Indie

Five Artists On The Benefit Songs That Made A Difference In 2020

This year has been nothing short of devastating for just about everybody. We’ve all done our best to pay the bills, survive, and even help those around us to do the same. In the spirit of the latter, it’s been inspiring to see so many artists using their influence, talent, and resources to help those most in need this year.

We reached out to the artists behind some of our favorite benefit songs this year: Phoebe Bridgers, Amanda Shires, Yola, Sad13’s Sadie Dupuis, and Patrick Stickles of Titus Andronicus. They shed some light on the music, the causes they represented, and what it all means to them.

We’ve also included links to the organizations involved and a “How To Support” beneath each section. So if these songs and causes resonate with you, please consider donating to them if you’re able to.

Phoebe Bridgers – “If We Make It Through December” (Merle Haggard cover)

Benefiting Downtown Women’s Center, a Los Angeles organization focused exclusively on serving and empowering women experiencing homelessness and formerly homeless women.

So many of us are reeling from how COVID-19 pandemic stay-at-home measures are going to affect our usual holiday plans and traditions with our families. But the harsh reality for those living on the streets is that they likely wouldn’t have had the luxury of spending the holidays in a loving home to begin with. A Merle Haggard cover with Bridgers on vocals and Ethan Gruska on piano, this song is a message of hope during the holidays.

Bridgers shared some words with us about the song and the cause:

“I grew up listening to Merle Haggard because my grandma was Beatles-level obsessed with both him and Marty Robbins. They both have great Christmas records, but this song always stuck out because the idea of not having Christmas is unimaginable to me. My family is staunchly secular, but I’ve always had an over the top Christmas thanks to my mom (I’m 26 and I still get a stocking).

I wanted to donate the proceeds to Downtown Women’s Center because those resources are needed more than ever this year, and growing up in a domestically abusive household myself, I can’t stress how important the work they do really is.”

How to Donate: Visit DowntownWomensCenter.org

Amanda Shires – “The Problem” Feat. Jason Isbell

Benefiting Yellowhammer Fund, an abortion fund and reproductive justice organization in Alabama.

This gorgeous duet from Shires and Isbell was released concurrently with International Safe Abortion Day on September 28th. It’s a song about the considerations people make when considering this very difficult decision, as well as the insecurities, legalities, and hope for support that comes with it. This is a powerful statement from the couple, especially considering Isbell is originally from the state of Alabama where a legal battle for the “Human Life Protection Act” — which would effectively ban abortion in the state — is underway.

Shires sent us these words:

“‘The Problem’ is a conversation. It’s about supporting someone you love unconditionally.

I believe it is not the role of the federal or state government to deny us the right to make our own reproductive choices. Rather, it is the government’s charge to protect this right from any agency that might attempt to revoke it.

The Yellowhammer Fund is an abortion fund and reproductive justice organization serving Alabama and the Deep South. They offer community education and empowerment, policy advocacy to ensure friends, families, and neighbors never go without the things they need.

How to Donate: Visit Yellowhammerfund.org

Titus Andronicus – “Closer To Fine” (Indigo Girls cover)

Benefiting Fair Fight, who are fighting for voting rights in Georgia and beyond, and Mijente, a Latinx and Chicanx organization sparking movements for justice and self-determination for all people.

Delivered with Titus Andronicus’ signature literary punk sensibility, “Closer To Fine” is part of the Merge Records Going To Georgia album compilation, supporting the state’s Democratic Senate candidates in January’s crucial runoff election. The compilation also features Merge artists like Superchunk, Torres, Wye Oak, and others. And while the comp isn’t available for streaming in an effort to maximize fundraising, this fantastic version of “Closer To Fine” by the Indigo Girls is a fiery taste of the album’s Georgia-centric songs.

Titus Andronicus’ Patrick Stickles shared some words with us on the merits of the Indigo Girls and independent thought:

“There is plenty of information out there, from sources far more credible than myself, explaining why continued Republican control of the Senate is bad for our country and the world, but I feel slightly more qualified to speak on the subject of the Indigo Girls, as I have been a student of theirs for almost thirty years. Back in the early ’90s, my mother would play ‘Closer To Fine’ over and over again — she even made a cassette tape for the car where one side was just that song on repeat, so I guess you could say she predicted the phenomenon of the ‘repeat’ button that would become so popular later on.

I always liked the song, but it wasn’t until I recorded my cover version that I realized the impact that having this song burned into my brain at such a young age has had on the way that I approach my life and my artistry. The Indigo Girls sing about the necessity of independent, critical thinking, and of skepticism towards those who would appoint themselves the gatekeepers of supposed ‘absolute truths.’ They encourage the listener to reject the ‘categorical imperative,’ and to accept a healthy amount of ambiguity (though not ambivalence) when it comes to life’s great mysteries. I realize that I have sung about these things many times in my own lyrics, and I wonder now if it wasn’t ‘Closer To Fine’ that set me along that path. Thanks for that, Indigo Girls, and thank you, Mom, for being such a righteous radical, then and now.”

How to Support: Pick up the Going To Georgia compilation album on Bandcamp.

Yola – “Hold On” Feat. Brandi Carlile, Sheryl Crow, Natalie Hemby, and Jason Isbell

Benefiting National Bailout Collective, who help bail out Black women and support their futures, and MusiCares, providing a safety net and critical assistance to people in the music community.

As a British woman of color, Yola is an exciting and unique emerging talent in roots music, nominated for four Grammys last year. She teams up on this one with three members of country supergroup The Highwomen and Jason Isbell on guitar, singing to a new generation of young Black women with cautious optimism. She paints the picture of a conversation she had with her mother and how important it has been for her to be visible as a young, talented Black woman.

Yola enlightened us to the song’s meaning and about the charities she chose:

“One of my late Mama’s favourite songs was ‘Waterfalls’ by TLC. I think she was worried how quickly I was growing up and how eagerly I wanted to be out in the world. So the first verse is like an ode to that TLC song’s chorus. The second verse is in a similar vein warning that not everyone is as happy as they seem. Now in truth, I was banned from pursuing music, the chorus is the sentiment I always wanted to hear. One that says, ‘yes, all that is true, not all that glitters is gold,’ so stay vigilant and focus on what is most important to you. Put who you are at the forefront of what you do. I didn’t come from money, so doing that can be risky.

I chose National Bailout as a charity to support, because it gets people back on track. Simply being poor is a common reason people are in jail and maybe can’t chase those dreams. I also chose MusiCares because we know we will be the last industry to get back to full strength. It’s important that we support musicians until we get there, especially when increasingly poorer musicians have to compete with trust fund kids. Having support financially, medically, and personally can be vital to a musician that doesn’t come from privilege.

‘Hold On’ is a song of self worth and hope, especially when it’s hard. I think the National Bailout Collective and MusiCares exemplify both by valuing people and helping create more hopeful futures.”

How to Support: Visit MusiCares and the National Bailout Collective.

Sad13 – “Shit For Christmas”

Benefiting Feeding America, a nonprofit network of more than 200 food banks that feed more than 46 million people through food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, and other community-based agencies.

Sad13’s Sadie Dupuis is tireless. In between her band Speedy Ortiz, releasing the latest Sad13 LP, Haunted Painting, and managing her label Wax Nine Record’s poetry journal, she’s written this song for the Father/Daughter & Wax Nine Records Simply Having A Wonderful Compilation. In classic Sad13 fashion, her wits are very much about her on this one as the riffs even poke fun at classic carols. It’s one of the many highlights on the comp which also features songs from Melkbelly, Ohmme, Tasha, Diet Cig, and more.

Dupuis checked in with us to comment on her yearly spirit of giving music:

“Earlier in 2020 I worked with Jessi on a Father/Daughter & Wax Nine co-released tribute album to Adam Schlesinger, which was so meaningful to both of us and raised a good amount of money for MusiCares’ Covid-19 relief fund in Adam’s name. It’s a really positive cap to the year to team up with Jessi again on Simply Having A Wonderful Compilation, this time supporting Feeding America. Food banks and hunger relief organizations need support year-round but especially in the winter, and especially this year. I’m psyched we were able to corral some of our favorite artists to get into the holiday spirit and join us in fundraising.

I somehow manage to write and record and release a holiday song pretty much every year. Usually it’s haphazard and last minute — last year I started about 6 hours before it premiered on Jon Solomon’s annual WPRB Xmas Marathon show, which is my other favorite holiday tradition. But knowing so many friends had already recorded amazing originals and covers was just the pressure I needed to get this done ON HALLOWEEN in time for our mastering deadline (the most prepared I will ever be for anything winter related). As for the subject matter, I am quite literally staying home and “not doing shit for Christmas” and I hope all of you will join me in that from afar!”

How to support: Buy the Simply Having A Wonderful Christmas comp on Bandcamp, all proceeds benefit Feeding America.

Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.

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