Billy Bragg stages impromptu benefit concert near troubled Ferguson

British rocker Billy Bragg staged an impromptu concert in St. Louis, Missouri on Tuesday (19Aug14) amid escalating violence in nearby Ferguson. Tensions have been high in the area following the death of teenager Michael Brown, who was gunned down as he attempted to surrender to police investigating a robbery incident on 9 August (14). The incident has prompted violent clashes with protesters and local law enforcement officers, and a number of celebrities have offered up their thoughts on the issues facing the city.
But folk singer and political activist Bragg and touring partner Joe Purdy decided to actually go there to see them for themselves during their current American tour, and decided to take a detour to stage a spontaneous benefit concert.
Bragg tells Rolling Stone, “A number of people said to me on Twitter, ‘If you’re going to go to St. Louis, are you going to go to Ferguson?’ But we didn’t want to just go there and walk through Ferguson and be tourists. We wanted to do something for the community.”
Through local connections, Bragg was put in touch with Steven Fitzpatrick Smith, the owner of local St. Louis pub the Royale, who has been attending the protests. Smith not only offered up his venue for the gig, but also asked fans attending to collect food, funds, and medical and school school supplies for a food pantry at a Ferguson church.
During the gig, Bragg performed some of his own tracks such as I Keep Faith, and also covered tunes pointed towards the unrest happening nearby, singing protest songs like Woody Guthrie’s Hangknot, Slipknot and George Perkins’ Cryin’ in the Streets, while Purdy joined him for Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are a-Changin’.
Bragg called on the 200 fans at the gig to take action and change the way the troubled city is perceived, stating, “The true enemy of all of us who want to make the world a better place is not capitalism or conservatism, it’s cynicism. You have the opportunity to show the world that St. Louis is not a cynical place.”
Bragg and Purdy’s activism began early on Tuesday, when they met with railroad workers on strike and picketing teachers in Illinois, and they also performed for inmates at the Iowa State Penitentiary.