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Whale of a Benefit Concert Print-ready version

by Monica Bay
Rolling Stone
December 30, 1976
Original article: PDF

What Bob Dylan did for Hurricane Carter with the Rolling Thunder Revue, Fred Neil and John Sebastian are trying to do for whales with their Rolling Coconut Revue.

Sebastian and Neil are both members of the Dolphin Project, designed to aid research on dolphins and communications (other prominent musicians in the organization include Joni Mitchell, Stephen Stills, David Crosby, Rick Danko and Richie Havens).

The Rolling Coconut Revue, along with Joni Mitchell, Country Joe McDonald, the Paul Winter Consort and poet Gary Snyder, appeared November 20th at the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium, at the invitation of California governor Jerry Brown. The music was the climax of a day-long event, California Celebrates the Whale, designed to bring international attention to the plight of whales, which face extinction due to continued commercial hunting by Japan and Russia.

Governor Brown had personally invited Joni Mitchell, and after her appearance was announced November 16th, it took only two days for the show's 4500 tickets (at $4 apiece) to sell out. After a morning and afternoon of displays and films, the lights dimmed in the auditorium at 4 p.m. for the evening's activities. But it took another two hours of speeches and films before the Paul Winter Consort opened the musical segment. They played in total darkness, asking the audience to pretend to be a whale swimming in the depths of the ocean.

Then came poet Gary Snyder with one poem about whales and another about eating, which had the audience somewhat bemused until John Sebastian appeared onstage, bringing the event down to earth with his latest hit "Welcome Back." He went from the TV scries theme song to a medley of old Lovin' Spoonful hits and was finally joined by Fred Neil, who sang "The Dolphins," "Everybody's Talkin'" and "Candy Man," accompanied by members of the Rolling Coconut Revue.

After the revue left the stage, on came Country Joe McDonald, who received a mixed reception from the crowd with his rubbermask Nixon flashing a peace sign and his revised Fish cheer ("W-H-A-L-E-S"). Said one concertgoer, "Country Joe still thinks we're in Vietnam." It was after 1 a.m. when Mitchell finally took the stage, complaining about the late hour. She looked exhausted and performed a brief, distracted set of "Coyote" and "Furry Sings the Blues" off her recent Hejira album, also singing "Edith and the Kingpin" and "Shadows and Light" off her Hissing of Summer Lawns album and her earlier "Jericho." She returned for an encore of "Song for Sharon" off the new album.

It was nearly 2 a.m. when the concert ended. But most seemed exhilarated, agreeing with John Sebastian, who said, "This has been a very emotional day. There's a very real possibility that there will be no whales for our children, and for their children."

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Added to Library on February 25, 2021. (311)

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