Today’s story concerns a benefit concert for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, or SUWA. The concert is called the Big Red Rock & Roll Show, and it’s set for Sept. 16. The place is Moab’s Old City Park. The time is 10 a.m., and the admission charge is $6.
America’s obsession with gas-guzzling SUVs is harming the environment in more ways than one. Hey dude, let’s go four-wheeling and tear up the countryside. I spoke with SUWA’s Mike Reberg, and he had this comment about four-wheeling dudes. “Off-road vehicles are probably the biggest and newest threat to the destruction of wilderness-quality land in Utah. We’re in a lawsuit with the BLM [Bureau of Land Management] over that right now.”
But what is SUWA? Reberg gave me the sound bite. “Our primary goal is to get federal wilderness designations for approximately 9.1 million acres of Bureau of Land Management land in Utah. There’s about 23 million acres managed by the BLM in Utah—9.1 of that we believe is deserving of federal formal designation. Wilderness designation is the highest and most protective classification you can put on public land. That’s our goal. We formed in 1983, and we’ve been doing this for 17, 18 years now. We’ve got a membership of 18,000, approximately half of them are in Utah. We have members in every state in the United States. What we’re trying to do is get a bill called America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act passed.”
Wayne Owens introduced the bill way, way back when, but, Reberg says, Congressman Jim Hansen is currently holding up its progress. The issues are far too complex for this column (visit the website, www.suwa.org, to gain an education). Instead, let’s focus on the concert.
“It’s a benefit, so the proceeds raised will go to SUWA, which will help our efforts at passing wilderness bills and fighting off-road vehicle damage and things like that. It’s an outreach effort to raise awareness about wilderness issues,” Reberg says. “The idea is, do a music concert and possibly attract some people that wouldn’t otherwise be aware of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.”
Musical performers include Melissa Warner, Gigi Love, Gene Deal, Carolyn Toronto, Gina French, Gerald Music, Stacey Board, Glade, Nanomen, Bad Apple, David Prill, Wendy Ohlwiler and Fat Paw. It’s a diverse lineup—a who’s who of local music.
I spoke with Wendy Ohlwiler—a cross between Gillian Welch, Ma Rainey and trip-hop—about the music. “I was working on that song [‘Pave the Planet’] one day when I was at Goblin Valley. We were sitting there, sitting on a rock playing and singing, and there was a construction crew out building the road to go into Goblin Valley. We kept on moving from rock to rock to try to avoid the noise, because it felt like we were in the city, even though we were out in the wilderness.”
I can imagine Wendy sitting on that rock and writing these next words, “Cutting down trees, need more space, stake your claim on the human race. Bow down and worship me, I’m king of all you see, pristine devouring, long live industry. Pave the planet.”
I questioned Wendy about the character of the musicians playing the benefit, because most of the performers are acoustically oriented. To me, that means folk music. And in my mind folk music means protest music.
Wendy, bless her soul, mentioned Glade. Glade is kind of an outsider, but he is a supporter of many activist causes. He performed at the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) May Day celebration. One of his songs, “Civil Disobedience,” appears on his Rock Island Station album. Wendy says the lyric goes like this: “A woman in her cabin in the trees, she thinks I’m alone, but they’re building homes and they’re awful close to me.”
“It’s about development,” Wendy says. “Watching the world change and being afraid that all of the beautiful open space is going to be eaten up by houses and strip malls and …”
Strip malls indeed. Get in your SUV and drive down to the strip mall to purchase all the supplies required for a trip to Moab. On the way down, and while sitting in the park listening to the music and the speakers, think about the purpose. Listen to what the people say. Scheduled speakers include a wild poet by the name of Jose Knighton, and Ken Sleight, a.k.a. “Slim” from Edward Abbey’s book The Monkey Wrench Gang, which started it all. Gaze at those red rocks. Don’t take that stupid truck off the road and destroy any wilderness. Rent a mountain bike instead.
The Big Red Rock & Roll Show, a benefit concert for SUWA, will make noise in Moab’s Old City Park Sept. 16, 10 a.m. Admission: $6.