Salem folk group encourages social and political action through song


When Salem songwriter Kristen Grainger first heard of children separated from their parents and held in detention centers on the US-Mexico border, she was shocked and knew she had to do his part.

“I kept thinking about it. Anyone who has a child who has been a child who knows a child, imagines a situation in which the United States would adopt a deliberately cruel policy of taking children away from their parents in order to deter parents from bringing them to the United States,” said she declared. . “That was what I couldn’t understand – that was what my country was like and I couldn’t sleep.”

Instead of turning away, she processed her feelings and stood up the way she knew how: creating art to inspire people to action.

Grainger wrote a song called “Ghost of Abuelito”, drawn from the perspectives and public testimonies of children detained and separated from their parents.

On Thursday, the song was re-released as part of a nationwide compilation called “Hope Rises II,” which includes songs from musicians across the country highlighting social justice issues.

Grainger and her husband, Dan Wetzel, made music like Kristen Grainger and True North over the past 20 years, along with many others who have sung and performed alongside them over time. Other members include Martin Stevens and Josh Adkins. Their folk style includes many instruments like banjo, guitar, mandolin, fiddle, double bass and four-part harmonies.

The group’s debut album was released in 2008. Since then, they have released five more, including their 2020 release “Ghost Tattoo” which includes “Ghost of Abuelito”.

This compilation, Hope Rises II, is created by the organization Music to Life, which connects musicians and encourages them to use their reach for social change. It was founded by Noel Paul Stookey of folk trio Peter, Paul & Mary and his daughter Liz Stookey Sunde. Noel Paul Stookey is known for his folk music supporting the political and protest movements of the 1960s, and this is the second compilation featuring songs that express themselves.

“They deal with a variety of topics: racial justice, equity, poverty, gender identity, all kinds of things that are overwhelmingly positive and empowering,” Grainger said. “Some of them are protest songs, direct, like ‘we’re not going to let this happen’. Mine is subtle. It’s not a fist raised in anger. It’s the unfolding of a story, like a fist in a velvet glove.

As prominent local folk artists, it was exciting for the band to find out they would be featured on this compilation.

The pandemic has rocked their touring plans in 2020, with nearly 40 gigs booked between March and September, including a tour of Ireland, west coast gigs and the release of a new album.

However, they were still an active group during the pandemic, performing at folk festivals in 2021 and writing new music.

In fact, Grainger drew inspiration from more recent events to continue writing music around social justice issues, particularly abortion and the overthrow of Roe v. Wade. The band’s new single, “Buckeye State,” focuses on the case of the 10-year-old girl from Ohio who became pregnant as a result of rape, but had to travel to Indiana for an abortion due to state restrictions.

“It’s another (problem) that in his face people were saying ‘make that go away’. And I didn’t want to think about it, and so it’s hard, but I also think that story is emblematic of what wrong with policy-making in this country,” Grainger said.

The hope is that the compilation and these songs from the local Salem band will help people see current events in a different way and find a way to express their own emotions and feelings through the power of music.

“Art helps…it helps people transcend those barriers where you can’t really express how you feel,” Grainger said. “A song can help people crystallize what they’re thinking, what they’re feeling, access that information, and feel compelled to do something instead of feeling helpless.”

The compilation will be published live online at 4:30 p.m. Thursday. Those interested in learning more about the group can visit its website at, which also includes ways to buy music. Songs like “Ghost of Abuelito” and “Buckeye State” can also be streamed online on sites like Spotify and Apple Music.

Contact Journalist Jordyn Brown at

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