“Music is our universal language,” said Jesse Paris Smith, co-founder of the climate change awareness initiative Pathway to Paris, at Carnegie Hall in Manhattan on Sunday (Nov. 5). “Now is the time to turn words into action.” Her mother, rocker Patti Smith, joined her and fellow co-founder Rebecca Foon for a recitation of Emily Dickinson’s poem “Nature is what we see,” accompanied by the younger Smith on piano and Foon on cello.
“We send our prayers to the people of Texas,” she said, in reference to the evening’s news about the victims of gun violence in Sutherland Springs, Texas, before launching into a set of thoughtful, stripped down selections, including Cat Stevens’ “Where Do The Children Play” and her own rallying anthem, “People Have the Power.” That number, as Michael Stipe pointed out when he took the stage, served as the theme of the evening, whose proceeds went to Pathway to Paris, 350.org and the United Nations Development Program.
Stipe joined a diverse collection of musicians, activists and artists including Joan Baez, the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea, Cat Power and Tibetan vocalist Tenzin Choegyal, all performing songs that spoke to the night’s concerns in literal and more metaphorical ways. Stipe sang moving renditions of the Nat King Cole classic “Nature Boy” and the Velvet Underground’s “Sunday Morning”; Baez’s set opened with a cover of Antony and the Johnsons’ “Another World,” a lament for our dying planet which she noted “couldn’t be more apropos for this evening — it’s a song as dark as it can get, and as beautiful.”
In between sets, impassioned speakers urged audience members to write to legislators to demand they divest from fossil fuels, and rallied the crowd behind the “1000 Cities” campaign, which seeks to have the world’s cities go beyond even what the Paris climate agreement sought and pledge to use 100 percent renewable energy by 2040. Readers can sign the petition here.
Singing a snippet of “Here Comes the Sun,” Stipe introduced conceptual artist Olafur Eliasson, who led the crowd in an audience-wide art project that used individual solar-powered lamps to brighten the concert hall — after the show 3,000 of these devices were to be sent to those in need in Puerto Rico, in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
If things got a little rhetoric-heavy at times, Talib Kweli gave a jolt of energy with a rousing “Get By” with Flea on bass, which found Baez joining him on stage for some impromptu dancing. Patti Smith returned to the stage with all of the evening’s performers for a group sing-along to Neil Young’s “After The Goldrush” and a more electrified version of “People Have the Power.” Before the night ended, she took a moment to quote a favorite lyric: “Teach your parents well,” she said, sweetly bowing down to her daughter.