Local Current Blog

Bon Iver, Lissie to headline Water is Life concert in Duluth on Aug. 18

Water Is Life: Stop Line 3 concert poster
Water Is Life: Stop Line 3 concert poster

If standing at the shores of Lake Superior isn’t enough to make your jaw drop, imagine a stage filled with world-class musicians and a “Water is Life” banner flapping in front of the waves.

Honor the Earth, an environmental organization co-founded by Winona LaDuke and the Indigo Girls, will present a “Water is Life” benefit concert at Duluth’s Bayfront Festival Park on Aug. 18. Wisconsin’s Bon Iver will headline the concert, with support from Baltimore vocalist Mumu Fresh; Iowa singer-songwriter Lissie; “No More Pipeline Blues” contributor Dorene Day (Waubanewquay); Warm Springs singer-songwriter Quiltman; Smithsonian Folkways Recording Artist Larry Long; Low singer/guitarist Alan Sparhawk; the Pines’ David Huckfelt; Duluth guitar picker Charlie Parr; Leech Lake member Annie Humphrey; Duluth folk group Superior Siren; and Diné blues artist Corey Medina, with additional acts to be announced. Tickets are on sale via First Avenue for $65.

Update (Aug. 4): Nashville blues artist Adia Victoria, Twin Cities pop band Hippo Campus, and Ojibwe folk rocker Keith Secola have been added to the line-up.

Water is Life artists and organizers aim to raise awareness and funds for water protection, even as construction on Enbridge’s Line 3 tar sands pipeline continues. Construction began last December and is estimated to be 70% finished. If completed, the pipeline will cut through Northern Minnesota, including Leech Lake Indian Reservation and treaty lands. Pipelines often spill oil, polluting water and jeopardizing animal and plant life.

“Minnesota’s waters have healed me, inspired me, kept me safe, [and] opened up new worlds to me,” David Huckfelt says. “Saying ‘Water is Life’ is not figurative, not a metaphor; it’s the unending fundamental fact of human existence on planet Earth.”

Winona LaDuke, an Anishinaabe activist and former vice presidential candidate, will host the concert at Bayfront Park. LaDuke has opposed oil and tar sands pipelines for years, having been arrested as recently as July 22 while protesting Line 3 construction.

Despite protests, Enbridge CEO Al Monaco estimates that the Minnesota section of the pipeline will be completed by the end of the year.

“Honestly, there’s nothing more valuable than clean water, clean food, and clean air,” says Hope Flanagan, a Seneca Elder. Flanagan’s Ojibwe name is Noo Dinensiikwe, or “little wind woman.” As Community Outreach and Cultural Teacher at Dream of Wild Health, she teaches Indigenous youth about plants and wild plant gathering. She also gathers, thanks, and prays for plants, including medicinal plants and wild rice.

“Wild rice was our amazing Native food source that people have harvested for thousands of years,” Flanagan says. “Part of the Ojibwe prophecy was that the people, to survive, had to come to the land where the food grew on the water.” Wild rice grows in shallow, clean water, and according to the state’s Line 3 environmental review, it is “extremely sensitive to chemical pollutants.” Flanagan says that if a tar sands pipeline were to spill, the sludge would “wipe out” any rice beds it reaches.

Not only that, Flanagan says: “It’s already happening. They’re sucking the water out to build the pipeline. And as they do that, they ruin the rice beds all around there.”

Annie Humphrey, another Water is Life performer, says, “I lived in water for the first nine months of my life. We all have a personal relationship with water. [Nothing can] survive without it. Not walleye, not wild rice, not maple trees, not blueberries or bears.”

“Water is life,” Flanagan says. “If you’re going to look for life, you look for water. So every day I pray for the water and for the beings in the water … If we can value it, maybe we can understand that we don’t survive without it. And if we toxify it, we’re clearly just too foolish to even stick around.”