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The Lumineers Don’t Like to Preach — Their Advocacy Speaks For Itself

When North Carolina passed legislation discriminating against LGBT people, the Lumineers donated the profits from their show in the state to groups defending LGBT rights.

When Texas lawmakers escalated efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, the Lumineers planned a show in the state and donated the profits to Planned Parenthood.

And when protesters against the Dakota Access Pipeline saw national support of their cause wane, the Lumineers planned a show nearby and donated the profits to the protesters.

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The Lumineers don’t like to preach. But their convictions are unmistakable.

Since rising to international fame in 2012 on the breakout success of the single “Ho Hey,” their advocacy has been blunt and straightforward. They plan a show in support of a cause and donate the profits — raising awareness is the ultimate goal.  

That’s it.

“If you believe something strongly, then you need to express it, regardless of its commercial impact,” group member Wesley Schultz told Global Citizen. “We did these shows to peacefully protest and we are OK if someone is turned off by that.”

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“There have been countless people who've said they'll never buy another album or come see us again,” he continued. “I remember Bruce Springsteen singing ‘41 Shots’ and the police unions protesting him. He continues to play because he was being genuine.”

The Lumineers are made up of Schultz, Jeremiah Fraites on drums and piano, and Neyla Pekarek on vocals and cello. Schultz and Fraites started performing together in 2005 and Pekarek joined them in 2010.

Their second album, “Ophelia,” rose to No. 1 on The Billboard 200 chart after being released last year.

The Lumineers’ music spotlights people who are often forgotten and left out of popular culture and even the media, according to Schultz.

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“We put an onus on the kind of characters and stories that are not so prevalent in popular music today,” Schultz said in an interview.

Sometimes that involves exploring the darker parts of life, including poverty and trauma. In that sense, their approach aligns with Global Citizen, which aims to bring attention to and spur government action for those living in extreme poverty.

“Art and commerce have mixed to the point where nearly every big musician these days seems to also be a politician, never having a stance or opinion for fear of losing fans and money,” Schultz said. “That's not what my musical heroes taught me — people like Springsteen taught me it's about your integrity.”

Those qualities will be on display when the Lumineers take the stage at the 2017 Global Citizen Festival Sept. 23 in New York City to perform along side Stevie Wonder, Green Day, The Killers, The Chainsmokers, Pharrell Williams, Big Sean, Andra Day and Alessia Cara.

The Global Citizen Festival has served as a powerful platform for world leaders, artists, activists, and citizens to come together and advocate for women’s rights, education, sustainable development and an end to extreme poverty by 2030.

This year’s theme is “For Freedom. For Justice. For All,” a message that the Lumineers echo in their activism.

“We believe that music is a language that connects people globally rather than a medium for close-mindedness,” they wrote when protesting North Carolina’s anti-LGBT legislation. “We all thrive in communities where we can feel safe and welcome.”

In that instance, the band went above and beyond to show their support for the victims of the legislation. Not only did they donate their profits to EqualityNC and The HRC, but they also provided gender neutral bathrooms at the venue, created a T-shirt in support of the organizations, and had members of the two groups on hand to provide information and collect donations.

In March, the band traveled to North Dakota to lend support to the “water protectors” who were protesting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. It was more than a year since the Standing Rock protest began and the band wanted to make sure the protesters had resources.

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“The first [group we donated to] was the Water Protectors Legal Collective to address the important issue of getting the protesters who'd been thrown in jail released, and getting these protestors a proper legal defense,” Schultz said.

They also wanted to support the journalists who were continuing to cover the events.

“The other need we saw was to make sure the media, an unbiased independent media, was there to cover what was happening there,” he added. “We donated to Unicorn Riot, a group of independent journalists who spent a lot of time covering the Standing Rock protests. Without shining a light on it through things like the media, the general public tends to forget and move on.”

The band isn’t afraid to wade into politically contentious issues, but they’re also not trying to alienate anyone — they’re trying to promote dialogue and nudge people to consider different views.

In the case of their Planned Parenthood show, their advocacy intersected with personal experience.

“When my wife was a teen and young adult, Planned Parenthood provided her not only with free, affordable cancer screenings, contraceptives, and annual checkups, but also with the education and tools to help make smart decisions regarding her health,” Schultz said at the time. “The reality for her was that Planned Parenthood was her only real way to get legitimate and affordable healthcare. To read news stories about attempts to defund this same healthcare in Texas for so many women (and men) is disturbing and has moved us to act.”

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The Lumineers have been busy over the past year, lending their stature to some of the most significant challenges facing the world — climate change, water and sanitation, women’s rights, and the pursuit of equality for all.

Schultz invoked another stalwart supporter of Global Citizen when thinking about music’s role in combatting injustice.

“In my own experience, music can cut through like nothing else can,” Schultz said. “I studied psychology, and my dad was a psychologist, and one of the things you learn is that it's very hard to hold onto a belief when you're presented with strong evidence that contradicts that belief.”

“So, it's hard to hate all black people if you love Jay Z, as it is hard to hate gay people if you love listening to Queen or Elton John,” he added. “The beautiful thing about music is that it can actually transcend hate and ignorance. It doesn't happen overnight, but it's a start toward something better.”