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Published: 4/16/2004

Singer-activist lends talents to 10th Take Back the Night

BY TAHREE LANE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Holly Near Holly Near
HO Enlarge

Folk singer Holly Near belts out her joyful noise tonight at a free performance at the University of Toledo.

Near's resonant mid-range vocals have harmonized with the greats of contemporary folk music - Pete Seeger, Bonnie Raitt, Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, Ronnie Gilbert, and Peter, Paul, and Mary.

And, as founder of a pioneering record company, she gave voice to scores of little-known musicians.

Her visit is part of the 10th Take Back the Night event which begins, rain or shine, at 7 p.m. in a large tent adjacent to UT's law college.

Near, 54, is an icon of her generation. Her passions are the fabric of her ballads about peace and the environment, and call for change regarding poverty, racism, and gender disparities.

"I sing to the choir and I think the choir does all the work," Near says in a telephone interview.

The redhead from California says she doesn't regularly sit down and write songs. "But every few years I put out a new CD and I'm always surprised that I have enough songs," she says. Her new release is "Edge."

How does she maintain her enthusiasm for social justice? There are days, she admits, when it's an uphill stuggle.

"I think on a daily basis you try to remember how to be a caring, responsible, alert citizen and remain more fascinated than fearful," she says. Change, she says, is evolutionary. "You have to be a link in the chain. If you're first, you don't get to see the end result. And if you're last, you can't realize what came first."

Near accepts about 30-40 engagements in the spring and again in the fall, singing, teaching, and giving keynote speeches to groups such as ministers or psychologists. "I try to be home summers and most of mid-winter."

How did the local Take Back the Night organizers obtain a performer of Near's stature?

"They invited me," she says. Creating a safe world is near to her heart.

"If you have a world where everyone has to live in fear, it affects your health, your art, spirituality, how you care for children."

It is, she adds, essential for men to participate.

"Men have to demystify this idea that this is a woman's problem. Just like white people showed up for events for the rights of black people. Men grow up in a culture that permits this violence."

Born to ranchers in Ukiah, Calif., she first sang in public at the age of 8.

She acted in films and television shows, including Slaughterhouse Five, Minnie and Moskowitz, The Mod Squad, The Partridge Family, and All in the Family. She appeared on Broadway in Hair.

In 1972, she created Redwood Records to record the music of politically conscious artists from around the world. Redwood, which recorded the first album for a capella group, Sweet Honey in the Rock, operated for almost 20 years.

"There was a bit of a slump in the social-change world," she says.

Financial grants for original music dried up. And feminist and lesbian artists, for whom Redwood once provided the sole alternative, found new options.

Near lives in northern California, not far from the coast, with her partner of 10 years, Pat Hunt, a retired librarian. She does not have children, but he has children and grandchildren.

At home, she loves curling up with a book by the wood stove, and brainstorming with friends. "We try to have our own little personal think tanks. It's very important to stop and re-evaluate."

Near returns to Ohio May 3 for Kent State University's remembrance of the four students killed by the National Guard in 1970. And May 11-13, she teaches a three-day skill-building seminar for artists, activists, and creative thinkers, at the Leaven Center near Lansing.

The Take Back the Night march creates awareness about violence toward women, said Diane Docis, coordinator of UT's Sexual Assault Education and Prevention Program. Despite the focus on homeland security, city streets and even homes are not safe places for many American women, says Docis.

"It's a chance to be safe on the streets at night without the protection of men," she says.

Several UT and community groups organized the event. Around 8 p.m., women will begin the march through the Old Orchard neighborhood. Children may participate.

Meanwhile, men and teenaged boys can attend a program led by Heath Huber of Bowling Green State University's Women's Center. A documentary film, Tough Guise, by Jackson Katz, will be shown.

Following the march, survivors of assault will tell their stories.

"It's an amazing and powerful part of the event," says Docis.

Near will sing briefly again, followed by the musical group Spectrum.

Holly Near's concert at 7 tonight at UT near the law college, and all Take Back the Night events, are free. On-campus parking is off Secor Road. Information: 419-530-3495.

Contact Tahree Lane at:

tlane@theblade.com or

419-724-6075.



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