Three decades ago the Verde Valley School established its Native American Scholarship fund. For many years, the annual fundraiser for the scholarship was organized by legendary singer-songwriter Jackson Browne. He became enchanted with the landscape and people of northern Arizona on a road trip many years ago. Now, in the COVID-19 era, Browne has revived the benefit concert as a virtual event with performers including Michael Franti, Shawn Colvin, Bruce Cockburn, Calexico and Sihasin. In the latest installment of KNAU’s series Eats and Beats, Browne recounts his lifelong love for the region made famous by a song he co-wrote with the Eagles’ Glen Frey.
Jackson Browne: About three months into the making of my first album the whole project sort of imploded. No one had ever taken that long to make an album – like a simple album like mine. And I got in an old car, my old Willy’s panel Jeep, and just took off into the Southwest and I decided to go out to Hopi again, which I did. I went to Flagstaff and Winslow and it was on that trip that I started “Take It Easy.” My car broke down in Flagstaff and I spent about three days walking back and forth from my car where it was stalled to the parts store and these really cool old-timers taught me how to rebuild my generator.
It was Flagstaff where I first noticed this beautiful woman – she was driving a pickup wearing jeans and boots and a straw cowboy hat and she clearly probably lived on a ranch or something. That was Flagstaff.
But Winslow, by virtue of the fact that it’s so out there all alone, out there in the middle of the desert.
And I also got a very early connection with Arizona. I went on a trip to the Hopi reservation with an Indian rights advocate. I was about 8, which means this would have been about ’56 or ’57. It was a very impactful trip. We met a bunch of kids and played just like kids play. We played and we were able to make friends with Hopi kids at three or four different places – Oraibi and Second Mesa and went to the Snake Dances. It was a very formative experience for me.
We have to bring traditional people with us as the world goes forward with technology, mainly because we need them. We need their perspective, we need Native people’s perspective on what this world is, what this living planet holds and the responsibility we have to it.
Verde Valley School was founded to be a peace academy – a school in which you study with international students and you promote an understanding of the ways in which the world can be harnessed for good and that we can all work towards peace. I still think that that’s one of the most important ways of changing the world, and that is by educating ourselves and each other – those children as the path to the future. It’s really all we’ve got: our kids.
I’m constantly drawn back to music that talks about real stuff. If you think about all the people that played this festival in the past they’re all people that promote thinking. They inspire thought and contemplation.
I think it’s our responsibility to really learn as much as we can about the world we’re in and we certainly have to do it now. We have nowhere to hide from what’s going on in the world. But I do think we’re in the midst of some very momentous changes.