Following Earth Day, the Great Bay of New Jersey’s coast will be the recipient of its very own serenade. Ben Sollee, an accomplished musician and proud Kentucky native, will be spending a week in one of the Northeast’s most pristine estuaries. Sollee’s stay is part of a series of songwriting retreats organized by nonprofit Sustain Music and Nature. The Songscapes program partners bands with public land areas to create new music inspired by American landscapes. It’s an effort to generate new audiences for our public lands and waterways while bringing awareness to the issues they face.
Sollee will spend April 24-27 at Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge and Rutgers University’s Marine Field Station (RUMFS), in the Mullica River-Great Bay ecosystem. While only 30 minutes north of Atlantic City and two hours from New York City, the landscape and seascape couldn’t be more peaceful. As one of America’s 500+ National Wildlife Refuges, the refuge is key in providing critical habitat for birds, shellfish, wildlife and fish. The Mullica River-Great Bay’s cultural history and scenic source waters will unfold like a living book. The system is typical of many estuaries as it occurs along a gradient from freshwater bogs downstream to the ocean. It is atypical in that it is in a near-natural state due to the minimal impacts from development of the New Jersey Pinelands and the visionary protection of the estuary. Thousands of acres of salt marshes and forests protect the waters of the system and provide extensive habitat for fish, crabs, birds and marine mammals. During this retreat, Sollee will experience the Great Bay by kayak, research vessel, and foot while birdwatching, engaging in marine research, and seeing firsthand the effect climate change and sea level rise has had on coastal forests.
Sollee is no stranger to using his music to inspire change and bring attention to environmental issues. His “Ditch the Van” tour had him and his cello cycling between show venues. He’s given lectures on sustainability in the music industry at SXSW and TEDx in San Diego, and used his talents to bring awareness to mountain top removal strip mining in Appalachia. You may have heard Sollee’s work in ABC’s Parenthood or HBO’s Weeds, or Killing Season, a film starring John Travolta and Robert De Niro.
The Songscape project will be documented by Emmy-award winning videographer, Mallory Cunningham, who will collect footage of Sollee’s time at the refuge. Following the retreat, Sollee will create a new song inspired by his experiences. The song will be released alongside Cunningham’s music video later this year, and Ben will add the song to his set list as he tours around the country. Proceeds from song sales will help support Friends of Forsythe, Sustain and Sollee.
“From the upriver UNESCO-designated Pinelands National Reserve through the Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve to the coastal Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, over one million acres of primal nature are accessible to get spiritually lost or found in. The delights of these lands were tasted as a teenager on family paddles through the pines and developed as an undergrad taking maritime classes nearby at Stockton University. Sharing the delectable flavor of the Mullica-Great Bay system with others has become integral to my continued existence,” says RUMFS’ marine scientist, Roland Hagan. “National Wildlife Refuges provide not only critical habitat for wildlife, they provide us with incredible beauty and opportunity for adventure. But not enough people know about them, even though they are our lands. That’s why we’re using music as a way to show Sollee’s fans that these places are out there, and that they’re important to support,” explains Betsy Mortensen, co-founder of Sustain Music and Nature.
Songscape: Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge is the third Songscape to be held at a National Wildlife Refuge, following last year’s retreat at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Salt Lake City, with indie artist, Conner Youngblood.
To learn more about the project visit the Sustain website: https://www.sustainmusicandnature.org/songscape-forsythe-nwr
To support this project, please donate. There are also available sponsorships: https://www.sustainmusicandnature.org/contact