New Compilation Album Brings Landmine Awareness

Emmylou Harris fuels activist artists' collaboration.

A new compilation album in support of the Campaign for a Landmine Free World features live performances by such singer/songwriters as Emmylou Harris, Nanci Griffith, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Kris Kristofferson and John Prine.

The performances for the CD, Concerts for a Landmine Free World, set for release April 10, were gathered from a series of live benefit concerts organized by Harris and held in California in December 1999 and a second series in the Northeast U.S. and Canada in December of 2000.

"Emmy has been involved in this cause for some time now," said Gail Griffith, director of special projects for the Campaign for a Landmine Free World, which was founded by the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation (VVAF) and seeks to address the dangers and damage caused by anti-personnel mines. "We have been friends for over 30 years now and she was reading the book, 'The English Patient,' became concerned over the kind of devastation landmines cause and told me she wanted to get involved."

The landmine cause was first brought to public awareness through the efforts of the late Princess Diana and the subsequent 1997 Nobel Peace prize awarded to organizers of the global grassroots movement. According to the US Department of State, there are between 60 and 80 million landmines buried in the ground worldwide. According to the VVAF, every 22 minutes someone is killed or maimed by one, and 90 percent are civilians. The United States Senate has still not ratified the landmine ban treaty.

Harris began assembling people, including Sheryl Crow, Steve Earle and Gillian Welch, and scheduled a first concert in Washington, D.C., in 1998. They discussed how to take the show on the road and Harris came up with the idea to pare down the shows to a singer/songwriter circle in smaller venues to raise money and awareness.

In addition, Harris, in conjunction with the VVAF, has led artist expeditions to Vietnam and Cambodia, where the organization has clinics for landmine victims.

"When these artists get involved in the charity, they don't just lend their names — they're hands-on," said John Terzano, vice-president of the VVAF. "It's been an extraordinary experience having the opportunity to travel with these people and watch them interact with those that we're helping. It's really rewarding."

The VVAF have also set up small facilities where landmine victims in northern Cambodia make handwoven traditional scarves, which Harris, Carpenter and Griffith wear and auction off at their concerts.

"For example, Nanci has been out there touring on her own, totally separate from us, and she's always talking about our programs," Terzano noted. "She is always wearing these silk scarves and talking about them, auctioning them off at her shows. What they've done is turn their own fan base on to our causes. That's one of the reasons why we've been so successful and gotten the responses from the American people."

Steve Earle, who contributes a performance of his song "Christmas in Washington" (RealAudio excerpt of original) to the CD, accompanied Harris on one of these overseas trips. "This started out as networking for me," he said. "I would do Emmy's landmine stuff and she would do my death penalty stuff. Then I … went to Vietnam and Cambodia and saw the work that VVAF is doing for myself. It changed my life."

Vanguard Records' senior A&R vice president, Steve Buckingham, became interested in an album documenting the shows. "Vanguard has had a tradition of being associated with left wing causes from back in the 1950's," he said, "and this — while certainly not a controversial subject — and because of the artists involved, seemed like a perfect fit for us."

Buckingham plowed through the tapes, looking for the best performances, and said he found enough material for a first CD, as well as for a second, later album. The musicians have donated their artist royalties to the project and Vanguard will donate a share of royalties and will give the VVAF a thousand copies of the CD for promotional and fund-raising purposes.

Other tracks on the CD include Kristofferson singing his "Shipwrecked in the '80s," "Big Ol' Goofy World" by John Prine, "The Mines of Mozambique" by Bruce Cockburn and Harris' performance of "The Pearl" (RealAudio excerpt of original).

"There will never be peace in a country like Cambodia or Angola or Afghanistan as long as there are landmines," Harris said in a statement. "I do think people are compassionate and want to do the right thing, but they don't know how."