Justin Vernon wasn't trying to dash other people's dreams of being a pop star during "Water Is Life," a 30-minute conversation with Winona LaDuke and other artists and organizers involved with the "Water Is Life: Stop Line 3" festival, scheduled for Wednesday at Bayfront Festival.

But he didn't get into the music business to get famous — or semi-famous with a lower-case f, as he described himself. Rather, the Grammy Award-winning artist behind Bon Iver said he wanted to move people.

"I've never really stopped thinking that art has the ability to move and change people's hearts," he said. "Conversations are one thing, philosophical debates and town halls are one thing, politics are one thing. But that's why I'm here and that's why I can't stop doing what I do."

He's offered a portion of royalties to organizations combating domestic and sexual violence, gender inequity, and in 2020, he launched a campaign to get Wisconsin voters registered. He's also invested in saving the planet.

"I have this feeling, it's more than a belief, it's a feeling in me, " he said. "We are all so similar and share so much. We have to come together to save our environment, save our earth from total annihilation. That's on its way."

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Winona LaDuke
Winona LaDuke

Bon Iver is the headliner for the all-day festival, a fundraiser for Winona LaDuke's Honor the Earth organization, with its mission to raise awareness and money for environmental issues, especially those that affect the Indigenous community — specifically Enbridge's Line 3 project. The annual concert starts at 12:15 p.m. Wednesday at Bayfront Festival Park and the lineup includes Corey Medina, Larry Long & Friends, Annie Humphrey and Band, Charlie Parr, David Huckfelt and Unarmed Forces, Adia Victoria, Hippo Campus, Mumu Fresh, Superior Siren, Alan Sparhawk, Quiltman, Keith Secola and Lissie.

Tickets are $65 at axs.com.

David Huckfelt, formerly of The Pines, described the musicians in the lineup as "living and dying by the spirit of music." He said he has seen online comments from people are surprised that these artists would support an effort to stop Line 3. There's no reason to be surprised, he said, have you listened to their music?

SEE ALSO: Despite plea for cancellation, Duluth says it can't call off anti-Line 3 concert at city park

"The support from artists is vast, massive," he said. "This intersection of art, music and activism reminds me of a John Trudell, a huge mentor and leader and groundbreaker," Huckfelt said.

Trudell, the late Minneapolis-based artist and activist, told Huckfelt that some people define insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. But, he recalled Trudell saying, "That's not all of it," Huckfelt said. "He said, 'I think about alchemy. We do the same thing, we show up, we bring our creativity, our ideas and our passion. We do it again and again and again until the conditions are right and then everything changes.'"

LaDuke, who met the Indigo Girls in 1990 during an Earth Day event and launched this concert with them soon after, told the News Tribune in 2019 that there had been about 100 shows since. Artists, she said, are who she connects with, and she spent most of her life around great musicians who are "doing the right thing."

"I want to be with the team that has the vision and the courage and the beauty to change the world," she said. "I don't want to listen to a bunch of guys with dumb ideas trying to make a buck. I want to be with the heart and the spirit."

Last week, a handful of officials along the pipeline route sent a letter to the city of Duluth asking the city to cancel the concert. That request was denied. In previous years, artists like Chastity Brown, Indigo Girls, Bonnie Raitt, Brandi Carlile and The Chicks have played the festival.

If you go

What: "Water is Life: Stop Line 3"

When: Doors open at noon, Aug. 18

Where: Bayfront Festival Park, Duluth

Tickets: $65 at axs.com


Main stage

  • 12:15 p.m.: Welcome
  • 12:20 p.m.: Water ceremony
  • 12:40: Corey Medina
  • 1:45 p.m.: Larry Long & Friends
  • 2:50 p.m.: Annie Humphrey and Band
  • 4 p.m.: Charlie Parr
  • 5:10 p.m.: David Huckfelt
  • 6:20 p.m.: Adia Victoria
  • 7:10 p.m.: Hippo Campus
  • 8:10 p.m.: Mumu Fresh
  • 8:30 p.m.: Bon Iver

Side stage

  • 1:15 p.m.: Superior Siren
  • 2:20 p.m.: Alan Sparhawk
  • 3:30 p.m.: Quiltman
  • 4:40 p.m.: Keith Secola
  • 5:50 p.m.: Lissie