Cornfield concert protests XL Pipeline

By Joseph T. O’Connor Explore Big Sky Managing Editor

The town of Neligh, Neb. is a three-hour drive from Omaha past endless cornfields, and has a population of 1,600, mostly working in agriculture.

For one day on Sept. 27, the population quintupled when nearly 8,000 people converged on Art Tanderup’s farm for the Harvest the Hope concert, which included performances by Neil Young, Willie Nelson and his sons Lukas and Micah, and Lukas’s band Promise of the Real.

The daylong event, organized by nonprofit Bold Nebraska, was held to protest the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline expansion that would run through Tanderup’s 160-acre farm and also across a portion of the Ponca Tribe’s historic “Trail of Tears.”

Young, the Nelsons, and Promise of the Real were fresh off a Farm Aid performance in Raleigh, N.C. on Sept. 13, a benefit for family farms in America. At a press conference before the show, the artists joined the Tanderups and key members of the Ponca Tribe to protest the proposed pipeline expansion.

“For our grandchildren’s survival we must begin to live differently,” said Young, a longtime environmental advocate. “The Keystone XL Pipeline is a large step in the wrong direction for the health of the earth.”

Tribal leaders honored Young and Nelson by draping buffalo hides over their shoulders during a pre-show ceremony, and thanked them for standing beside them in the fight against the pipeline.

The Tanderupsharvest_3 had cleared 26 acres of corn for the ensuing concert, an event many thought they would never witness. “This is monumental,” said Michael Semrad of the local band The Bottle Tops, who played earlier in the afternoon. “It’s Nebraska music history in the making.”

Native American hip hop artist Frank Wahn, of the Sicangu Lakota tribe, warmed up the crowd in the breezy afternoon sunshine, displaying the powerful energy that won him the Chicago Mayor’s Award for Civic Engagement in May. “My generation needs to pick up the fight,” Wahn told concertgoers.

When Lukas Nelson took the stage in cowboy boots and a feather affixed to the neck of his guitar, the crowd became silent. Along with drummer Anthony LoGerfo and bassist Corey McCormick, Promise of the Real ripped into their new song, “Love Yourself” before playing a lively and memorable version of the Paul Simon classic, “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.” The crowd swayed to the rhythm.

Nelson then motioned stage right to his father, who stood smiling, his long braids tumbling from beneath a trucker hat reading, “Pipeline Fighter.”

“Let’s get my dad up here for a set,” the younger Nelson said.

Willie and POTR broke into “Whiskey River,” and the 81-year-old Outlaw Country star’s voiceharvest_4 rose when he emphasized the line, “Raise our glasses against evil forces.”

Neil Young, clad in a black cowboy hat and a shirt that read, “Idle No More,” then joined the group on stage for a family-style rendition of “This Land is Your Land,” before crooning a solo version of “Mother Earth” on the pump organ.

Young then invited POTR back on stage for “Down by the River” and his recently released track, “Who’s Gonna Stand Up?,” trading guitar solos with Lukas.

The concert ended with the setting sun highlighting the dust kicked up in the field, and revelers in aweharvest_6 of the event they had just witnessed. “It’s a dream come true,” said Alexis Stevens of Nashville, whose band had played earlier. “We were joking that we should quit music after this [show].”

If approved, the Keystone XL Pipeline extension would run 1,200 miles from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada through Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska en route to the Gulf Coast of Texas.

Proponents argue that the $7 million dollar project will provide jobs and revenue for states along the route. Critics say the project could damage the environment and lead to further global warming, and that a leak in Nebraska could destroy the Ogallala Aquifer, which spans eight Midwest states and provides drinking water for approximately 2 million.

“Water is our way of life,” said Sicangu Lakota tribe member Shane Red Hawk, who rode horseback through the crowd alongside his 10-year-old daughter Tashina. “We can live without Starbucks and McDonalds. We’re here to fight for the Lakota way of life. When we’re 80 years old, we can look back and say we did what we could while we could.”