Earthwork artist profile Vol. 8: Seth Bernard
Seth's music has been soundtrack music for me. In moments of deep grief...the music grounding, healing, affirming of my ability to have courage & be resilient. In moments of birth...the music rich with a spirit of love, inclusion, wonder, rich with possibility. Currently in the homestretch of a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign for his upcoming album, "Eggtones 4 Directions," I had the chance to go behind the scenes with the Earthwork Music founder & visionary and talk about the influence of his elders & mentors, his thoughts on being a white male activist in these times, and much more.
1. Could you speak a bit about your relationship with your mentors & elders, and how that impacts you? Who are a few of your musical & activist heroes that are inspiring you in these days?Life can be very difficult and, as Bill Murray once said, "it rains on all of us". We all have to go through passages and transitions and transformations and obstacles. Having the presence of elders and mentors in my life has made all the difference. Some of my elders and mentors have passed and their presence is still strong in my life. I can call them in when I seek council, support and perspective. I was at an Anishnaabe Racial Justice conference a couple weeks ago and a colleague asked the elders in the room if she had permission to speak. It feels like our society heals a little each time we show this kind of respect and dignity to our elders.
Dave Bunce, Frank Youngman and Peter Madcat Ruth come to mind as musical heroes who have showed up for me in a huge way and they also make a point to invite me out into the woods and onto the waters. Sally Van Vleck is a major activist hero who has agreed to be on the board of the non-profit I'm starting. Jeffrey Duvall has been a spiritual guide and mentor since I was 5 years old.
2. It's such a unique time to be someone who identifies as white man. How does this reality shape your work as an artist/activist/educator/father?
Great questions. Thank you. Well, as a white male activist coming from a white majority community I have come to understand that it is my responsibility to show up and listen to leadership of color and to Native leadership and to the leadership of women. If I am setting the table or forming a panel or a board, it is a matter of honor to be mindful of equity and inclusive. And it's also a responsibility to educate myself and open up conversations about race and equity and sovereignty and privilege with other white folks. To talk about consent with other men and unpack some of our conditioning. It is not enough for us to feel afraid, uncomfortable and ashamed. It is not enough to be defensive, ending dialogue with statements like "I'm not racist" or "I see all people as equal". This is not about taking things personally, it is about working together to dismantle a system that is oppressive and unjust. It is helpful to recognize that this is a time where a great deal of healing can take place, within ourselves and in our society. Recognizing our identity within this societal construct is important and it doesn't have to be limiting or shameful. I talk to my neighbor about this stuff and he doesn't like the term "white privilege" but he acknowledges that white men are born into more power and access in this society. That's what privilege IS - power and access. And I have come to understand that it is really the job of white folks to dismantle systemic racism and white supremacy. And it is the job of men to dismantle toxic masculinity and misogyny. Not wanting to be involved in politics and not wanting to be involved in the messiness of activism is a sign of privilege in action. It is also absolutely necessary for white folks in the environmental movement to prioritize environmental justice. It is a fact that communities of color and native communities as disproportionately affected by the ravages of environmental degradation. And it is so important for men to gather together to have meaningful conversations about how we can be better allies and teach our sons not to protect women, but really to build a world where women are not in constant danger. I have a lot to learn and a lot of healing to do but this is that path I am walking.
3. Can you describe a pivotal musical experience where you knew that music was something you wanted to pursue?
Seeing Dick Siegel at Blissfest in the 80s, weaving together wit and wisdom, love and friendship in songs that groove and swing, with great melodies and harmonies with an amazing stage show and a platform to share his heart and speak his mind made a huge impression on me as a kid. Dick has become a dear friend and colleague and if you haven't heard his stuff, definitely check it out!
4. What's your favorite celestial body & why?
Currently - Orion. Celestial perspective brings real levity, and it's also so personal. I also love looking at pictures of the Cat's-eye nebula.
5. Hatching a new story...eggtones! As you celebrate the 4th & final installment of this series what is hatching in you?
I'm trying to choose love over fear every day of the year. Being proactive and not reactive. Servant leadership. Tenacity and self-care, paired. Stepping out of my comfort zone to do what I can to support people who are at risk and in danger. Fatherhood is a regenerative process that is constantly unfolding with new challenges and incredible joys all the time. I'm working on new records and songs and collaborations post-eggtones. I have been playing basketball at the Y and working on my low post game and getting better at rebounding. Focusing on strengthening my weaknesses and not just doing what I can already do. I am getting older, stronger, more capable. I am stepping into work to protect the water and the universal human right to clean, safe, affordable water. We have to get it right in Michigan and now is the time. All hands on deck.