They rocked the line.
At a free concert to raises awareness for a controversial oil-pipeline proposal, Sarah Harmer, Minotaurs, Hayden and Gord Downie and the Sadies all offered mini-sets of music on their own before gathering for a stage-crowding finale of I Walk the Line, the boom-chicka-boomed Johnny Cash classic. The foggy-affair, dubbed Rock the Line and held under intimidating clouds at Toronto's Mel Lastman Square, was concerned with the risks of an oil-sands scheme proposed by the Calgary-based energy distributor Enbridge Inc.
"If I can get involved in pipeline issues, so can you," suggested Harmer, an environmentally conscious songstress who will be an intervener at this week's National Energy Board hearings in Montreal. Enbridge seeks approval to reverse the flow and increase the capacity of the Line 9 and Line 9B pipelines that run from Sarnia, Ont., to Montreal.
In front of more than a thousand music fans and petition-signers, Harmer sang melodically about inspiration – "If I only had one match left, I would try to light a fire between us" – and warbled importantly and elegantly on Escarpment Blues, a 2005 protest against a quarry development near in the Niagara Escarpment. The lyrics consider the repercussions of a hole being blown in her backyard, and the effect on the area's water wells.
Speaking of backyards, Enbridge's Line 9B flows quietly beneath northern Toronto and near Harmer's own home north of Kingston, Ont.
Harmer's appearance was preceded by a rugged set from Kingston-native Gord Downie, backed by Toronto cosmic-country crew the Sadies. Though Downie questioned what he called a "new pollution delivery system," the pipeline has been carrying crude oil since the mid-1970s. However, Enbridge's proposal involves carrying diluted bitumen, a nastier substance than standard crude.
(An Enbridge spill in 2010 gushed more than three million litres of oil into the Kalamazoo River near Marshall, Mich. The calamitous episode has cost the company upwards of $1-billion, and the cleanup job is still unfinished.)
One of the afternoon's speakers was Tim Gray, executive director of Environmental Defence, the group that was co-host of the concert with Harmer. The pipeline is a federal concern, but Harmer and Environmental Defence are urging the Ontario government to become involved in the process of assessing the environmental impact of the pipeline. Gray's ultimate wish, not surprisingly, is that "oil stay in the ground."
Early on, five songs of tuneful, murmuring folk-rock grunge from Paul (Hayden) Desser and his two-piece rhythm section included a cover of Neil Young's Powderfinger. The song could be seen as eco-minded, given its theme of a protection against an impending threat. One man's marauding gunboat is another man's potential oil spill.