“Brothers and sisters in Greenpeace. Greenpeace is beautiful and you are beautiful because you are here tonight. You came here because you are not on a death trip. You believe in life. You believe in peace. And you want them now. By coming here tonight you are making possible a trip for life and for peace. You are supporting the first Greenpeace project, sending a ship to Amchitka to try to stop the testing of hydrogen bombs there or anywhere.” – Irving Stowe
These words opened a concert held at the PNE in Vancouver on October 16, 1970 featuring preformances Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Phil Ochs. November 11, 2009 Greenpeace along with Maple Music released a recording of that concert under the label “The 1970 concert that launched Greenpeace.” The concert did launch Greenpeace. Literally, that is what the Don’t Make a Wave Committee named the boat they took up to Amchitka.
Back in November, in the name of research, I bought the CD – even though all the proceeds go to Greenpeace – and after a few months fighting with Canada Post got to listen to it. As far as live recordings from the 1970s go it is good stuff. Despite what some might say about punk and protest, or rock and rebellion, folk music was where it started and the trio on this CD did, and continue to do, it well.
Phil Ochs’ set list includes Rhythms of Revolution, I Ain’t Marching Anymore, Joe Hill, Changes and I’m Gonna Say It Now (opening line “Oh I am just a student, sir, and only want to learn/But it’s hard to read through the risin’ smoke of the books that you like to burn”). Then comes James Taylor, the last minute addition to the bill and not included on the posters. It finishes with Joni Mitchell. On a musical level, Joni’s voice is still rich and young and untarnished by decades of smoking. Not that her voice is now bad – one listen to her rerecording of Both Sides from 2000 puts that to rest – but a live recording from right before “Blue” was released highlights what it was. The set list opens with Big Yellow Taxi making you wonder what might have been if she hadn’t backed out of Woodstock at the last minute. From start to finish it makes me wish I had a time machine to go back and experience it.
The concert speaks to the end of the hippie era of concerts for a cause, as opposed to concerts for a profit, and also marks a distinct turn in post-war activism. Following the trip to Amchitka, Greenpeace moved from an anti-nuclear movement to an environmentalist (and anti-nuclear) movement. According to the official history of Greenpeace, this shift was in response to seeing first hand the whaling practices in the North Pacific. The next Greenpeace mission was the first of what has become their trademark – sailing into the middle of the ocean, getting in a dingy and putting themselves between the harpoons and the whales. Yet, Greenpeace was not the only organization making this shift. Across the country, environmental concerns were becoming separate issues from the peace/women/race/anti-war/anti-nuclear umbrellas they were under in the 1960s. Aspects of environmentalism remain connected to the peace movement, uranium mining and nuclear development for example, but in the decades since the end of the 1960s the environment has become its own movement. What role Greenpeace plays in all this is not my question to answer, but the shared history of environmental activism and peace activism expresses itself in this concert. For my research, it is the youth aspect that is most interesting and much more research is required to do that part justice.
When the Amchitka album came out late last year, there was a mild amount of publicity. Greenpeace blogged about it, the CBC put a short article on their website, and a few environmentalist bloggers noted its arrival, but that was about it. Greenpeace made the biggest deal out of it – as to be expected for the concert that launched the international activist juggernaut with more money than innovative protest ideas – but every record store I went to looking for the CD had never heard of it. Maybe media outlets decided to overlook this CD because it falls under the “folk” genera which has been replaced by ‘indie” and “alternative” in terms of subject matter and ability to engage the educated, affluent, middle class young adult market. Maybe Greenpeace didn’t market it well enough – which is ironic given their proficiency at getting media attention for every other move they make. Whatever the reason, it is worth a listen for the quality of the recording, the quality of the song writing, and what the concert stood for. Concerts for a cause don’t come around all that often these days (Live 8 was more media hype than action, SARS-fest was all about reviving the Toronto tourism industry, and benefit singles are so over done there seems to be a new one every month). It is too bad really, maybe if a little bit of that hippie spirit that made concerts like the Amchitka fundraiser possible took place the world be a happier – or at least a more socially aware.
The best part. Tickets to the concert were only $3; cheap enough to put a smile on the face of the poorest music loving student.