Saturday, Sept 27 I attended the Harvest The Hope Concert nine miles north of Neligh, Nebraska. This wasn’t any ordinary music concert. It was a benefit headlined by none other than Neil Young and Willie Nelson, on behalf of a handful of grass-roots groups fighting the Keystone XL Pipeline in my home state of Nebraska.
The event was massive. Over 7000 tickets were sold and many acres of cornfield were sacrificed on Art and Helen Tanderup’s family farm to allow for parking, vendors, stage and seating. Even with a handicapped parking permit, my recent leg surgery meant I needed a little help from my friends to make it all the way to a location for our lawn chairs.
But I was on a mission. I’d recently harvested my own hope: a golden delicious bounty produced by the industrious little honeybees given to me by an elderly friend as a birthday gift. I had a handful of small bottles labeled with my apiary name, Bees Against the Pipeline, and I was determined to deliver them to concert organizers, and, if I could, the performers themselves.
So not long after settling in I decided I had better get busy. I crutched my way up to the front, only to meet with the first line of security defense who demanded my badge to enter the preferred seating area in front of the stage. I didn’t have one, but I had plenty of friends in that area. As luck would have it, one of the most physically imposing and friendliest was near enough to hear me call him over.
My friend eventually talked the security guards into letting me pass, not only into the preferred seating area but all the way back stage. He left me there and wished me luck. The small open ground behind the stage was a busy place. As soon as I recognized venue landowner Art Tanderup from his TV appearance on The Ed Show last week, I made a beeline to introduce myself to him.
Art Tanderup appears on the Ed Show flanked by Jane Kleeb of Bold Nebraska and Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network, Monday, Sept 22, 2014
Mr. Tanderup was every bit as sweet and kind a man as he appears. When I presented him with my homemade token he was genuinely touched. I thanked him for all he had done on behalf of the pipeline opposition, and he shared with me his personal experiences leading up to the day’s events.
A seemingly ordinary farmer, Art Tanderup had not had an ordinary year. His small community had become a focal point for pipeline debate after he had agreed to cut a gigantic image of the Cowboy and Indian Alliance, a symbol of pipeline opposition, into his corn field. The project meant giving up arable cropland equivalent in size to 80 football fields – and with it a substantial part of his annual income – as a symbolic gesture of solidarity with the anti-KXL pipeline movement. It was a bold move, and one that had turned many in his community against him.
Art described how he and his wife were treated differently now. Differently by the few who supported their cause, and very differently by those who disapproved of it. Suddenly people they had known for years would no longer say hello, and the whole dynamic of just making the routine trip to town had changed.
Even getting ready for the concert had opened a fresh personal affront. “I had a neighbor who was going to provide parking on his land,” he said. “He agreed one day and then the next day he backed out.”
It had been a heartbreaking experience for them, but Art was adamant that he would not give in. Not to the local societal pressure to conform, and not to the big corporation who wanted to put a foreign product pipeline through land that had been in his family for 100 years, endangering the water supply on which his livelihood depended. “We will never give up, no matter what,” he told me, as his eyes welled up.
I hugged Art and told him he was an honorable man. I wished him well, and assured him that I and many others supported his fight.
Art is clearly made of sterner stuff than his big teddy bear appearance suggests. As he walked away I wondered if I could do what he and Helen had done, and were now doing, in the face of such anger and hostility from lifelong friends and neighbors.
My leg was aching, and I was becoming acutely aware of the pressure my good foot was being forced to sustain. So I found some one who agreed to pass my small offerings along to the three remaining intended recipients.
Knowing that once I left the backstage area I’d never be allowed back in, I looked for a handy spot from which to observe the activity before undertaking the long trek back. It turned out to be a space behind the speakers to one side of the stage where my view of the performers was limited, but a clear view of those climbing the stairs to the stage was available. So I settled in, hyper-aware that my obvious lack of a badge of any type could get me ejected without recourse.
Periodically I overheard the walkie-talkies of the crew moving about all around me erupt with disembodied voices hinting that the big performers were about to arrive. I should stay here and just wait until Willie & Neil come, I thought, and then with any luck I might have a perfect camera angle to capture their arrival. Luckily, no one bothered me, probably because I looked harmless enough with my gimpy leg, and the general vibe in the area was busy but hospitable.
I waited for what seemed like a long time. I knew I wasn't really entitled to be there, and I began to wonder about my friends back in the audience who had been so worried about my well-being and ability to get around. It wasn’t exactly polite to leave them like this, not really knowing where I was. Willie’s sons Micah and Lucas went onstage, and while their performance was outstanding, I couldn't really see much. I kept thinking that my chance to photograph and be just a few feet away from the great Willie Nelson and the hero of my youth, Neil Young, was only moments away, and I should stay just a bit longer.
But suddenly, I realized, the experience had been enough. I was too old to be behaving like a silly groupie anyway.
As I paused for a breather about half way back to my seat I recognized the unmistakable sound of Willie Nelson joining his sons on stage. Yes, I had been only moments away from being close to a living legend, and possibly getting a photo of him. A man who had made a name for himself not just in music, but as a big hero of the American farmer.
But it didn’t matter. I had met the true hero: Art Tanderup. I had had a brief heart to heart talk with him and shared a friendly hug. I’d heard first hand about his trials and his determination, and I’d offered him my support. Art was the real hero of the day: an easy-going, ordinary Nebraska farmer doing a very difficult and extraordinary thing.
I think both Willie and Neil would have agreed.