Holly Near has been singing for a more equitable world for well over 50 creative years. She is an insightful storyteller through her music, committed to keeping the work rooted in contemporary activism.
Respected around the world for her music and activism, Holly released her 31st album in 2018.
One of the most powerful, consistent, and outspoken singers of our time, her concerts elevate spirits and inspire activism. A skilled performer, Holly is an outspoken ambassador for peace who brings to the stage a unique integration of world consciousness, spiritual discovery, and theatricality.
Holly’s joy and passion continue to inspire people to join in her celebration of the human spirit. Equally compelling at her shows and through recordings, Holly’s music fully engages listeners in the world around them—speaking to anyone who believes in peace, justice, and feminism; a wonderful spectrum of humanity.
Born in Ukiah, CA in 1949, Holly began singing in high school, including work with a local folk group. She built on her performing career with acting parts on seminal ‘70s television shows like Mod Squad, Room 222, and The Partridge Family. In 1970 she was a cast member of the Broadway musical Hair. Following the Kent State University shootings in May of that same year the entire cast staged a silent vigil in protest. The song, “It Could’ve Been Me” (which was released on A Live Album, 1974) was Holly’s heartfelt response to the shootings. In 1971, she joined the “Free The Army” tour, an anti-Vietnam War road show of music, comedy, and plays organized by antiwar activist Fred Gardner and actors Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland.
In 1972, Holly was one of the first women to create an independent record company, paving the way for women like Ani DiFranco and others. Her goal was to promote and produce music by politically conscious artists from around the world, a mission that Redwood Records fulfilled for nearly 20 years. Often cited as one of the founders of the Women’s Music movement, Holly not only led the way for outspoken women in the music world, but also worked for peace and multicultural consciousness. Throughout her long career Holly has worked with a wide array of musicians including Pete Seeger, Ronnie Gilbert, Arlo Guthrie, Mercedes Sosa, Bernice Johnson Reason, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, Joan Baez, Phil Ochs, Harry Belafonte, and many others.
Holly Near has been recognized many times for her work for social change, including honors from the ACLU, the National Lawyers Guild, the National Organization for Women, and the National Academy of Recording arts and Sciences. Holly was also named Ms. Magazine Woman of the Year and received the Legends of Women’s Music Award. During her travels in the Pacific with the Free The Army show, Holly became a globally conscious feminist, linking international feminism and anti-war activism. She was an active participant and coalition builder in what she refers to as the “heady days” of 1970s activism, when so many movements were gestating and jostling one another.
Another significant arena of Holly’s activism is the LGBTQ community. Her interest was both personal and political. She was one of the first celebrities to discuss her sexual orientation during a pioneering 1976 interview with People magazine. A staunch advocate for LGBTQ rights, Holly is comfortable with her own sexuality and has a clear understanding of the fluidity of sexual orientation.
Holly is also a teacher, presenting master classes in performance craft and songwriting to diverse audiences. Building on this role, her historic papers are housed at Radcliffe’s Schlesinger Library and are regarded as an informed look at the last 50 years of social change movements.
She has also become a spokesperson within the social change music movement. During her time on the road, luminaries in the folk world have noted how her presence sets the tone for each event she joins. As Holly has observed, “Music can influence choices for better or for worse. A lullaby can put a troubled child to sleep, but Muzak can put a whole nation to sleep. A marching band can send our children off to war. It can also have everyone laughing, dancing, and loving as the lead off to a gay pride parade”.
Holly finds herself in a role that her amazing journey has uniquely prepared her to fill as the significance of her work over time has crystallized her iconic status. At once flattered, amazed, and centered, she graciously assumes the honoring that comes with time, proud to represent—through her voice and her music—the movements that are so fundamental to her spirit.
New studio album co-written with wounded combat veterans over the last four years via Song writing With Soldiers. Every day. Every single day, which means some days are better and some much worse. Every day, on average, twenty-two veterans commit suicide. Each year seventy-four hundred current and former members of the United States Armed Services take their own lives. Every day. That number does not include drug overdoses or car wrecks or any of the more inventive ways somebody might less obviously choose to die. It seems trivial to suggest those lives might be saved — healed, even — by a song. By the process of writing a song. And yet. And yet there is nothing trivial about Mary Gauthier’s tenth album, Rifles and Rosary Beads (Thirty Tigers), all eleven songs co-written with and for wounded veterans. Eleven of the nearly four hundred songs that highly accomplished songwriters have co-written as part of Darden Smith’s five-year-old SongwritingWith:Soldiers program. None of the soldiers who have participated in the program have taken their own lives, and there’s nothing trivial about that. Something about writing that song — telling that story — is healing. What Smith calls post-traumatic-growth. Gauthier’s first nine albums presented extraordinary confessional songs, deeply personal, profoundly emotional pieces ranging from “I Drink,” a blunt accounting of addiction, to “March 11, 1962,” the day she was born — and relinquished to an orphanage — to “Worthy,” in which the singer finally understands she is deserving of love. Maybe that’s where the confessional song cycle ends, for she has midwifed these eleven new songs in careful collaboration with other souls whose struggle is urgent, immediate, and palpable. And none are about her. Each song on Rifles and Rosary Beads is a gut punch: deceptively simple and emotionally complex. From the opening “Soldiering On” (“What saves you in the battle/Can kill you at home”) to “Bullet Holes in the Sky” (“They thank me for my service/And wave their little flags/They genuflect on Sundays/And yes, they’d send us back”), to the abject horror of “Iraq,” and its quiet depiction of a female mechanic’s rape, each song tells the story of a deeply wounded veteran. Darrell Scott, returning from one of Smith’s first retreats, called and told Mary she needed to participate. “I felt unqualified,” she says. “I didn’t know anything about the military, I was terrified of fucking it up. I didn’t feel I knew how to be in the presence of that much trauma without being afraid. But Darrell knew I could do it. Turns out, I was able to sit with the veterans with a sense of calmness and help them articulate their suffering without fear. I was shocked by that. And I took to it.” It has become a calling. “My job as a songwriter is to find that thing a soul needs to say,” Mary says. “Each retreat brings together a dozen or so soldiers and four songwriters, three songs each in two days. We don’t have a choice. We have to stay focused, listen carefully, and make sure every veteran gets their own song. And we always do.” “None of the veterans are artists. They don’t write songs, they don’t know that songs can be used to move trauma. Their understanding of song doesn’t include that. For me it’s been the whole damn deal. Songwriting saved me. It’s what I think the best songs do, help articulate the ineffable, make the invisible visible, creating resonance, so that people, (including the songwriter) don’t feel alone.” The impact of these songs becomes visible quickly, unexpectedly. Featured in the TV series “Nashville,” the Bluebird Cafe now prospers as a tourist destination. The room fills twice a night with people thrilled to be in the presence of real live Nashville songwriters. Who, in turn, are thrilled to be in the presence of a paying audience that can do nothing to advance their careers, save give a genuine response to their songs. The gentleman at the next table has handsome white hair and a hundred-dollar casual shirt, and almost certainly had no idea who Mary Gauthier was, nor what her songs might be about, when he came out of the sunlight into the darkened listening room. He knows, now. Thick, manicured fingers cover his face, trying to catch his slow tears. His wife sits close, watches carefully, but knows better than to touch him. He is not alone in that small audience. Every day we are touched by the veterans in our lives, whether we know it or not. Every single day. Even if it’s only the guy on Main Street, in the wheelchair, with the flag. Every single day. And, yes, a song may be the answer. “Because the results are so dramatic, this could work for other traumas,” Mary says. “Trauma is the epidemic. You say opioid, I say trauma epidemic. As an addict, I know addiction is self-medication because of suffering, and beneath that pain is always trauma. Underneath so much of the problems in the world is trauma, it’s the central issue humanity is dealing with. We’ve found something powerful here, that brings hope to people who are hurting. So they know they are not alone.”
Elvira Kurt, comedy legend, gay icon and freakin’ national treasure, is a multiple award-winning (Cannes Film Festival / Canadian Screen Award / Canadian Comedy Award / Toronto Fringe Festival Patron’s Pick / NOW Magazine Top 5 / World Film Fest: Gold), sold out solo show performing (Funny AF, Fearless, Homosexual Panic, Fired Up) stand-up comic and Second City veteran whose credits as star, host, guest, writer and or talent director are simply far too many to mention. Except for these: Baroness Von Sketch Show, Iron Chef Canada, The Great Canadian Baking Show, Master Chef Canada, SpinOff, Nick Night Out NYC, The Debaters, Degrassi, YTV’s The Game, Popcultured with Elvira Kurt, The Gayest Show Ever, This Hour Has 22 Minutes, Ellen DeGeneres’ HBO special, Just For Laughs, Winnipeg, Halifax, Sydney and Melbourne Comedy Festivals and, of course, Elvira’s unforgettable stint on both of CBC Radio’s hit show, ‘Q’ and, ‘q’.
Band Members: Kofy Brown, Vicki Randle, Shelley Doty, Julie Wolf and Daria Johnson
Kofy Brown, an Oakland, CA musician, singer and songwriter has been a pioneering force in the Bay Area’s hip-hop soul scene since the early 90’s. Leading her band on tour paving the way for other indie artist to trek forth, the KBB have spread the gospel of Brown’s unique style of soul, rock, funk and more all over North America, Canada and Europe. Kofy Brown has thrived by following her own creative path. She and her band the KBB have developed a reputation for putting on an outstanding live show. Her music is a soulful combination of funk, rock, blues and hip-hop topped off with a singing and rap style she calls word song.
Kofy Brown is co-creator /bass player and one of the lead songwriters and vocalist in the legendary all black girl rock trio Sistas in the Pit. Kofy Brown is also currently playing drums and vocalizing with her latest project, Skip the Needle. Skip the Needle is comprised of veteran vocalists and musicians, Vicki Randle, Shelley Doty and Katie Colepits. The four women deliver a hard edge blend of soul, funk, rock and more.
Other projects include drumming for the refreshingly smart and witty Americana artist, Dillbilly, and occasionally holding down bass duties for the gospel soul infused Marcelle Davies-Lashley and folk soul artist, Gina Breedlove.
Kofy Brown is a fiercely independent recording artist. The Washington DC native has released eight full length recordings on her own indie label Simba Music and is currently working on album number nine. She’s played the prestigious North Sea Jazz Festival, toured with Iggy Pop and has placed music on MTV and other indie films. Kofy Brown doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon. Kofy Brown – Love Warrior