In 2004, a musician with roots in central and northern New York came up with an idea for a fundraiser to help preserve the St. Lawrence River. Every Fourth of July weekend since then, singer-songwriter Jay Nash has led a group of musicians in the "Rock for the River" concert in Clayton, which benefits the non-profit group "Save the River." The events have been so popular, this year they've added another concert on Labor Day weekend. WRVO's Catherine Loper recently spoke with Nash about how his passions for the river and music intersect.
Catherine Loper: You grew up in Manlius?
Jay Nash: I did.
Catherine Loper: And you spent a lot of your summers in the Clayton and Thousand Islands area?
Jay Nash: Yeah, I did. I spent if not every weekend, nearly every weekend from May until Columbus Day at least up there in the Thousand Islands and Clayton. And then once I graduated from high school I started spending my summers there—my entire summers—and then it kind of slowly became my home base over time, and I kind of think of it as my soul’s home nowadays even though I live in Vermont and I’ve lived in Los Angeles, New York and Jackson Hole since I left central New York.
Catherine Loper: Do you feel that connection between music and your work with Save the River?
Jay Nash: Nine years ago back in 2004 I was living in Los Angeles and spending the better part of the summer obviously in Los Angeles, which is a long way away to commute to the river, so I missed being there. But I also found myself in a really incredible community of musicians and songwriters that was truly inspiring to be around so I was just looking for a way then to kind of meld the two worlds. It was kind of a long shot, you know, the first time out as far as bringing a group of musicians to northern New York, you know, to this place that none of them had ever heard of to play a benefit for an organization that they’d never heard of. In some ways, it seemed like a little bit of a long shot that they were going to enjoy that—that maybe the people of the North Country would enjoy their music—but it all kind of came together in a really beautiful way, that first night in 2004. And it ended up being this really authentic celebration of this place that all in attendance held so dear and hold so dear, and a celebration of music.
Catherine Loper: And tell me how Rock for the River has grown over the last ten years? It raises a lot of money for Save the River, and what is the purpose of that?
Jay Nash: Save the River is a member based non-profit organization. You know, they’ll tell you their primary cause is to protect the ecological interests of the upper St. Lawrence basin. It’s particularly important in this case because the St. Lawrence Seaway runs straight through this area. The St. Lawrence Seaway connects the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean, and the Great Lakes contain 20 percent of the world’s fresh water, so we’re talking about a critical location for ecological awareness. I consider it to be pretty important, especially since I grew up in this place where it was such a sanctuary for me, and so I’d like to see it stay that way for my kids and their kids.
Catherine Loper: Has all your time spent on the river, all those summers in your youth, has that inspired your music? Any particular songs?
Jay Nash: Yes, probably more than is appropriate in some cases. People probably say, “oh wow, that guy has a lot of songs about whiskey and rivers.” It is definitely a recurring theme.
Catherine Loper: Well, Jay Nash, thanks so much for taking the time for doing this interview, I really appreciate it.
Jay Nash: It’s my pleasure, thanks so much for having me.