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Serenades of Spring

Zeshan B image

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Songbirds make melodies for the river...and Riverkeeper

Andrew Bird

Andrew Bird at the Brooklyn Bowl.

This week — just days before our annual gala, the Fishermen’s Ball — Riverkeeper and its supporters joined to celebrate in song as we were serenaded by multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bird on Monday and a day later by the Stella Blue’s Banda top Grateful Dead tribute bandin Central Park.

Bird scored the movie, Blue Heart, the Fight to Save Europe’s Last Wild Rivers, a new documentary from Patagonia, and performed a set following the U.S. premiere of the movie at Brooklyn Bowl. Blue Heart explores the irreversible damage created by hydropower dams on European rivers and documents the battle to save Vjosa River, the largest undammed river in Europe from the same fate. Women from Bosnia and Herzegovina and other activists organized to stop the dam and protect their communities’ only source of fresh drinking water.  

In the film’s trailer below, watch as Balkan communities rally to save the Vjosa while artist Luka Tomac creates a protest mural on a dam near Konjic, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

While the film focuses on Europe’s Blue Heart region, the theme applies to the growing movement in the U.S. to remove dams and restore rivers. Here, only three percent of our 80,000 dams generate electricity and the remaining “deadbeat dams” impact our water quality, block the flow of nutrients and sediment, and destroy fish and wildlife habitats.

In the Hudson Valley, where more than 1,500 derelict dams block the Hudson’s tributaries, Riverkeeper is working with stakeholders to remove them and restore habitat and fish passage. In 2016, we worked with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the City of Troy to remove the Wynants Kill Dam — soon after, hundreds of alewives returned to the Wynant’s Kill for the first time in 85 years. That success has rejuvenated our campaign, “Saving the River’s Fish,” aimed at halting the decline of Hudson River’s signature fish species and restoring their numbers to sustainable levels. Patagonia is supporting this work with a grant to Riverkeeper to produce a film with environmental filmmaker Jon Bowermaster, highlighting dam removal efforts happening across the Hudson Valley right here in our backyard.

Blue Heart’s premiere was a resounding success, and we are Grateful that Patagonia chose Riverkeeper to receive all proceeds from the event.

Stella Blue's Band

Stella Blue’s Band at Central Park.

Before the Earth completed an axis rotation, Riverkeeper was feted by Stella Blue’s Band. Playing at Central Park’s iconic Naumburg Bandshell, the band’s Free Dead in the Park event commemorated the 50th Anniversary of the Grateful Deads historic concert at the same location in 1968. Some 800 enthusiastic fans — our new friends — showed up for the two-set revue, which also benefited Riverkeeper. 

The event was funded by a group of committed Deadheads from New York and beyond who contributed both to the production and to Riverkeeper. Key supporters include Alex Blavatnik, producer of Long Strange Trip: The Untold Story of the Grateful Dead, which debuted on Amazon in 2017; John Cahill, in-house physician for the New York Philharmonic; “Downtown” Josh Brown from Ritholtz Wealth Management; and Jimmy Zankel.

Zeshan B

Zeshan B

Stella Blue’s Band’s rhythm guitarist and vocalist, Steve Liesman will also take the spotlight at Riverkeeper’s Fishermen’s Ball on May 16, but he won’t be the evening’s musical performer. Liesman, a Pulitzer Prize and Emmy Award winning journalist who is CNBC’s senior economics reporter, will be our annual gala’s Master of Ceremonies while we will be entertained by rhythm and blues artist Zeshan B (Cryin’ in the Streets,” “Lonely Man”). The Chicago-born singer was featured as one of Rolling Stone’s10 New Artists You Need to Know.”

Our “Big Fish” honoree at this year’s Ball, is none other than Patagonia. We’re recognizing the company — described in The New York Times as “a group of avid environmentalists who just happen to sell coats” — for its ongoing ecological advocacy. The company has contributed nearly $90 million to date in grants and in-kind donations for the environment.

Jerry Garcia Riverkeeper

A Jerry Garcia illustrated Riverkeeper T-shirt, circa 1993.

Also deservingly honored at this year’s Ball are Riverkeeper’s outgoing Board Chairman, Big Fish Emeritus Joseph L. Boren and Ulster County environmental activist and Hudson Hero Mary McNamara.

Yes, we and our supporters are indulging in a bit of merry this month, but it’s all for a good cause: a fishable, swimmable Hudson River and clean drinking water for millions of New Yorkers. And we remain Dead serious about our commitment to both.  


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