Seattle Times - October 12, 2001

Musicians raise their voices for the cause

By Melanie McFarland
Seattle Times staff reporter 

Jeff Ament, Pearl Jam

As a band, Pearl Jam is no stranger to raising money and awareness for worthy causes; front man Eddie Vedder recently participated in the celebrity fund-raiser telethon "America: A Tribute to Heroes," benefiting disaster-relief efforts related to the World Trade Center attacks.

But memories of the band's lauded uphill struggle against Ticketmaster must have haunted the band's bass player, Jeff Ament, who admitted an initial shock at the $50 ticket prices for Groundwork 2001.

"I was a little bit taken aback," he said.

Then he found out that a lot of the projects Groundwork sponsors cost only $5,000 or $6,000. So, "If a person buys a few tickets with their friends, they're contributing a fifth or a tenth of a water pump that'll help a village drink water that's clean and free of fecal matter or bacteria," he said. "And then I started to get excited about it."

Ament went on to express his appreciation for the Food and Agriculture Organization's directness with the money Groundwork 2001 will raise. "The question I ask is, who are the charities that get the most out of a dollar? There's only so much money to kind of give away. ... You want it to get in the mouths of people who are hungry, or to the kids who need an education as opposed to going into paperwork and overhead."

Peter Buck, R.E.M.

"Between Pearl Jam and ourselves, I think our fans are pretty interested in the outside world," said Peter Buck, R.E.M.'s outspoken guitarist. True, the band's followers tend to be more politically aware than the average rock fan, something R.E.M. cultivated over the years. Its involvement in Groundwork 2001, then, comes as little surprise.

Besides the upcoming Seattle benefit, however, the group also finds itself in the midst of trying to make a meaningful contribution to the New York and Washington disaster-relief effort. But Buck refuses to let work on that project impede his efforts in spreading the word on TeleFood.

"Just because there's one big tragic event in our lives doesn't mean we should stop paying attention to all the others that are ongoing," he said.

Will the nation's recent mass awakening to world politics and our place in it change our view, and respect, for other cultures in need? Buck's hopeful, but not an idealist. "You can't expect everyone to change or to pay attention. I suspect a lot of people are going to (Groundwork) to have a good party. But the only way you'll change things is one person at a time.

"I hope that people look at the literature and think about it a little bit," he added, "whether it's considering doing volunteer work in their neighborhood or just writing a check once a year."

Emmylou Harris

Social activism is an integral part of country rocker Emmylou Harris' life and career. She's a spokeswoman for the Campaign for a Landmine Free World, a supporter of the Humane Association and performs annually in Nashville to benefit Second Harvest Food Bank. Participation in Groundwork 2001 was a natural fit.

Harris wants to do more than entertain her audience this weekend. She's hoping that Groundwork and its coincidental timing with America's action in Afghanistan will begin a new era of consciousness.

"It's going to make us more aware of the terrible gulf between the haves and the have-nots in this world," she said. "This terrible thing has happened because of the seeds being planted of people not having anything at all. We have to realize that if and when we do put the lid on terrorism, more energy needs to be put into more aggressive help for the people of the world, to make everyone's right to live a decent life a top priority not just in our country but around the world.

"I believe in the basic goodness of the American people," she added, "and I think they really want to help but just don't know how."


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