Seth Bernard founded the collective out of his family farm in Lake City in 2001. It was Seth's vision to unite Michigan musicians to support the creation of original music, fusing it alongside cultural and environmental awareness. He also wanted to unite Michigan musicians together to build on the rich, vibrant legacy that local musicians have cultivated over the years.
Our members create a wealth of genre-spanning, original music and performances. They also help facilitate a number of community events throughout the year. Our model of collective musicianship has evolved alongside a thriving set of community partnerships. We’re grateful that this process has helped create meaningful lifeways for our members and colleagues.
“Earthwork music is more than a record label. What it is, in sum, is hard to describe; hard even to see out to the fractal edges of where Earthwork's work ends and all the other things I love begin. Earthwork music manages to hold the great tension of music, as both a carrier of tradition and a fearless remixer of genres. Roots and branches, the whole great tree is in vigorous growth—the killer fiddle combo that plays our local square dances, the bands that populate the non-profit benefit shows—and the songs. The songs! Written to honor and eulogize our friends and heroes, to scaffold our missions, to amplify our words, instruct us, inspire us and strengthen our resolve, and to celebrate, all coming from deep in our collective heart.
Beyond all that, because the human-ness of each member is so front and center, so their music is tied into their own lives, their kin, their communities, and their work. Each musician is a minute fractal bit extending the Earthwork movement millimeters further into the crevices of Michigan folklife (that is, the life of us folks) and tying disparate good things together. Oh, and they make some damn fine records too.”
Brad Kik, co-founder and co-director, Crosshatch Center for Art & Ecology
In August of 2001 as the big record labels were collapsing, Seth Bernard released his first album, “Hello Fellow Travelers” and Earthwork Music was born. It was a small gathering on Earthwork Farm, Seth’s place of origin, with a trailer stage and a local food potluck.
In 2002 this event became the annual Earthwork Harvest Gathering, and moved into the barn. Daniel Kahn produced a tribute to Woody Guthrie featuring an intergenerational cast of Michigan roots musicians, anchored by a crew of 20-somethings dedicated to community and craft. It was then that Earthwork Music truly became a collective.
There are many facets of Earthwork Music that have been celebrated over the past two decades of our existence - our youth empowerment projects which have touched the lives of thousands of kids across the state of Michigan and beyond, our consistent collaborations with non-profit organizations, our collective presence in movements for social change, and the deep treasure trove of records released through the Earthwork label.
What Earthwork Music might be best known for is fostering an exciting, nurturing sense of community and mutual admiration among Michigan’s musicians and music lovers. A community that values collaboration over competition, that recognizes that small is beautiful and that we get to hold our own definition of success. By being creators of culture and builders of community, all of us are participating, and all of us are “making it” - musicians and music lovers - side by side.
In 2019, Earthwork Music turned inward to do a deep process of inquiry and metamorphosis. Our longtime General Manager, Bill Chesney, stepped down, and honed his focus on Brownlee Press. Things were shifting and it had been years since we had taken the time to do a real assessment of who we are and what we do. This mediated process has led to a re-emergence with newly revised mission, vision, values, and organizational structure. Through this time, our roster has changed, with some Earthworkers migrating out into their next adventures, and friends of the collective nesting in as Earthwork artists.
As an organization, we use Consent-Based Decision Making, with a bit of Proposal-Based Decision Making mixed in. We have an LLC for our label-oriented work, and a fiscal sponsorship with Fractured Atlas for our charitable works. Our store and order fulfillment is powered by our longtime partners, Higher Grounds Trading Company, one of Michigan’s first fair trade companies and B Corps, with whom we are ethically and creatively aligned.
We produce a number of annual community events including the Earthwork Music Songwriter Summit For Resilience in January, the Crosshatch/Title Track led Skill Swap in June, the Earthwork Detroit Music Festival in June and the Earthwork Harvest Gathering in September. Additional projects include Sing Me Home Festival, The Long Memory Project, Lamp Light Music Festival, Farm Block Fest, and youth enrichment programs with SEEDS, On Stage 4 Kids, The Gift Of Music, Lost Voices and Music For Sprouts.
We give deep gratitude to all who have been a part of the Earthwork family. We are proud of the role that Earthwork Music has played in nurturing collaborative, creative communities and we’re ready to take on this next chapter together. Thank you to all who have been a part of Earthwork Music through years, and thank you for continuing the adventure with us.
There is healing work to be done.
We’re here to help.
We believe in the intrinsic power of music to raise both community and self-awareness.
We facilitate and encourage original music in the state of Michigan and beyond.
We encourage cooperation and collaboration.
We use music as a tool to serve, heal, inspire and empower.
We work to be accountable to the power of the mic.
We cultivate lasting relationships with each other and our community.
We strive to be intergenerational and non-discriminatory.
We stand for environmental and social justice.
We strive toward decolonization, not cultural appropriation.
We recognize that the state of Michigan occupies unceded Anishinaabe lands.