‘All in WA’ COVID-19 concert features Native artists, Pearl Jam, Sir Mix-a-Lot and more

Vincent Schilling

Corporations and nonprofits pledge more than $45 million to assist Washington, mini-concert opens with Navajo hip-hop artist Travis Thompson

A wide array of artists, politicians, corporate leaders and more made appearances in a recent online concert in support of raising funds for COVID-19 relief for Washington state. Additional funds were also raised for the Potlatch Fund and the Na’ah Illahee Fund.

The June 24 project, titled “All In Washington: A Concert for COVID-19 Relief,” featured appearances and cameos from Pearl Jam, Sir Mix-A-Lot, Macklemore, Dave Matthews, actors Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Joel McHale and Rainn Wilson, whom many “The Office” fans would know as Dwight Shrute.

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In the project’s opening video, Navajo hip-hop artist Travis Thompson first gave a land acknowledgment to Washington tribes, then rapped in the 75-minute virtual concert.

Later on in the concert, after actors, athletes and artists told the stories of health professionals struggling on the front lines of COVID-19 and families seeking ways to get food after losing jobs, Indigenous spoken word artist Chad Charlie delivered a message of honor to and about the Indigenous tribes in Washington. The segment was directed by Native filmmaker Ben Alex Dupris, who was given guidance by “All in WA” project director Jason Koenig.

Charlie remarked on the importance of his spoken word poem and Native people affected by this pandemic.

“I feel that adding the Indigenous voice in this concert is powerful. Not only as a reminder to honor the land of which we live, but to honor the spirits that have been here for centuries. When I wrote this poem, I believe that it was necessary to share the words of Chief Seattle himself, in a contemporary format. That we are not alone in this fight,” said Charlie.

“Our ancestors have been through and seen fights like these before. In our culture, we understand the importance of welcoming those ancestors with open arms. It’s only right that we honor that history.”

Ben-Alex Dupris said he was honored to work with Jason Koenig and Bedonna Smith, who are reputable filmmakers and producers in the industry.

“I was very moved by both Jason and Bedonna's commitment to holding space for the tribes during the benefit, and it was very well-received. The feedback we got from our friends and family in the communities was very positive,” said Dupris.

“Allowing an Indigenous director the chance to share the blessing was next level cool! Hands up to them for understanding what it takes to bring a voice to the people.”

Executive producer Bedonna Smith says she wanted to show respect to Native tribes in Washington.

“When we got the opportunity to produce a concert for COVID-19 relief for the state of Washington, I wanted to include a land acknowledgment to show respect and honor the presence of the 29 federally recognized and other tribal people of the state. We wanted to present this honoring in a modern and cool fashion, and I knew that my longtime friend Ben-Alex Dupris, a member of the Colville Confederated Tribes, would have the understanding of the range of tribal people, including urban Natives.”

Smith said the Charlie and Dupris made a good team for a collective Native voice in the production. “Chad Charlie is a talented poet, singer and filmmaker in his own right, and when Ben-Alex and I sorted who could be the right voice to give us our 'modern blessing,' we knew Chad Charlie was our guy. Ben-Alex and I have been friends for 20 years, and as a producer, I have been honored to witness him come into his power as an artist and a filmmaker and loved his 'Sweetheart Dancers' documentary short that made the rounds last year.

“It is important in my work to create opportunities to work with Indigenous filmmakers and advance Native storytelling, so this element in the show, sending love out to Ben-Alex Dupris and Chad Charlie’s home state was a wonderful opportunity for us to have a great time working together,” said Smith.

Rainn Wilson - Sasquatch
Actor Rainn Wilson held a video conference with several Bigfoots.

Another piece of magic is that the person who made the concert possible at Amazon is Eileen Sullivan, senior manager, U.S. State Public Policy at Amazon, said Smith. “When I learned more about Eileen’s background in Washington state politics, I wondered if she had crossed tenures with Sue 'Crystal' Frank, Billy Frank Jr.’s wife. Billy Frank Jr. was such an inspiration, and I had the chance to get to know Billy and Sue when they were still with us. Sue Frank had given Eileen her first job way back when. So I felt like Billy had drawn us to this opportunity to all make it happen together."

Sullivan and the All In Washington lead staff all expressed their priority that the show let viewers know that the Potlatch Fund and the Na’ah Illahee Fund are important community funds in the AllinWA.org fundraising mechanism. They were thrilled to have Candice Wilson of Lummi Nation and the executive director of the Lhaq'temish Foundation give a shout to the Potlatch and Na’ah Illahee Funds in the show.

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Candice Wilson of Lummi Nation and the executive director of the Lhaq'temish Foundation spoke about the the Potlatch and Na’ah Illahee Funds in the "All in WA" virtual concert.

Director Jason Koenig told Indian Country Today about his directorial project and the importance of the Indigenous people’s history in the state:

“Music-wise Indigenous peoples have left their mark on Washington’s legacy, from Jimi Hendrix’s Cherokee roots to Nirvana’s first practice spaces being Indigenous peoples’ garages in Aberdeen (as they didn’t mind the music), to Travis Thompson, the up-and-coming Navajo Seattle rapper who opened our show with his song 'Glass Ceiling,' featuring Macklemore, Sir Mix-a-Lot and Geo from the Blue Scholars. I’ve known Travis since he was 15, and it is incredible to see how much his presence and cadence have ignited the last couple of years. He’s one of the best and brightest new talents in the game right now.”

Koenig also remarked on the importance of having Indigenous representation in his project as well as media in general.

“My last few years as a director, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about representation and how the Indigenous population is the most underrepresented in media. I think it’s super important that Native American kids, just like any other culture, get to see themselves represented and represented well, and what better way to do that then to hand the ball to a Native American filmmaker like Ben Alex. Ben brought in Chad Charlie, and they crafted the amazing spoken word land acknowledgment together, and he cut a piece that not only shows modern but traditional tribal culture as well as the incredible vistas of the land itself.”

Koenig also shared how Dupris managed to film remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Ben Alex remotely directed the camera crew on the ground shooting the segment, and then he edited the segment as well. Here is an Instagram link to behind the scenes of Ben Alex remote directing.”

“Ben Alex is an incredible filmmaker, and one of my favorite parts of the production process was just the two of us chatting about art and representation and the power of storytelling multiple times for multiple hours,” said Koenig.

“Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, my wife, Jenny, and I set out to make a love letter to all parts of Washington with this concert. We wanted to lift up everything that makes Washington unique and great. In so many ways, Washington has shaped global culture. It was fun talking to Ben about how the Indigenous spirit is so present in this place and comes out in the art and ethos of Seattle, which is a big part of what makes the Northwest different in the best way.

“I’m not Native, but I just looked up Bronson Koenig. That’s awesome we share a last name.”

"All In Washington: A Concert for COVID-19 Relief" is now available for a limited time on Amazon Prime: https://www.amazon.com/All-Washington-Concert-COVID-19-Relief/dp/B08BQ6XG9L

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Indian Country Today’s associate editor Vincent Schilling, Akwesasne Mohawk, is on Twitter @VinceSchilling and Instagram @VinceSchilling.

Email: vschilling@indiancountrytoday.com

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