Canadian activist and singer-songwriter Sarah Harmer has something to say about both her heart and her heartland.
You might not expect a singer-songwriter to know much about gravel extraction, but Sarah Harmer is an exception. The Canadian songstress hits the Lensic Performing Arts center this week in an opening slot for Josh Ritter and the Royal City Band—she also passionately toggles between performance and community organization and activism.
Harmer hails from Ontario and spent her teenage years in the late ‘80 hanging around concerts with legendary Canadian act Tragically Hip. She subsequently fell in love with the rock scene in Ontario city Kingston and carved out a place with her band Weeping Tile by 1992. A few years later, however, Harmer struck out on her own to craft solo tunes.
“I just felt like I really needed to express myself,” she tells SFR,” just for myself.”
That first solo album, You Were Here, became something of an alterna-rock hit in 2000, and just five years later, Harmer received her first Juno (like a Canadian Grammy) for her third album, All of Our Names. Harmer also upped her activism game in ‘05, when a proposed gravel development threatened her beloved Niagara Escarpment neighborhood, leading her to co-found the nonprofit Protect Escarpment Rural Land. Through that org, Harmer and her community collaborated with biologists, lawyers and fellow organizers to fight resource extraction and potential well water contamination; she even got the concert film/documentary Escarpment Blues out of the deal in 2006—which won a Juno in ‘07 for Best Music DVD, btw—and by 2012, the development shut down, -according to Harmer.
Which was sweeter, though, the Juno or the gravel thing?
“[It is] definitely, definitely winning the quarry,” she says with a laugh.
Harmer continues to engage in environmental activism while balancing music.
“They are two different kinds of modes” she explains. “It’s hard for me to just kind of put aside my judgments and critical mind and...try to get into poetry and songwriting.”
The 2020 record Are You Gone proves Harmer discovered a way, however, with thoughtful lyrics and up-beat melodies rooted in alternative rock. Harmer tapped producer Marcus Paquin (The National, Arcade Fire) for the recording. The theme of loss is poignant throughout, but hits especially hard with “See Her Wave,” a gorgeous country send-off to a departed friend. “Where did such [a] unique and energetic spirit go?” Harmer wonders aloud on the track.
There isn’t really an answer, but it’s easy to take comfort in Harmer’s musical salve for the soul. (Georgina Hahn)
Sarah Harmer: 7:30 pm Monday, Oct. 2. $30-$45. Lensic Performing Arts Center, 211 W San Francisco St., (505) 988-1234
Sometimes it feels like explaining jazz to someone is as daunting a cultural task as there is. Within the labyrinth of names, styles, genre rules—those who like bending or breaking those rules—composers, bandleaders, players, historical moments and newcomers, it’s no small job to define jazz, let alone what’s good. When it comes to a musician/pianist like Sullivan Fortner, though, the proof is in the pudding. The Grammy-winning Fortner calls New York City home these days, but he came up in New Orleans (that’s a hell of a jazz bonafide) and has, over the last 10 years or so, proven an adept and adaptable jazz presence who incorporates countless styles, improv high among them, for standout tracks and live performances. We’ll make it easy, actually—if you like jazz, we bet you’ll like this. (Alex De Vore)
Sullivan Fortner Trio: 7 pm Thursday, Sept. 28. $30-$35. SITE Santa Fe, 1606 Paseo de Peralta, (505) 989-1199
Artist Thomas Vigil seems to have hit the jackpot with his upcoming Evoke Contemporary show, Lost Prophets—an anachronistic combination of methods and styles that encapsulates and displays a knack for both so-called fine art technique and more contemporarily respected milieus, such as graf art and spray can ephemera. In Prophets, Vigil presents a series of well- and lesser-known modern day prophets merged with touches of religious iconography, activism and street art intensity. Find Chris Cornell and Kurt Cobain mingling with Dolores Huerta and a dude you might know named Jesus Christ. You’ll note other familiar faces among the gritty portraits and tags. This one’s dense, kids. (ADV)
Thomas Vigil: Lost Prophets Opening: 5-7 pm Friday, Sept. 29. Free. Evoke Contemporary, 550 S Guadalupe St., (505) 995-9902
La Dolce Vita
Media is littered with interesting tales of folks connecting with others many years their senior (Harold & Maude forever), and Santa Fe’s own Anna Yarrow delves into the concept this week at Teatro Paraguas with her multimedia show, The World Beautiful. Yarrow based the piece on her real-life experience as a caretaker for former Los Alamos National Laboratory electrical engineer David Brown, an amateur mountaineer with whom Yarrow developed a meaningful connection during the early days of the pandemic. At 93, Brown has 50 years on Yarrow, yet their relationship blossomed. And Yarrow wrote it all down. In The World Beautiful, find a dramatic retelling of the tale with actor Don Converse tackling the role of Brown betwixt Yarrow’s writings, photos, conversational moments and even songs. Our take? Sounds moving as hell. (ADV)
The World Beautiful: 7:30 pm Friday, Sept. 29 and Saturday, Sept. 30; 3 pm Sunday, Oct. 1. $20. Teatro Paraguas, 3205 Calle Marie, (505) 424-1601