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Lampedusa: Concerts for Refugees at Pabst Theater

The+artists+sit+in+a+circle+on+stage.+Photo+via%3A+facebook.com%2Fpabsttheater
The artists sit in a circle on stage. Photo via: facebook.com/pabsttheater

The artists sit in a circle on stage. Photo via: facebook.com/pabsttheater

The artists sit in a circle on stage. Photo via: facebook.com/pabsttheater

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Wednesday night at the Pabst Theater was far more than a casual weeknight concert at the historic venue. Laying host to the Lampedusa: Concerts for Refugees benefit tour, Milwaukee was treated to a night of activism and awe-inspiring music from award-winning musicians, courtesy of the Jesuit Refugee Services.

Billed as “An intimate evening of acoustic performances in the round,” this show wasn’t your typical concert. No opener, no headliner, no theatrics — just musicians and a cause. And it was quite a group of musicians assembled at that: Steve Earle, veteran troubadour, master songwriter and the unofficial figurehead of “Outlaw Country” since his debut in 1986; Emmylou Harris, a mainstay of folk/Americana music for the past 40 years and pioneer of female artists in the genre; Robert Plant, lead singer of one of the most widely known and groundbreaking rock bands of all time, Led ZeppelinBuddy Miller, an industry vet with less name recognition than his compatriots, but all the talent; and finally, indie folk darlings The Milk Carton Kids, stars of the latest generation of folk/Americana artists and the clear young guns of the group.

Steve Earle. Photo via: facebook.com/pabsttheater

Steve Earle. Photo via: facebook.com/pabsttheater

For those unfamiliar with in-the-round shows, the artists sit in a semicircle on the stage and take turns playing one song at a time. Often the other musicians accompany during each other’s songs, but the lead rotates around the circle constantly throughout the night. The rotation started with “Our Captain” Steve Earle, as Emmylou Harris so affectionately referred to him, and ended with The Milk Carton Kids. The night saw three full rotations through the songwriters and a two-song guest appearance from Nashville-based Ruby Amanfu. Quite frankly, just about every song was a highlight in itself. Plant sang a couple songs off his 2007 collaboration with Alison Krauss, and Harris filled in the female vocals. Earle gave a rollicking rendition of his classic “Copperhead Road.” The Milk Carton Kids sang a breathtaking cover of Emmylou Harris’ “Michelangelo.” To call the show a rare treat would be an understatement.

An overarching theme of the night was humanity — the humanity of the refugees needing assistance and the humanity of the artists on stage. The artists continuously showered praise on the musicians they had the pleasure of sharing the stage with that night. Robert Plant discussed clapping to songs with his granddaughter. Kenneth Pattengale of The Milk Carton Kids had a coughing fit mid-song and had to briefly walk off stage before finishing the tune. Preceding a cover of the late Guy Clark, Emmylou Harris touched on how hard a year 2016 has been for losing musicians and put into perspective the stark reality that, while the public has lost icons, these artists have lost friends.

Emmylou Harris. Photo via: facebook.com/pabsttheater

Emmylou Harris. Photo via: facebook.com/pabsttheater

But most importantly was the humanity of the refugees. In the most striking moment of the night, Earle told the story of a grocer known as Mr. Kim in his multicultural New York neighborhood who emigrated from Korea and has made a living and a family over his decades since coming here. “This is for Mr. Kim because he is the American dream,” he said as he broke into the poignant “City of Immigrants.” It was raw, real and an important reminder in these times of political turmoil that we’re all immigrants. We all deserve comfort, shelter and peace. We all, each and every one of us, deserve a home.

If you’re interested in finding out how you can help refugees worldwide, visit the Jesuit Refugee Service website for more information.

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About the Writer
Jimmy Drenovsky, Assistant Publicist

Jimmy Drenovsky is a junior at Marquette who spends most of his time procrastinating his engineering responsibilities by finding new and obscure music...

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