St. Augustine is a conflicted place, frustratingly conservative and refreshingly cosmopolitan–even bohemian–all at the same time. Why? The Ancient City benefits (and suffers) from layer upon layer of historical complexity. Founded by Spaniards, conquered by the British, then back to Spain again, and now frequented by tourists from around the world, it is also home to a deep-rooted Cracker culture whose horizons are still hopelessly bound by the Mason-Dixon line.
But there’s one thing on which everyone can agree: the region’s waterways are beautiful and essential. St. Augustine owes them a great deal, beginning with the Ancient City’s founding in 1565 as a Gulf Stream stopover for the Spanish treasure fleets laden with ill-gotten gold. The city’s historic district is surrounded on three sides by water, and the confluence of the San Sebastian and Matanzas rivers is about a mile south of the Plaza de la Constitución. These waterways have historically provided sustenance, protection and transportation. Modern Americans have added recreation to the mix. What’s not to love?
Most folks also agree that these waterways are under threat due to overdevelopment, runoff and rising seas. One citizen has decided to channel this community consensus into action–and entertain St. Augustine’s music-lovers in the process. Taylor Bush presents Rhythm for the River, an environmental benefit show that is headlined by Virginia-based experimental folk duo, Lobo Marino, and starring several local acts. The idea is simple: encourage folks to support homegrown nonprofits that are taking immediate action to preserve and protect local waterways.
“I feel that people are overwhelmed by environmental turmoil,” Bush told Folio Weekly, “but they want to help. They want to give back. And, even though St. Augustine is a small town, we have lots of initiatives happening that could use their help.”
One of them is the Matanzas Riverkeeper, a grassroots nonprofit led by lawyer and environmental advocate, Jen Lomberk. Bush has selected the Riverkeeper as the main beneficiary of Rhythm for the River.
“I chose them because, first, it’s a woman in power and, second, because [the organization is] very active,” Bush explained. “[Lomberk] is a lawyer, so she’s working to preserve certain areas through legislation. She’s a very powerful, very passionate woman. I think
she’s gonna get stuff done. She’ll speak at the event and tell us how we can help.”
Activism may be the main event, but the music isn’t just window-dressing. All the players have been invited as much for their environmental sensibilities as for their sound. Named for the mighty Pacific sea lion, headliners Lobo Marino have been on the road proselytizing ecology for years. When not on tour, the folk duo are busy building their own community utopia in Richmond, Virginia. Their farm, Earth Folk Collective, is a hub of DIY culture.
“Lobo Marino is a huge inspiration for the event,” said Bush. “Their activism made me realize I could go bigger and make music connect the community in mindful ways to take action.”
So she recruited a lineup of local musicians who share that vision, including twin-brother indie-pop duo The Dewars and woke folk group Sam and Luci. Singer/songwriter Elizabeth Nova originally hails from Cincinnati but has called St. Augustine home for the past eight years.
“Rivers are the blood of the planet,” she said.
Lauren Gilliam, one half of The WillowWacks, said, “There’s so much in the world that you want to stand up for and change, but this small event is something you can get behind and feel 100 percent good about. It goes to the water we drink, the wildlife, the future of Florida. You don’t have to be a hippie to see the value in that.”