On Sunday night, while Standing Rock Sioux Tribe water protectors stood their ground in North Dakota to oppose the Dakota Access pipeline, a group of rock stars were gathering in Washington, D.C. to raise funds to help their resistance effort continue. Headliner and host Dave Matthews organized the “Stand With Standing Rock” event at DAR Constitution Hall, just a couple blocks from the White House. In addition to the evening’s famous performers, Matthews invited many members of tribe to perform and speak, including 23-year-old Kendrick Eagle, who shared his experiences meeting President Obama on a few occasions. “He told us he had our backs as long as he’s in office. And now we need him more than ever, and that’s why I’m here.”
Acoustic instruments dominated the evening’s performances, with the exception of the electric guitar that Neko Case plugged in for her fiery last song, “Man.” The New Pornographer, who was joined by Archers of Loaf frontman Eric Bachmann on guitar for her brief set, lamented that she may not have any protest songs for the occasion, but that many of her songs are “fight songs.” Grammy-nominated soul singer Ledisi, however, did pick some weighty covers for her brief set backed by a guitarist, including a stirring take on Sam Cooke”s “A Change Is Gonna Come” and the blues standard “Trouble in Mind.” After Ledisi’s warm voice filled the hall and the audience gave a standing ovation, she begged the organizers for enough time for one more song. Leading a loose, spontaneous singalong of the Beatles’ “Come Together,” Ledisi confessed, “I don’t know all the words,” and then, listening to the crowd, laughed, “Some of y’all don’t know either.”
The elder statesman of the night’s proceedings, Graham Nash, brought 50 years of experience singing protest songs to DAR Constitution Hall. Backed by guitarist Shane Fontayne, Nash opened with “Military Madness,” tweaking a lyric to nod at the neighborhood’s most famous resident: “After the wars are over, and the body count is finally filed/ I hope that Obama discovers what’s driving the people wild.” Moving from guitar to piano, Nash played another song from his 1971 solo debut, Songs For Beginners, titled “Chicago,” vowing: “We can change the world/ Re-arrange the world.” The solemn song was inspired during another tumultuous election year, the 1968 Democratic National Convention riots.
Dave Matthews, who spoke several times throughout the evening introducing the other performers, finally took the stage at the end of the night with longtime sideman Tim Reynolds. They opened with a pointed selection, the 1998 Dave Matthews Band single, “Don’t Drink the Water,” which was originally written about both the persecution of Native Americans and the apartheid in Matthews’ native South Africa. Matthews invited Neko Case back to the stage to duet on a song by a fellow Canadian, “The Maker” by Daniel Lanois. Later, Graham Nash and Shane Fontayne returned to join Matthews and Reynolds on a sunny rendition of the Crosby, Stills & Nash classic “Teach Your Children.”
Although his songs are best known in the jazzy, ornate arrangements of the multi-platinum band he founded a couple hours away in Charlottesville, Virginia, Matthews is at his best as a singer when playing acoustic with Reynolds. Letting the songs breathe more, Matthews gently reaches for the high notes of “Satellite” and imbues “Crush” with a hushed intimacy.
In addition to the familiar hits, Matthews shared two new songs on Sunday night. First was he oddly titled “Samurai Cop,” which the Dave Matthew Band began playing earlier this year. Returning for an encore after bringing some of his guests from North Dakota back to the stage one more time, Matthews told a story about going to Standing Rock, and debuted a new composition inspired by the visit, “Song for Billijo.”
“The whole experience at the camp exploded my brain and I don’t know what to do about it,” Matthews said in a rare flustered moment. But as always, he did what he could with his songs, and for the night, brought his fans together to help the cause.
“A Change Is Gonna Come”
“A Bridge Over Troubled Water”
“Trouble in Mind”
Neko Case Setlist:
“Vengeance Is Sleeping”
Graham Nash Setlist:
“Just a Song Before I Go”
“Wasted on the Way”
Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds Setlist:
“Don’t Drink The Water”
“One Sweet World”
“The Maker” (with Neko Case)
“Tangled Web We Weave” (Tim Reynolds solo)
“Teach Your Children” (with Graham Nash and Shane Fontayne)
“Song for Billijo”