would speed up action on this issue. And many of our members weighed in on an ongoing study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during a recent comment period. Ultimately, the only permanent solution to keeping these fish out of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River is the hydrologically separate the Great Lakes and Mississippi Basins.
TreeHugger: And what other environmental issues are facing the rivers you work to protect?
Caddick: Save The River is a grassroots advocacy organization formed in 1978 to protect the Upper St. Lawrence River and Thousand Islands. The St. Lawrence is one of the world's largest rivers - more than 600 miles long - and is the only natural outflow for the entire Great Lakes system. Our work focuses on the international section of the River, including the Thousand Islands. The Thousand Islands are a globally unique b-national archipelago, with islands spread along a more than 80 mile stretch of the River and shared among the U.S. and Canada. One of the biggest threats to our section of the river is commercial navigation. We have advocacy campaigns focused on cleaning up ship ballast tanks which are the main pathway for invasive species introductions, stopping winter navigation which is a threat to the safety of our local communities and damaging to sensitive shoreline ecosystems, fighting for improved regulation of a massive hydropower dam, and preventing shipping accidents and spills along the river. We also have trained hundreds of volunteers to monitor the river for signs of pollution and a growing partnership with area schools to get kids involved in river issues.
TreeHugger: Jay, what drives you to want to help protect the environment?
Nash: I almost think that a better question would be, 'why isn't everyone driven to protect the environment?' There are so many facets to the global environmental crisis, that I'm not sure where to start. The most basic answer is that the human population is rapidly draining the planet's air, water and energy resources exponentially more quickly than the planet can restore and replenish itself. Let alone consideration for future generations, without significant action, the human race is on track to render the earth nearly uninhabitable in our lifetime.
On a lighter note, most of my most cherished memories involve some kind of communion with the natural world; mountains, sea, waterways and forests. In the digital age, I think that people need constant reminder of our relationship and interdependence with mother nature.
TreeHugger: What do you each hope people take away from Rock for the River?
Nash: Rock for the River has been really great for bringing the entire community together to celebrate this special place. It has also been extremely effective towards the end of recruiting new, younger members. My hope is that RFTR continues to generate much needed capital for STR's efforts and the experience of the concert itself helps to galvanize the relationship between the young people of the region and their roles as stewards of the environment.
Caddick: I hope that people take away a feeling of positivity. One thing I love most about the event is that it brings together a wonderfully diverse audience - everyone from grandparents to grandkids, summer people and local residents, people who have family ties to the river going back for generations to folks who are visiting for the very first time - and all to celebrate the St. Lawrence River. Even though the issues facing the St. Lawrence River are big, Rock for the River reminds us that if we all work together each of us can have a part in protecting this incredible place for our kids and grandkids.
TreeHugger: Thanks to you both for speaking with us!
Rock for the River takes place July 2nd at the Clayton Opera House. This year's line-up includes Jay Nash, Joe Purdy, Chris Pierce, Garrison Starr, The Milk Carton Kids, Althea Jean, Chris Seefried, and special guests.
For more on Jay Nash and to hear his music, visit JayNash.com. You can follow Jay on Twitter @Jay_Nash. Jay will also be performing at this weekends' Wakarusa Music & Camping Festival in Ozark, Arkansas.