Saving the planet through song and action

Holly Near concert to benefit 1,000-tree reforestation effort

Singer-songwriter Holly Near performs. Photo by Steve Underhill

By Telly Halkis

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Holly Near Concert is canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been rescheduled for 2021.

After a lifetime as a performing artist and activist, when Holly Near steps up to a microphone, her audiences have come to appreciate that the world is about to become a better place.

That’s because singer-songwriter Near, who also acts and teaches, always has seen fit to combine her art with strong causes aimed at social justice, and most notably, passionate environmentalism.

It’s the latter conviction that will bring Near to the area March 21, for a concert at Bennington College, a campus known for its cutting-edge pedagogy and progressive student ideals — which run parallel to the chanteuse’s life ethics.

In particular, this appearance from Near will help benefit a 1,000-tree reforestation effort sponsored by Climate Advocates Bennington, a local chapter of the statewide body 350Vermont, an advocacy organization that prioritizes action on physical projects.

Near said she was looking forward to the concert at Bennington College, and is very pleased to be working with Climate Advocates Bennington.

“This is such a huge holistic issue of community and compassion, ecological awareness, and it calls for a path of justice and global peace,” Near said. “So, I encourage people to use the concert not only to hear what I believe is wonderful music, but to gather for a spirit raiser.

“I find at my concerts that people are pleased to see each other, to be reminded that they are part of a kind and active community. It isn’t a Pollyanna sort of hope that rises, but one that comes from a realistic love of this earthly experience.”

The concert also will feature Tammi Brown, Jan Martinelli and Tory Trujillo.

Near knows her audiences well. Her shows and other public appearances have, for decades, been known as family gatherings of sorts, not only of the like-minded, but for those who want to come, listen, enjoy and learn.

She fondly recounted how, some years ago, after a concert, a security guard said there were two people at the backstage entrance who wanted to see her. An elderly couple came in and told the story of their daughter, who had come out as a lesbian and left home for California. Originally, the couple said, they had threatened to disown their daughter.

For her part, the daughter, Near continued, learned that the singer was to be in concert in her parents’ town, and so she asked them to attend the show before they made any irreversible decisions. Rather than their previously limited pornographic view of lesbians, what they saw at the concert was something totally different and normal to everyday life.

“So, they had come backstage to tell me that they were not going to disown their daughter but rather try to understand,” Near said. “I loved those two people, those parents.”

Bennington’s 1,000 trees

This innate ability to expand horizons by teaching others extends to Near’s well-known support of environmental causes. Retired college professor Naomi Miller, who also serves as the Climate Advocates’ coordinator for the benefit concert, was instrumental in approaching Near with the idea of performing at Bennington College.

Miller said that her organization’s goal is to officially kick off the local area 1,000-tree reforestation on Earth Day 2020, or April 22, a month after Near’s performance. She also added that the Climate Advocates Bennington is open to volunteers signing on to help with the project.

“Global-scale tree planting can achieve major carbon drawdown, and we’re joining the folks around the world who are working on it,” Miller said. “Right now, we’re learning which trees are most important to plant in this specific region, and we’re in discussions with community partners to find locations in the local area for the planting. Our hope is to build community as we draw down carbon.”

Barbara True-Weber, the group’s reforestation project coordinator, said that the endeavor had been in the works since fall 2019, the result of a scientific study conducted half a world away. Earlier that year, researchers at ETH Zurich found that planting trees is the best way to tackle climate change.

“Trees efficiently pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and can store it, essentially, forever,” True-Weber said. “So, the reforestation of the forests, which have been steadily eroded in the last 50 years, becomes highly significant. Our goal is actually to plant a forest, not just trees. We want to plant a place that has fruiting trees and shrubs, a place that will attract wildlife, a place that produces an abundance of life.”

It’s personal, too

The support for Bennington’s reforestation seems to dovetail perfectly with so much of Near’s career. It’s a cause she said she backed without hesitation and with great enthusiasm. But, performing at Bennington College also was a homecoming of sorts, one that Near called “a personal emotion.”

“My mother was in the second graduating class of Bennington,” Near said. “Growing up, we heard about her experience there, how much she loved the bright young women who gathered to get a progressive education and the professors who strove to provide thought-provoking challenges.”

This intimate connection, Near continued, makes supporting the reforestation even more significant.

“Earth is the only planet we know of that has life on it, and we get to be here for a very short time,” Near said. “We are such little specks in the universe, so, I see no reason not to move through this experience with fascination. We can’t fix all things, but we can be creative contributors during our time on Earth. And love people who plant trees. Millions of trees.”


Holly Near in concert

Photo by Irene Young

Where: Visual and Performing Arts Center, Bennington College, 1 College Drive, Bennington Vt.

When: 7 p.m., March 21

Tickets and information: 350vt.nationbuilder.com/hollynear

More information on Holly Near: hollynear.com

More information on Climate Advocates Bennington: climateadvocatesbennington.org

Telly Halkias is a national award-winning, independent journalist. He lives and writes from his homes in Southern Vermont and coastal Maine.

Vermont Country magazine

Vermont Country has a hyperlocal focus on the Green Mountain lifestyle, its personalities, events, attractions and culture. The magazine appears six times a year, designed to complement the state and four-season living. VtCo magazine is a Southern Vermont publication of Vermont News & Media.

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