Published May 19, 2015Buffy Sainte-Marie, on tour to promote her newly released 18th record Power In the Blood, has been around a while. She's seen alternative ideas develop and fade, and she's seen activism ebb and flow. But when she surveys the scene today, she is optimistic.
Sainte-Marie reckons the internet might just be the millennial version of the bohemian coffee house, something she says was crucial in the development of the '60s counterculture. And, as a veteran of the hip scenes of the '60s — she penned some of the most popular anthems to emerge from the Greenwich Village and Yorkville folk communities — she knows of which she speaks.
Those storied coffee houses "were very important," she stresses. Why? Because they were all about access and diversity. Not unlike the web.
"For the student movement of the 1960s," she tells Exclaim!, "the fact that there were coffee houses meant that young people could get together. I mean, young people couldn't get in anyplace where you needed a liquor license. And coffee anyways — it's talk, talk, talk, listen, listen, listen."
The 74-year-old Canadian-born Cree artist has spent the better part of the past 50 years touring, playing music and working to make the world a better place. An Indigenous rights activist, a fervent environmentalist and a caustic critic of militarism, Sainte-Marie was blacklisted by two successive U.S. governments and was monitored by the FBI for much of her adult life. So, when she talk, talk, talks about stuff, we should probably listen, listen, listen.
Back in the old coffee house scenes, she recalls, "it wasn't only onstage with performers and audiences [connecting with each other] but it was also in the streets. People were listening to each other. People were speaking up. It was hip to have a point of view. (I was almost going to say opinion, but it was really a point of view.) And I think it had a lot to do with coffee being around! I do! It really was attractive to high school students, college students, and people on the street… and coffee houses weren't 'le show-biz' where you had to dress it up."
It was in these democratic spaces, Sainte-Marie emphasizes, where the music, the ideas, and the "points of view" were exchanged. "It was such a great time. But for a long time it was really that 'the suits' got back in charge and we wondered 'Where did it all go?"
"But," she reminds us, "now we have the internet."
Power in the Blood is out now on True North, and you can see all her upcoming tour dates here.