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Ani DiFranco, Indigo Girls headline 2022 Water Is Life Festival

After last year's high-profile event with headliner Bon Iver, the environmental justice festival returns to Bayfront Festival Park on Sept. 4.

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People waited for the music to start at the Water Is Life Festival on Aug. 18, 2021.
Steve Kuchera / File / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — The Water Is Life environmental justice festival will return to Bayfront Festival Park on Sept. 4, organizers announced Tuesday. Ani DiFranco and Indigo Girls lead the music lineup for the event, a benefit for the organization Honor the Earth.

Last August, the festival grabbed national headlines with a lineup headed by acclaimed Eau Claire, Wisconsin, group Bon Iver — playing their first live show since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The 2021 event focused on the environmental dangers of Enbridge's Line 3, an oil pipeline crossing northern Minnesota, but more broadly the festival draws attention to water "as a fundamental right and resource," in the words of a news release announcing the 2022 event.

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Winona LaDuke applauded Duluth City Council President Renee Van Nett during the opening of the Water Is Life Festival on Aug. 18, 2021.
Steve Kuchera / File / Duluth News Tribune

Last year's event drew over 4,000 attendees, according to a statement from the festival's artistic director, David Huckfelt. A singer-songwriter formerly of the Pines, Huckfelt will perform this year with the Unarmed Forces. The festival's 2022 lineup also includes Allison Russell, Low, Joe Rainey Sr., Annie Humphrey, Keith Secola and Corey Medina, with "many more" artists yet to be announced for the daylong event.

Music has always been integral to Honor the Earth, an organization founded in 1993 by Winona LaDuke and Indigo Girls (a duo, Amy Ray and Emily Saliers) with a mission "to create awareness and support for Native environmental issues and to develop needed financial and political resources for the survival of sustainable Native communities," according to the organization's website.

Every weekend this summer, there's a festival or big show happening in the Twin Ports area.

Like Indigo Girls, DiFranco rose to fame in the alternative music scene of the 1990s and has built a reputation for social activism alongside continuing artistic success. Building a large and loyal fan base with incisive songs like "Both Hands" and "32 Flavors," DiFranco was a pathbreaker in founding her own label, Righteous Babe, to retain independence in a music industry that historically offered limited opportunities to women artists.

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Last year's Water Is Life Festival was defined by "cross-cultural exchange between indie rock bands and Indigenous traditional and folk artists," wrote Andrea Swensson in a report for Pitchfork. The cause was crystal clear, with Hippo Campus guitarist Nathan Stocker using a pointed expletive to express his views regarding Line 3, which was completed last fall.

The 2021 festival proceeded despite a group of northern Minnesota officials, including the mayors of three cities, asking the city of Duluth to call the show off; Line 3 protesters had often found themselves at odds with regional authorities. Citing the First Amendment, Duluth Mayor Emily Larson said the city had no grounds to "revoke constitutionally protected rights to gather in a public space" and the festival went ahead without incident.

Although Water Is Life festivals have been taking place at Bayfront for years, the 2021 event attracted heightened attention given its high-profile lineup and timely concern. As with past festivals, this year's event will include presentations from Indigenous activists and artists including LaDuke, who will host.

According to the news release, "100% of proceeds from the festival will go directly to Honor the Earth to assist in fighting the new challenges to Indigenous lands and people, Minnesota’s environment and the urgent climate crisis across Turtle Island (Planet Earth)."

Tickets go on sale Friday at 10 a.m. via AXS.com.

Related Topics: ENVIRONMENTMUSICBAYFRONT FESTIVAL PARK
Arts and entertainment reporter Jay Gabler joined the Duluth News Tribune in February 2022. His previous experience includes eight years as a digital producer at The Current (Minnesota Public Radio), four years as theater critic at Minneapolis alt-weekly City Pages, and six years as arts editor at the Twin Cities Daily Planet. He's a co-founder of pop culture and creative writing blog The Tangential; and a member of the National Book Critics Circle. You can reach him at jgabler@duluthnews.com or 218-279-5536.
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