Anna Fritz, photo from Western Friend
“Just wanted you to know what an inspiring show you put on tonight. My emotions were on a roller coaster. So many meaningful and heavy topics of your songs, but you carried us through them with your gentle, light, caring spirit.”
- Cynthia Mason, Sandpoint, ID
In June, thanks to help from the Pickett Endowment and several Friends at Multnomah Monthly Meeting in Portland, Oregon, I traveled to share a musical ministry with eight Friends Meetings in five different states. I’ve worked exclusively as a professional cellist for the last eight years, but in the last two have embraced my work as a folksinger and answered the call of a songwriting and performing ministry that touches on issues of earth, spirit, gender, and justice.
My journey began in my west coast home of Portland, Oregon. I traveled all 5,000 miles of this trip alone by car and my first stop was in Kennewick, Washington where Friends from the Mid-Columbia Worship Group gathered at a Friend’s home for a potluck and a living room performance. This concert was one of several on the trip that was only possible because of the financial support put in place ahead of time. The group that gathered was small: perhaps 10 or 12 people, but the voices raised in song together were strong and willing and Spirit moved palpably among us.
In the weeks that followed, I performed concerts at Sandpoint Friends Meeting in Idaho, Missoula Friends Meeting and Bozeman Friends Meeting in Montana, Twin Cities Friends Meeting in St. Paul, Minnesota, Madison Friends Meeting and Milwaukee Friends Meeting in Wisconsin. The groups that gathered in each town ranged from small living room gatherings to audiences of up to 85 people. Each performance was preceded by some waiting worship, either alone, or with the accompaniment of another Friend. The performances consisted of two sets of mostly original music, speaking along the way about connection to the land, working to halt climate change, the experiences of transgender people and the work Multnomah Meeting has been doing to become welcoming to people of all genders, the role of technology in our lives, violence against women, and how we look to Spirit and each other to hold us up in the work we’re doing. A hugely important part of my job as a folksinger is to teach people songs and get us all singing together. At each stop along the way, I found that folks were grateful and enthusiastic about participating.
As I crossed the West, I found that my song “Leave it in the Ground,” which specifically addresses the extraction and transportation of fossil fuels, was painfully relevant to every single community. I heard stories of mile-long oil trains passing through centers of towns, the damage done by coal dust, and communities working to stop the mining of sand for fracking. From Oregon to Wisconsin, I found no place untouched by the plundering of the fossil fuel industry. Everywhere I went, I found that folks were hungry to sing this song together and grateful to have it as a tool in their work to halt climate change. I also learned that this song has already been traveling on its own! When I taught Leave it in the Ground during a performance at Twin Cities Friends Meeting in St. Paul, Minnesota, someone in the audience piped up to say “We just sang this at a tar sands rally last week!”
My confidence in my role as a Quaker leader was bolstered heartily by the many warm and thankful responses to my performances on this tour. In Sandpoint, one person exclaimed that they hadn’t heard music this meaningful and inspiring since the ‘60s. Another said that they were relieved to see that this work is being carried on by another generation and likened my performance to Holly Near and Pete Seeger.
One exciting result of all the publicity work that went into this project was that the audiences at many of the Meetings I visited were made up of a mixture of Friends and people who had never set foot in a Quaker Meetinghouse before. In fact, a Friend at Sandpoint Meeting had an audience member approach her saying “if Anna’s songs are what Quakers are about, I want to know more about Quakers!” I didn’t set out on this journey to recruit anyone to Quakerism, but part of the leading that I’m striving to be faithful to asks that I stand with one foot in The Religious Society of Friends and the other in a more secular world. I suppose it makes sense that, through my performances, disparate communities may be brought together. Music happens to be good for that.
Multnomah Monthly Meeting