Rex Features via AP Images; courtesy Frank Waln
Willie Nelson and Neil Young, shown here performing at Farm Aid 2012 in Hershey, Pennsylvania, will be joined by Lakota rapper Frank Waln on Saturday at a concert protesting the Keystone XL pipeline. (Rex Features via AP Images; courtesy Frank Waln)

Willie, Neil Young, and Me: Frank Waln Takes the Stage With Legends on Saturday

Doug Meigs

Omaha, Neb. — A hip-hop artist might seem out of place in the cornfields of rural Nebraska. Not Frank Waln. The 25-year-old Native musician is on the way home, as he performs at Saturday’s “Harvest the Hope,” a Keystone XL oil pipeline protest concert with Willie Nelson and Neil Young. Waln’s hometown on the Rosebud Reservation is only a few hours from the concert in Neligh. The Sicangu Lakota rapper has spent recent years studying in Chicago while trying to jumpstart his career. Now he has music awards, a bachelor’s degree, and a new album in development. ICTMN catches up with Waln before he performs at Creighton University (Friday at 7 p.m.) and then departs for the cornfield concert/protest venue featuring Willie Nelson and Neil Young (Saturday).

What’s it like to see your name beside Willie Nelson and Neil Young on promo materials and news coverage?

It’s a dream come true. I look up to them musically. So, to be on the bill together, for something that is near and dear to my heart and will help people back home, it’s the best of both worlds for me.

Have you had a chance to interact with Saturday’s headliners?

I met Neil Young in April when we performed at the Keystone XL rallies in Washington D.C. He was marching with us, and I met him before the whole thing started. Later, we ended up doing this huge round dance, and I was round-dancing in the front holding the tribal flag nearby him and his manager.

You’ll be the only rapper on stage at Harvest the Hope. What do you think of country music and folk rock? Do you have any favorite Neil Young and Willie Nelson tunes?

I have songs that I hope both perform. For sure I hope Neil Young performs “Harvest Moon,” also “Southern Man.” For Willie Nelson, I hope he plays “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain, or maybe “Crazy.” I was raised on country back on the rez, in a ranching community. I’ve got a soft spot for that old country music.

On many reservations country music dominates local radio. How did you first get into hip hop?

I come from a small community on Rosebud called “He Dog.” One evening when I was in 6th grade, I was walking on the gravel road with my mom, and something glistened in the sun, catching the corner of my eye. I walked over and found a copy of Eminem’s Marshall Mathers LP. It was really scratched up.  I picked it up, took it home, found a CD player, and it blew my mind. Ever since then I’ve been in love with hip hop.

What are you doing in Omaha before the “Harvest the Hope” concert begins Saturday in Neligh?

On Thursday (Sept. 25), I spoke to all the Native students of the Omaha Public Schools. It was a special event organized for them. I shared my life story. Today (Friday, Sept. 26), I’m performing a concert at Creighton University at 7 p.m

How many environmental protest concerts have you joined this year?

Aside from the Keystone XL event in D.C., I performed at Earth Day at Marquette University, and with Winona LaDuke’s “Love Water Not Oil” tour along the proposed Enbridge Pipeline route. We rode horses, and spoke to rez community center floors, and did everything we could to get the message out to people.


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