Mention “Lampedusa: Concerts for Refugees,” and Mayor Jim Kenney beams with delight.
Only a handful of cities were selected to host this worldwide musical tour that raises awareness of the global refugee crisis, and Philly is one of them. The Merriam Theater opens its doors Wednesday, Oct. 19 for the benefit event. Performers include Grammy winners like Emmylou Harris, Patty Griffin, Steve Earle, Buddy Miller and Robert Plant, who will stand on stage in a semi-circle for a unique night of altruistic music.
“I am extremely proud Philadelphia is hosting this concert,” Kenney said. “Philadelphia is a global city and hosting this concert emphasizes that we are aware of what’s going on in the world and working to make a difference.”
There’s a second reason the mayor is excited about this particular affair: It was organized by Jesuit Refugee Service/USA. Kenney attended Jesuit-run St. Joe’s Prep, and feels he was profoundly shaped by his Jesuit education.
“Every decision I make as a public servant is viewed through the lens of a Jesuit perspective,” Kenney said. “One of the most famous quotes attributed to St. Ignatius of Loyola was ‘Go and set the world on fire.’ For me this means to be an agent for positive change and bring light to those in the dark. I employ this line of thinking in my job daily.”
Although he’s not able to attend himself, the mayor is hyped about the high level of recording artists participating in the show.
“These talents are bringing a lot of recognition to a great cause,” Kenney said. “I’m not currently involved in the Jesuit Refugee Service’s Global Education Initiative but….the more people who know what steps can be taken to aid the refugees the better.”
What is the initiative? And also, what is Lampedusa?
Though it doesn’t get name-checked too often stateside, Lampedusa is the Italian island that’s the primary entry point for European immigrants. As such, it’s become the symbol of Europe’s migrant crisis. The Jesuit initiative hopes to lessen the strain on countries struggling to handle unusually huge influxes of people applying for asylum — and help those people — by providing free educational programs to refugees.
The Lampedusa concerts will raise money for that effort, but they’re about more than just funding. They’re also about educating the masses. According to the Jesuit Refugee Service, the goal is to spread accurate information and get more people personally invested in providing aid.
How to do that? Celebrity names always help.
Most of the artists on this tour are friends — Plant and Griffin were actually a couple up until last year. Plant is taking a break from recording a new album with his band, the Sensational Space Shifters, to be part of the cause. Because, really, could there ever be a more appropriate time for him belt out Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song?”
“When I heard that some of my friends were rallying to do a series of concerts to help raise funds and awareness, to help address the basic needs of food, shelter and medical care, I wanted to help, in whatever way I could,” Plant said via a spokesperson.
“This appeal is trying to help on the ground wherever it can,” he continued. “I hope that my voice, along with my friends, helps bend the arc of the universe a little more toward the loving and helps with the work of getting the basic essentials of life to those who are without.”
Mayor Kenney agreed. “Refugees need help in their new home and this organization provides that,” he said. “I think it’s a great cause.
Lampedusa: Concert for Refugees takes place 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 19 at the Merriam Theater, 250 S. Broad St. Tickets start at $39.50.