The Fort Bragg Whale Festival this weekend (March 15-16) was a time to celebrate the survival of the California Grey Whale, which 30 years ago had been nearly hunted to extinction. Adam Miller — folksinger, storyteller, autoharp virtuoso — may not be so lucky. He and local folk singer/artist Holly Tannen entertained 35 men, women and children with Sea Chanteys at the Fort Bragg Public Library today. Bringing to life the songs that have lifted the spirits of sailors for centuries, we got our own boost with incredible music and songs from our past. But what struck me most was a conversation I had with Miller after the show. An Oregon resident who travels the country performing 200 days a year for schools, libraries and folk music assemblies said his performing days may numbered – the victim of rising oil prices.
It was the thirst for whale oil that nearly killed off the Sperm Whale in the 19th Century and it is the world’s thirst for oil today that may make touring just too expensive for Miller. “I just did my taxes and I spent $9,000 on gasoline during 2007. I can’t imagine what it will be in the future.” When you earn just $75 for a one-hour performance, you can quickly compute the economics. And they aren’t good. Here’s a man who gives you a little history lesson with the music, and sings his heart out. He appears to be having so much fun, it’s hard to believe he has done this thousands of times. Among his performances around the country are cowboy songs and ballads, women in folk song, songs of the American labor movement, songs of Woody Guthie, Halloween songs, and railroading on the Great Divide to mention a few. What a shame it would be to see this talented man go the way of other extinct species all because of our seemingly endless thirst for oil.