In the wake of Jackson Browne’s statement taking Energy Transfer Partners CEO Kelcy Warren to task for his company’s actions against protesters of the Dakota Access Pipeline last weekend, several musicians who’ve had connections to Warren’s Austin-based label Music Road Records have spoken out as well.
Most notable was a response Thursday morning from Music Road co-founder Jimmy LaFave, a longtime Austin singer-songwriter. In a lengthy public post to his Facebook page, LaFave noted that “I have known Kelcy Warren for over 20 years. He is a Republican and I am a yellow dog Democrat. We disagree on the pipeline.”
LaFave’s post did not specify whether he was speaking about the Dakota Access Pipeline incident, in which a Native American tribal spokesman said protesters were bitten by guard dogs and pepper-sprayed by security guards; or about the impending Trans-Pecos Pipeline, which has been a subject of controversy in the Big Bend region of West Texas since last year.
Read more: Trans-Pecos pipeline mogul’s plans divide Austin-area musicians
LaFave’s post also addressed several other issues related to his ties with Warren:Regarding the reach of Warren’s philanthropic efforts: “If I wanted to become the Wikileaks of the Texas music scene I could share a list of musicians, friends, clubs, movies, books and charities to which he is linked and partnered with that would blow your mind,” LaFave wrote. “Energy business money — especially in Texas — permeates nearly anything artistic.” Regarding Warren’s environmental record: “I could also tell you the many things that Kelcy has done for the environment such as helping to save Caddo Lake and wind farms, etc. but I would probably be crucified for that.” Regarding criticism of LaFave’s involvement in Woody Guthrie festivals and events (he’s scheduled to speak on a Guthrie-themed panel at Nashville’s AmericanaFest later this month), Quoting a friend, LaFave noted Guthrie’s well-documented “complexities and dichotomies as a human and folk hero” whose life story “didn’t always adhere to our sometimes-mythologized depictions of him.” In particular, he noted that Guthrie “was employed by the Bonneville Power Administration to sing the praises of the Grand Coulee Dam,” which flooded centuries-old Native American habitats along the Columbia River in Washington state. “I am simply trying to point out that even our great heroes have flaws,” LaFave wrote.
LaFave’s comments drew a pointed response from Alyce Santoro, communications coordinator of Defend Big Bend, described on its website as “is a grassroots, all-volunteer movement dedicated to defending the Big Bend from entities (such as the fossil fuel industry) that would do it harm.”
“The most sincere and honest course of action would be for Mr. LaFave to admit that there is a conflict of interest here — not to find justifications for it,” Santoro wrote via email. “An even more honorable course of action would be for Mr. LaFave to use his influence as co-owner of the record label to publicly denounce these heinous acts and send a message from the music community to Energy Transfer Partners: Releasing attack dogs on Native people who are peacefully protecting their land is wholly unacceptable, and runs counter to everything that folk music stands for.”
Several other artists who have had associations with Music Road have weighed in on social media about Warren and the pipeline issues.
Lance Canales, a California singer-songwriter whose album “The Blessing and the Curse” came out on Music Road in 2015, was among the first to speak out publicly about the Dakota Access Pipeline incident. In a public Facebook post on Sunday, Canales wrote: “I stand with my indigenous relatives! I stand with Standing Rock! 523 years of indigenous protest! Its not just about 1 pipeline, it’s about water and life and the future of all of us.”
Read more: Judge grants partial stop on North Dakota pipeline work
North Carolina singer-songwriter Malcolm Holcombe, whose album “To Drink the Rain” came out on Music Road in 2011, said Wednesday in a public Facebook post that Warren “has redefined his role as Music Road Records benefactor to join the devil’s decadent drippings of white supremacy oppression — inflicting shame and dishonor on our Native American brethren.” He added that he has disassociated himself “lock, stock, and barrel” from the label and that he’s “working to get all download/CD and contact links of ‘To Drink the Rain’ removed from my websites ASAP.”
Austin singer-songwriter Eliza Gilkyson has recorded primarily for Minneapolis label Red House since 2000, but she had a song on Music Road’s 2014 Jackson Browne tribute album that sparked Browne’s Tuesday statement. In a public Facebook post Wednesday, Gilkyson took a balanced view.
“Jackson is doing the right thing,” she wrote. “It is hard to make a stand especially when friends are involved, and I think it’s important to note here that the Music Road label has done nothing but support artists who speak their own truth, people I love dearly, and the tribute record was such a beautiful and innocent homage to Jackson Browne. There is no way that any of us rises pure and clean above the fray of big oil and natural gas, since we all consume it every day. It feels hypocritical to act as if the providers are to blame when we consumers are very much a part of the ‘agreement.’
“However, this is such an egregious aggressive action, taken with such unconcern regarding indigenous rights, the right to clean protected water sources, religion and people who have had so much taken away, so much broken. It’s time to stand with them.”
(This post has been updated to correct the organization affiliation of Alyce Santoro.)