Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals will headline the "Rock the Green" festival, an eco-friendly music festival that returns Saturday after a three-year hiatus. As a musician and activist, Harper and his band are seemingly a great fit for the gig.
Rock the Green takes place on Saturday, Sept. 9 at the Reed Street Yards, 222 S. 3rd St. Harper takes the stage at 8 p.m. and tickets to the show are still available.
Harper has released 12 studio albums and has toured internationally. He is a three-time Grammy Award winner, with awards for Best Pop Instrumental Performance and Best Traditional Soul Gospel Album in 2005 and Best Blues Album in 2014.
Recently, OnMilwaukee caught up with Harper to chat music, Milwaukee and activism.
OnMilwaukee: Was your willingness to play Rock The Green in part for environmental reasons?
Ben Harper: Absolutely. It’s always super cool when two things that I really care about come together – in this case music and environmental awareness. I’m really looking forward to it.
Your last album came out in 2016 and included the Innocent Criminals. It had been about a decade since you last made an album with them. How did it go?
It was great. It felt right, on point and matured. I’m really happy that we did it.
Do you think you’ll make another album with the Innocent Criminals?
I’m really not sure. We’re going to be touring together and making live music together, but as for another studio album, I’m not sure yet. I would like to make a lap steel guitar instrumental record and a reggae record, so we’ll see after that. At this point, we're talking about 2022 or 2023 and who knows if long-plays are still going to be the medium. Maybe musicians will just release one song at a time or shorter EPs. We’ll see.
You have an album coming out in 2018, right?
I do. I made an album with living Blues legend Charlie Musselwhite in 2013 called "Get Up!" And I always wanted to make a follow-up record and so we did. It will come out in March of 2018. I really cannot wait for you to hear it. I’ve never said this before, but it feels like the record I have lived to make. Charlie is an American icon; a jewel.
Are you still skateboarding?
Do you worry about injury, particularly to your hands?
No, I have learned how to fall – and new ways to fall – and how to protect myself. And when I’m touring, I work within my ability range and only push it when I’m not being on a "touring cycle" and know I can take the time to heal up if need be.
Where is your heart in terms of activism these days?
My wife and I opened an orphanage in Calcutta, India where there is extreme child trafficking like you have never seen. Originally, my wife helped open a safe place for girls but we realized we needed to address the cause, not just the effect, and so we opened one for boys, too.
Your record with your mom, "Childhood Home," is beautiful. Have you and your mother (Ellen Chase-Verdries) always sang together?
Growing up, my mom and I sang together all the time. My mom was a professional musician but she stopped touring to raise me and my two younger brothers. When my career started to gain momentum I told my mom I wanted to make a record with her someday, but at the time she was getting her doctorate and doing other cool things. But she never stopped writing songs, and so when it finally came time, she had so much material. While I was sorting through her material and mine it was a very emotional experience. Such a great exploration.
Actually, the cover of that album is of a friend's farmhouse in Wisconsin.
Really? That’s awesome! When you think of Milwaukee and Wisconsin what comes to mind?
Summerfest, for sure. I had great times there. I also think of ice fishing, because it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. And I’m gonna date myself here, but I was a "Laverne & Shirley" fan.
Visit rockthegreen.com for sponsorship opportunities and festival updates. Stay in the know and follow Rock the Green on social media:
• Facebook: RocktheGreen
• Twitter: @rtgMKE
• Instagram: @rockthegreen
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.