Willie Nelson, Neil Young support Keystone Pipeline Fighters (9/27/14)

photo: Matt Ryerson

by: Nicholas Bergin

NELIGH — Art and Helen Tanderup gazed with amazed smiles at the thousands of cars parked on the stubble of their recently harvested cornfield on Saturday, at the stage set up in their rye field and at the ocean of people standing in front of it.

“It’s unbelievable. It’s absolutely amazing this is happening,” said Art just before the start of Harvest the Hope.

The sun shone in a sky dotted with white clouds, and nearby corn rustled in a southern breeze on the 160-acre farm near Neligh, as fans waited to hear the concert’s headliners, Canadian singer-songwriter Neil Young and country music star Willie Nelson.

Between performances by opening acts — Native American hip-hop artist Frank Waln, and Lukas and Micah Nelson and Promise of the Real (featuring Willie Nelson’s sons) — politicians and activists spoke to the crowd of about 8,000 about the fight against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

The Tanderups are two of about 100 landowners refusing to sign easement agreements with TransCanada Corp., the company that wants to build the controversial pipeline capable of transporting 840,000 barrels of crude oil per day, mostly from Canada’s tar sands region destined for refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Fighting the Keystone XL is only a small part of the bigger battle against a changing climate that is threatening the entire planet, Young said during a press conference before the concert.

“We’re really just a skirmish on the ground around a disaster that is waiting to happen,” he said. “People are panicking and trying to figure out how to get out of this mess.

“We’re proud to be here with all of you, whether you agree with us or disagree with us, to have a discourse about what this is.”

Young said America must take up the challenge of reducing carbon emissions and turn to renewable energy generation.

“Stand up and be creative and have ingenuity and come up with solutions so we’re not just complaining about problems, we’re solving them,” he said. “That is what America needs to do.”

The development of Canada’s tar sands is far from inevitable, said Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, director of programs at the Natural Resources Defense Council, a New York-based environmental advocacy group sponsoring the event.

“Tar sands is not regular oil,” she said. “It’s dirtier. It’s nastier. It’s bad for our land and water when it spills, and it is bad for our climate when it is taken out of the ground. What is happening here in Nebraska is ground zero.”

Brought together by their opposition to the pipeline project, environmentalists, land rights proponents, farmers, ranchers and Native Americans have revived a coalition dubbed the Cowboy Indian Alliance, with origins in protests against uranium mining in the 1970s.

Native leaders have pledged to stop the Keystone XL from crossing their sacred ancestral lands.

Rosebud Sioux President Cyril Scott and Oglala Lakota President Bryan Brewer, both from South Dakota, and tribal leaders from other nations promised their tribal warriors would physically stop the pipeline.

“We are not just going to protest and leave,” Brewer said. “We’re going to stop it.”

After Nelson and Young performed hourlong sets, including classic hits such as “Beer for my Horses” by Nelson and “Heart of Gold” by Young, audience members marched into the Tanderups’ field and formed a human chain across where TransCanada wants to bury a 36-inch-diameter pipe.

Jane Kleeb, director of Bold Nebraska, declined to speculate on how much money the event would raise to be split between her organization, the Indigenous Environmental Network and the Cowboy Indian Alliance, as well as small clean-energy projects on farms and tribal lands, such as putting solar panels on center pivot irrigators.

Maybe more important than the dollars raised, said Ken Winston of the Sierra Club of Nebraska, is the attention the concert brings to continuing efforts to stop development of a 1,179-mile pipeline from Hardisty, Alberta, to Steele City on the Nebraska-Kansas border.

The fight against the Keystone XL in Nebraska already has garnered national attention, after a constitutional challenge to a state law approving the route brought the pipeline’s presidential permitting process to a halt.

But pipeline-fighters hope the support of two music legends will help spread their message beyond the nightly news, Winston said.

“TransCanada may have the money,” he said, “but we have the musicians and the poets.”

Ticket sales alone should generate about $385,000. Concertgoers paid $50 per person to attend the show, with the original 7,000 tickets sold out within days of Bold Nebraska announcing the event last month. An additional 500 tickets issued earlier this month sold out in 10 hours, and 200 more tickets were sold locally in Antelope County.

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