California native Holly Near has been performing and speaking up for social change for 40 years. An outspoken advocate for peace and justice, she has recorded 24 albums as lead artist, and participated in dozens of collaborations with similarly-committed musicians, including several with Weaver veteran Ronnie Gilbert, with whom she has toured extensively.

Singer/songwriter Near will perform Friday evening, May 12, at Napa United Methodist Church. The proceeds will benefit local town halls and other activities inspired by the well-attended Women’s March Napa Valley held on Jan. 21.

On the phone last week, Near talked about how she perceives her role as an artist and activist, particularly in light of the politics of the moment. “What I do is sing to people in hopes of helping with their spirits, to put this experience in context,” she said. “This is no different from what I have done all my life. It’s not a big change for me.

“As long as I’ve been conscious of being a singer and a thinker about social change, there’s always been one horrific thing after another to respond to. Human beings have been capable of horrific things since the beginning of recorded history, but there have also been people who have done great things with beauty and kindness and compassion. That’s who I want to be with. I want to hear their stories.”

“If we depend on mainstream news, we’ll never get to know those people,” she added. “So my advice to people who are in a state of despair is to say, ‘Hang out with different people.’ Go be with people who can inspire you and remind you what empathy and compassion look like, and just hang on for dear life to that part of the community, to that part of human capacity.

“People who come to my shows have said, ‘Gosh, if I could have this once a week, you know, this would be my church, to come together with like-minded people and remember who we are.’

“I’m very thrilled that Napa is continuing to lead the people who got excited by the Women’s March. I think it’s really important. I’m going to be very glad to be there. I’m like a cheerleader, I guess.”

For the performance, Near will be accompanied by long-time sidekick Jan Martinelli on bass, and by pianist Tammy Hall. “Tammy does a solo overture in the show that will take people’s breath away,” Near said. “I love working with these two people. I think the audience will really enjoy them.”

Friday, May 12, 7:30 p.m. $25 general admission. Napa United Methodist Church, 625 Randolph St., Napa. Tickets at eventbrite.com.

More than BottleRock in May

There’s plenty going on beside BottleRock this month. Headliners at Blue Note Napa include the Pete Escovedo Orchestra, six shows through Saturday, May 6; two noted ladies of jazz, Paula West on May 12 and Clairdee on Mother’s Day, May 14; and the David Benoit Trio, six shows May 18-20. $15-$55. BlueNoteNapa.com.

For Pink Floyd fans, the long-running Paramount Laser Spectacular makes it’s way to the Uptown Theatre. Friday, May 5. $30-$45. UptownTheatreNapa.com.

The area’s celebrated children’s chorus, VOENA, performs on May 6 at the Napa Valley Performing Arts Center at Lincoln Theater in Yountville. $25. Lincoln Theater.com.

Local talent at Silo’s includes jazz piano veteran Mike Greensill’s performances with no cover every Wednesday (with Wesla Whitfield on May 31), Shelby, Texas with Zak Fennie on May 4 and Otis & the Smokestacks on May 25. $7-$10. SilosNapa.com.

David Kerns is a Napa-based freelance journalist. You can view more of his work at DavidKerns.com.

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