Between June 1 and Oct. 31, you’re likely to find Thom Chacon showing people where the trout are as a fly-fishing guide on the Rio Grande or the Animas or the San Juan – sometimes for 15 days straight. The rest of the year, you’ll find him holed up in his downtown Durango residence, writing songs and practicing his guitar, or in the analog recording studios at Pie Records on Long Island, New York, or touring in England or Paris or who-knows-where, playing Guy Clarke’s private birthday party.
For Chacon, 24 years of writing songs, making and maintaining friends and contacts in the biz, hustling and playing weird gigs has begun to pay off. With a steady dose of perseverance, it shows in the company he keeps, or as Chacon puts it, “A lot of this is luck, but most of it is (me) not going away.”
Chacon is one of two dozen artists featured on the compilation “Buy This Fracking Album,” released June 30 by Movement Music Records. You’ve probably heard of many of the musicians featured along with Chacon – Pete Seeger, Bonnie Raitt, Michael Franti, John Butler Trio, Steve Earle, Indigo Girls, Natalie Merchant.
The album, produced by Jason Samel, who also produced “Occupy This Album: 99 Songs for the 99 Percent,” is a response to what many believe is one of the biggest current environmental issues, hydraulic fracturing, also called fracking.
When asked to write and contribute a song (Samel had come across Chacon’s self-titled album via Chacon’s Pie Records ties), Chacon, at first, was hesitant to wade into such divisive political waters.
“At some point, you have to think you’re going to piss somebody off, lose a fan or whatever,” Chacon said.
Chacon was casually aware of the environmental concerns about fracking but needed to know more and began to research. It was the so-called “Halliburton loophole” that did it for Chacon. In 2005, then-vice president and former Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney urged Congress to exempt fracking from regulation under the Clean Water Act, a move that made Chacon say, “Hey, wait a second,” thinking it unfair that certain companies didn’t have to play by the same rules as everyone else.
“The thing that really bothered me more than anything was people that didn’t have money to fight for themselves against the big energy companies had no voice,” Chacon said. “People that were allegedly getting sick from a drilling rig being right outside their front door, that’s what fracking did. It brought the oil patch to people’s backyards.”
Chacon’s song on the album, “Before the Drilling Rigs Got Here,” is in line with his storytelling style, singing from the perspectives of others, usually the downtrodden, the ignored, the powerless.
“I decided early on that I didn’t want to write a ‘frack you/frack-off’ song,” Chacon said. “So I read a bunch of different articles and compiled a character, John from Weld County. He’s a rancher, and he and his family are getting sick: ‘I am John from Weld Country. I work this land to raise my family.’ I wanted it to be personal, so people could think, ‘That could be me.’ … It’s a song telling a story about a guy trying to survive and take care of his kids.”
Chacon understands that there are multiple sides to such environmental issues, but he favors more prudence and foresight. He acknowledged that fracking is not a new technology. What is new, he noted, are the large, recently-discovered natural gas deposits and the large-scale drilling that has followed.
“I kind of compare it to the gold rush where we went in, boom-or-bust mentality, to hell with the environment,” he said. “We weren’t even thinking about the environmental impacts, and to this day, we’re still cleaning up the Animas River, or trying to, thinking about a way to clean it up.”
For Chacon, with issues like fracking, it comes down to awareness.
“Let’s at least be the balance in the checks and balances,” he said. “It’s our duty as Americans on both sides of the issue.”
And what better way than through music, Chacon said, citing a quote from one of his heroes, Pete Seeger, an anthem that ran through his head as he wrote “Before the Drilling Rigs.”
“‘A good song can remind us of what we’re fighting for,’” Chacon said, quoting Seeger. “That was my goal, was writing a good song for the people that need the help.”
firstname.lastname@example.org. David Holub is the Arts & Entertainment editor for The Durango Herald.