At Pathway To Paris, Patti Smith And Her Daughter Make Saving The Planet A Family Affair

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Ahead of her brief two-song solo set at the Pathway To Paris benefit at Los Angeles’ Theatre At The Ace Hotel on Sunday night, Yeah Yeah Yeah’s leader Karen O told a story. She recalled being backstage and running into the night’s headliner and frequent MC, Patti Smith. According to Karen, the two spoke about their children, with Karen telling Patti that “she hoped her son grows up to be a badass eco-warrior,” like Patti’s daughter has become.

It’s the kind of backstage encounter that might be a far cry for the debauchery and revelry that rock concerts are often imagined to have, with booze and drugs replaced by a couple feminist icons discussing motherhood. And there was something inspiring about the way Karen recalled the exchange, with surely one of her musical heroes now becoming one of her parenting inspirations. In fact, seeing the work that Patti Smith’s daughter, Jesse Paris Smith, is doing with her environmental activist organization, Pathway To Paris, is inspiring for anyone who thinks they could be working a little harder to make a difference.

Pathway To Paris describes itself as an initiative, bringing together artists, musicians, activists, celebrities, academics, politicians, and anyone else interested in trying to solve the world’s environmental crisis. Beginning in 2015, they’ve been putting on concerts and events, all with the goal of turning the Paris Agreement into a reality. The goal of the Paris Agreement is to keep the increase of global average temperature below 2° above pre-industrial levels and to limit the increase to 1.5°, since this would substantially reduce the risks and effects of climate change. It’s the same agreement that President Trump announced plans to withdraw from shortly after taking office, and the same one that is seeing many countries changing their policies to find ways to reduce the human footprint on the environment.

Jesse Paris Smith and her co-founder Rebecca Foon have put on a number of similar concerts to what took place in Los Angeles this past Sunday, dating back three years and featuring the likes of Thom Yorke, Michael Stipe, Cat Power, and Thurston Moore in cities like New York, Paris, Montreal, and San Francisco. And beyond running the organization, both women showed off their musical chops, backing a number of the performers on keys and cello respectively. It’s easy to imagine the pride that Patti feels at these events, where her daughter has dedicated her life to the thankless task of saving the planet, all while putting on concerts that manage to both entertain and inform music fans by the thousands.

That “inform” element of the evening took center stage more so than at other benefits, but never in a manner that felt inappropriate. One moment of the show was a pause to have everyone sign a petition on their phone, another was a break to write a letter to California’s soon-to-be governor. Where many charity events take time to talk the talk, Pathway To Paris is about enacting real change and using their resources, which include the people who attend their concerts, to their advantage. Coupling these moments of activism with a spoken word poem from Patti or a reading of a letter written specifically for this event from the Dalai Lama easily put things in perspective. Here were these great public figures volunteering their time and their art for perhaps the defining cause of a generation, writing a simple letter felt like the least the audience could do.

Throughout the night, speakers like the founders and Tony Hawk noted the commitment that the musicians who performed had for the environment. Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea has been a frequent participant at Pathway To Paris concerts, and on this night he performed both on his own (you haven’t lived until you’ve seen Flea try his hat at solo bass live compositions) and by backing up Patti. Karen O offered up a couple of her most lovely contributions from the Where The Wild Things Are soundtrack. And everyone from Jim James to Talib Kweli brought their A-game for brief sets, where musical genre didn’t really matter to the audience that spanned the age spectrum.

But the night seemed to center around Patti and the relationship she has with her daughter. Known for a career filled with writing protest songs, performing for charity organizations, and using her voice to enact change, the elder Smith was quick to note that she would have never considered herself an activist in her young age. It was clear that she views the work that she does and the work that her daughter does on different planes, that her daughter’s title of “activist” was something that was earned and should not be taken lightly.

But their relationship also put things in a different sort of perspective. In fact, it was relationships between parents and children that kept surfacing on Sunday night. During Patti’s set, she dedicated “Dancing Barefoot” to Flea’s daughter who was turning 30 years old, waving hello to her with a huge smile on her face. All of these parents who graced the stage are working to make the planet habitable for their children and for future generations of children to come. Through Patti Smith and her daughter, in particular, they are able to team up for this cause, both using their specific skills and crafts to make a literal difference. It’s not just a situation where a mother must be so proud of her daughter, but where they can look at each other with an equal sense of pride. It sets the bar high for anyone to represent their family, and humanity as a whole, to their fullest ability. And that might be the only way that our rapidly degrading planet has a chance.

Find out more about Pathway To Paris here.