Berkeley concert marks free speech movement’s birthday

singer-songwriter-activist Hali Hammer
Singer-songwriter-activist Hali Hammer will lead a song circle at the free speech movement concert at Ashkenaz in Berkeley on Saturday Sept. 27. Photo: courtesy Ashkenaz

As a brief catalytic blast of energy, the Free Speech Movement achieved its primary goals so quickly that it didn’t have much time to inspire enduring songs and anthems. But music played an important role in those heady fall months of 1964, when students forced UC Berkeley’s administration to drop campus restrictions on political speech. Saturday’s concert at Ashkenaz celebrates the 50th anniversary of the FSM, while connecting the musical threads between the FSM and earlier progressive struggles.

See other events to mark the anniversary of the free speech movement

Hosted by Lynne Hollander, an FSM founder and the widow of movement icon Mario Savio, the evening opens with a song circle led by singer-songwriter-activist Hali Hammer, followed by brief sets by Country Joe McDonald and Nancy Schimmel, a veteran of the folk and women’s music scenes who sees many connections between the FSM and today’s Occupy movements. She’s likely to sing “Billy Boy,” a song by her mother, Malvina Reynolds, about the 1960 San Francisco protests over the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings, an FSM forerunner.

Jo McDonald
Country Joe McDonald: playing at a 50th anniversary free speech movement concert in Berkeley on Saturday Sept. 27. Photo: curtesy Ashkenaz

Rounding out the program are Terry Garthwaite, who founded the pioneering Bay Area rock band Joy of Cooking in Berkeley in 1967, and Barbara Dane, who’s still an indefatigable force at 87. In many ways Dane embodies the activist tradition that connected the old left with the New Left (her son, Cuban guitarist Pablo Menendez, performs with his band Mezcla at Yoshi’s on Wednesday).


“Songs have a way of revealing as well as healing, and of reminding us that we are part of the whole human condition,” Dane writes in an email. “Many new songs and new renditions of old songs have been fired by the spirit of the FSM, so it is only fitting that we celebrate this 50th anniversary by singing together again.”

Similar to the way that the FSM bridged the cresting civil rights movement with the incipient anti-war and women’s movements, the music of late 1964 inhabited an unstable zone as the Beatles and the British Invasion reconfigured the musical landscape. Rock ‘n’ roll became inextricably linked to the counterculture the following year, but it was folk music that provided a soundtrack for the FSM, as Joan Baez famously came by Sproul Hall to lend her voice to the protesting students.

Terry Garthwaite, a Berkeley High grad who was a Cal senior majoring in sociology in 1964, had been singing in folk clubs around the Bay Area for several years, including the Jabberwock at Telegraph and Russell. She wasn’t an activist, though she had followed and supported the protests led by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta’s National Farm Workers Association (later known as United Farm Workers), and against the HUAC hearings in San Francisco. She joined the FSM protests, and ended up singing on top of the barricaded police car holding activist Jack Weinberg, whose arrest sparked the movement.

“I have no idea how that happened,” Garthwaite says about her impromptu performance. “Someone must have known about me performing at Jabberwock and said bring your guitar by. I haven’t a clue what I played, but it must have been a folk song because in those days I wasn’t writing my own songs yet.”

As a singer, songwriter and teacher who continues to lead circle singing sessions near her home in Marin and an annual Women Singing In Circle retreat in New Mexico, Garthwaite firmly believes in the central role of music in any social movement.

“For one thing it helps unify people and bring people together with a common message,” she says. “It creates community. I think the FSM benefited greatly from the musical legacy of the civil rights movement, which of course was still going strong.”

Recommended Gigs: Atash and Social Stutter Quartet

Atash. Photo: Alejandro Moreno-Alanis
Atash. Photo: Alejandro Moreno-Alanis

Atash: The great Austin world music band Atash makes its first Bay Area appearance in a decade at Ashkenaz on Friday, celebrating the release of the excellent new album “Everything Music.” Under the musical direction of violinist, violist and oud player Roberto Paolo Riggio, the band features an international cast of eight musicians (who hail from Cuba, Iran, Guinea, India, and even Florida). Voted Austin’s Best World Music Band six years in a row, the group has been forging an expansive, beautifully integrated sound over nearly two decades.

Social Stutter Quartet: Inventive composer Beth Schenck introduces a new saxophone quartet at the Berkeley Arts Festival performance space on Sunday. The unusual chamber jazz ensemble features two tenors (the always rewarding Cory Wright and Phillip Greenlief) and two altos (Schenck and the rising star Kasey Knudsen). The evening’s second set is by The Hollywood Laundrette, the duo of Karry Walker on vocals and ukulele and Myles Boisen on acoustic slide guitar.

Andrew Gilbert writes for Berkeleyside, the San Jose Mercury News, San Francisco Chronicle, and KQED’s California Report. Read his previous Berkeleyside reviews.

Related:
Events mark 50th anniversary of the free speech movement (09.22.14)

For more events in and around Berkeley, check out Berkeleyside’s Events Calendar. And submit your own events there — the calendar is free and self-serve.