Water Music 

Savoca and Heitzman give it up for the Clark Fork River

Not many singer/songwriters combine vocal grace, outstanding lyric writing and superb command of the rhythms they play to as effectively as Karen Savoca. Then again, not many singer/songwriters are percussionists as well. A couple of years ago Savoca and her guitarist and partner Pete Heitzman replaced Gil Scott Heron on the main stage at the Vancouver Folk Festival. It was a good choice. Heron’s full-on, proto hip-hop, funky jazz and uncompromising lyrics in songs like “The Revolution Will Not be Televised," have made him an elder statesman in the crossover territory between musical styles.

He’s not an easy act to replace.

But Savoca, who produces her own recordings in the same uncompromising spirit, plays a soulful, expansive musical blend that mixes funk, Motown, Latin and even Celtic and East Indian rhythms with achingly beautiful lyrics, as emotionally uncompromising as Heron’s are political. Heitzman’s astonishing guitar accompaniment seamlessly completes the sound, sometimes with a melody, sometimes with an inventive, atmospheric style that can take your breath away. Not only was the Savoca/Heitzman duo a hit, they out-sold every other featured artist in the CD tent at the festival, and were brought back to perform on the main stage again the following year.

Savoca’s last appearance in Missoula was just over a year ago on a tour with Greg Brown. This year she returns to play a benefit concert for the Clark Fork Coalition at the Blue Heron on Oct. 23. For those who need a memory jog, the Clark Fork Coalition is the water quality watchdog that has been hounding the Missoula public to support cleanup and dam removal at the Milltown Dam Superfund Toxic Waste Site (They’re the folks who brought you the ’50s retro “Ski Milltown” billboard on Stephens Avenue. Says one of the billboard’s fans. “I almost wrecked my bike when I saw that sign, I was laughing so hard.”)

Pete Heitzman says of their upcoming performance, “It’s good to be doing something positive for the world, in the midst of all the craziness” these days. Tracy Stone-Manning, the director at the Clark Fork Coalition, seconds that emotion, saying she is thrilled about Savoca’s appearance here.

“They have such a good spirit about them, it’s infectious,” she says. “It will be good to have them using their music to get people excited about [the Coalition’s] efforts.”

Stone-Manning describes the Clark Fork Coalition as a science-based organization whose mission is to protect and restore water quality in the Clark Fork River Basin. Their working territory extends from the river’s headwaters around Anaconda and Butte all the way to Lake Pend Oreille in northern Idaho, and includes all the drainages that feed into the Clark Fork River. The organization has been at the forefront of some of the most important campaigns to protect water quality in the last 16 years. Their last, greatest success was the defeat of the proposed Seven-Up Pete joint mining venture near Lincoln on the Blackfoot River.

A lot of work goes into keeping the Coalition membership involved and proactive on behalf of the river. “The day-to-day challenges,” Stone-Manning says, “have had us and our supporters standing up to risky hard-rock mines, calling for removal of an obsolete dam, brokering pollution-reduction agreements, spurring bans on phosphate detergents, forcing cleaner road building, pressing for cleanup at toxic waste sites, going after federal funds for reducing nutrient pollution, and pushing for water-sensitive and sustainable growth policies.”

If that sounds like the kind of work you think needs doing in our community, and our watershed, Stone-Manning invites you to join the fun. If you can, though, come on down to the Blue Heron and dance a little first.

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