Songs about human experience

Singer, songwriter and activist Holly Near and her band play the Havurah
In 1972, Holly Near became one of the first women to create an independent record label.Photo courtesy of Irene Young.

Holly Near's views on women, war, domestic violence, the death penalty, genetically modified foods, religion and love are as much a part of her music as the notes themselves.

"I don't feel comfortable singing material outside the context of the human experience and outside of the heart," says the singer and songwriter.

If you go

Who: Holly Near

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 16

Where: Havurah Shir Hadash, 185 N. Mountain Ave., Ashland

Tickets: $25 in advance, $28 at the door, $10 for teenagers and free for children 11 and younger

Call: 541-535-3562

Near, who hails from Northern California, is on the road again, this time with a full band: bassist Jan Martinelli, pianist Julie Wolf, drummer David Rokeach and backup vocalist Andres dos Santos Morgan. Near and the band will perform at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 16, at Havurah Shir Hadash, 185 N. Mountain Ave., Ashland.

The fall West Coast tour, which runs from Santa Rosa, Calif., to British Columbia, is in support of Near's new, two-CD package, "Peace Becomes You," her first recording in three years. The 26-track release includes originals and new arrangements of songs by Irving Berlin, Jacques Brel, Ferron, Gnarls Barkley, Bernice Reagon, Terry Garthwaite, Keb' Mo' and others. Near says she chose songs that were entertaining, uplifting, healing and thought-provoking and songs that "call on our best self."

"Every day, each one of us makes choices, hundreds of them — how we're going to speak to our children, how we're going to approach our job, whether we're going to throw litter out the window.

"Humans can be either horrific or spectacular and all the places in between. I always hope that my music will call on people to make the choice that leans toward the side of kindness, courage and compassion."

Near started singing in public at age 8. In her early 20s, she got a job in the film and music industry and made guest appearances on '70s television shows such as "All in the Family," "The Mod Squad," "Room 222" and "The Partridge Family."

In the '70s, she began working with Vietnam veterans against the war and joined anti-war activists Fred Gardner, Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland on the Free The Army Tour through the Philippines, Okinawa, Japan and Hawaii.

Back in the states, she founded — one of the first women to do so — her own label, Redwood Records, in order to promote politically conscious musicians from around the world.

"Now lots of artists own their own labels, but that's not how it was done then," she says. "The reason I did it is because I came back from these trips and wanted to write about issues, but the big labels were more interested in popular music, love songs and nonissue-oriented material. I didn't mean for it to be more than a one-record project, and it's gone on for 18 years."

Near has received numerous awards and honors for her work and music for social change, including the Legends of Women's Music Award. She continues to be an outspoken advocate of gays and lesbians, peace, women's rights, the environment and social justice.

Tickets to the show in Ashland cost $25, $10 for teenagers, in advance and are available at Music Coop in Ashland and or by calling 541-535-3562. Tickets cost $28 at the door and are free for children 11 and younger.

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