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Emmylou Harris and Steve Earle bring musical cachet to refugee relief effort tonight at the Sheldon

From left, David Pulkingham, Buddy Miller, Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, and The Milk Carton Kids (Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale) perform during the Lampedusa: Concerts for Refugees at the Rococo Theater in Lincoln, Neb., Oct. 9, 2016.
Christian Fuchs | Jesuit Refugee Service
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From left, David Pulkingham, Buddy Miller, Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, and The Milk Carton Kids (Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale) perform during the Lampedusa: Concerts for Refugees at the Rococo Theater in Lincoln, Neb., Oct. 9, 2016.

Emmylou Harris and Steve Earle are two of the most revered American singer-songwriters performing today. The two longtime friends and performing buddies have also never been hesitant to express their political views — or throw their generous musical weight behind causes they believe in.

The two have recently reunited, along with several other musicians such as the Milk Carton Kids, Buddy Miller and David Pulkingham, to tour the country hosting benefit concerts, titled “Lampedusa,” to raise money for Jesuit Refugee Service. The Christian organization’s mission is to “accompany, serve and advocate for rights of refugees and other displaced persons.” JRS works in 45 countries across the globe to assist refugees’ educational, health and social needs.

Tonight, the benefit makes a stop in St. Louis at the Sheldon Concert Hall.

Earlier this summer, Harris traveled to Ethiopia to spend time with refugees there.

“It was quite inspiring in a way because the camps that I went to were for unaccompanied minors coming across the border from Eritrea, which is an incredibly repressive regime, at war for 25 years where young people are conscripted into the military,” Harris said. “Some of these children were as young as four. … I just saw these extraordinary young people whose life can turn any way for them. This [JRS] education gives them a chance at life. Everyone needs a place where they feel safe and can get help. I believe the world needs to step up and be that help and stepping stone for them.”

Steve Earle and Joey Ryan of The Milk Carton Kids during the Lampedusa: Concerts for Refugees show at the Rococo Theater in Lincoln, Neb., Oct. 9, 2016.
Credit Christian Fuchs | Jesuit Refugee Service
Steve Earle and Joey Ryan of The Milk Carton Kids during the Lampedusa: Concerts for Refugees show at the Rococo Theater in Lincoln, Neb., Oct. 9, 2016.

The series of benefit concerts is named “Lampedusa” because that is the name of the one of the most famous refugee camps in Italy, where refugees from the Middle East and Africa are flocking in hopes of entrance to a better life in Europe.  The location gained international attention when Pope Francis visited refugees there in 2013.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates nearly 150,000 people have made passage to Italy over the Mediterranean sea in 2016 and more than 3,600 people are dead or missing this year alone from such passages. 

While the majority of refugees have fled to Europe, Earle said that the United States has a part to play in the matter. 

“It will become an issue in this election because there are factions in this election  that want to scare the hell out of everybody about ‘the other’ coming to take their jobs when, in truth, their jobs are being shipped away,” Earle said, also referencing that the United States has its own refugee crisis at its southern border with Mexico.

“We kind of have an obligation because we have more than most people,” Earle continued. “And, refugees from the Mideast, I think we had a hand in creating the chaos that’s causing those people to leave their homes. We may have a moral obligation to step up.”

That moral obligation became clear to Harris after her time spent in Ethiopia this summer.

“The world is a big place and we’re a big country and we have to open up our hearts and our pocketbooks to these people,” Harris said.

“Because it is the right thing to do,” Earle continued.

Tonight’s concert, which is sadly already sold out, is a throwback to times of yore. All performers will sit on stage in a circle as different people take turns playing their music and joining in when called for.

“It is an extraordinary thing for the artist because you have the best seat in the house, you get to hear people whose music you love, it kind of changes up every night and there’s some interplay,” Harris said. “We have the Milk Carton Kids and they are, as well as being musically stunning, they are quite entertaining.”

Earle said that the setup is similar to what you would have find in Nashville in the mid-1970s.

“People would sit around in a room and play new songs they had written,” Earle said. “It was a university for songwriters. That just doesn’t happen much anymore…”

“…but it is going to happen tonight,” Harris finished.

Related Event

What: LAMPEDUSA Concert for Refugees featuring Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Buddy Miller and The Milk Carton Kids
When: Tuesday, Oct. 11 at 8:00 p.m.
Where: Sheldon Concert Hall, 3648 Washington Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63108
More information.

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