Folksinger Si Kahn wears his politics on his sleeve. A lifelong civil rights and labor activist, he's written so many populist anthems--including standards like "Gone, Gonna Rise Again" and "Mississippi Summer"--that a handful of his set lists could double as a union organizer's chapbook. Proceeds from his records and concerts benefit Grassroots Leadership, a social-justice advocacy group he founded in the 70s. And even in his love songs, a shared struggle for a worthy cause is at least as important a bond as romantic infatuation. That's not to say he's always on a soapbox, though: instead of preaching, Kahn follows his poet's instincts, embodying his principles in warmhearted, sympathetic characters. On his latest CD, Been a Long Time (Sliced Bread), the arrangements augment his guitar with bluegrass banjo, fiddle, mandolin, and dulcimer, and he sticks to the lyrical territory he knows best: "Houses on the Hill" celebrates the way a mill worker and his family bear up under low wages and abusive bosses. "Long Way to Harlan" portrays a meeting in the streets of LA between two old friends, both displaced Appalachians; their nostalgia for their hometown in the mountains doubles as a protest against the unemployment and poverty that drove them from it. And in the bleak, brutal "Tarpaper Shacks"--ironically set to a jumpy country dance--a starving miner's wife imagines her husband led into the tunnels by the ghosts of workers killed before him; she prays desperately for a better life after death, transfixed by a slag heap "burning like the fires of forevermore." Kahn will accompany himself on guitar at this solo show; Peggy Seeger opens. Sunday, March 4, 7 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln; 773-728-6000.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Zedrick Jennings.