Kris Kristofferson fills theater on behalf of farmworkers

June 10, 2009
Santa Paula News
By Peggy Kelly Santa Paula TimesThat living legend with a social conscience, Kris Kristofferson AKA “the silver-tongued devil,” filled the house at the special “Have a Heart for Farmworkers” benefit concert held May 30 at the Majestic Ventura Theater. The concert was the second time Kristofferson staged a concert to benefit farmworker housing, a fundraiser that resulted from the efforts of Ventura Councilman and former Mayor Carl Morehouse.Morehouse, a Kristofferson look-alike, initially contacted the legendary singer/songwriter to create the first show held two years ago that raised close to $100,000. “Kris is someone who truly understands the plight of working people and the working poor,” said Morehouse before the show, and he noted Kristofferson’s “long history of sharing his talents to benefit those in need.”The Ag Futures Alliance’s Farmworkers program and the Ventura County Community Foundation’s Farmworker Housing Fund again benefited from the concert, which this year featured a salute to nursery owner/activist Ellen Brokaw of Santa Paula.The program included a silent auction and pre-concert film, “A Home of Their Own: Stories from the Children of Farm Workers” with an introduction by activist/actor Martin Sheen, who also attended the concert. The stories by the children of area farmworkers demonstrated the strong and positive influence safe and affordable housing has on children when they have “A Home of Their Own.”Sponsors of the event included Limoneira Company and the Santa Paula Times, among many others.When the concert started Morehouse introduced “my second favorite president,” Sheen, who portrayed President Bartlett in the wildly popular “The West Wing” television show. Morehouse presented Brokaw - a founder of the Ag Futures Alliance - with flowers and various recognitions, including a Congressional proclamation for her ongoing support of farm workers and housing issues.When it came time for the concert to start, “In my book he’s moved from being a hero to a saint,” noted Morehouse of Kristofferson’s longstanding and strong social conscience as he introduced the singer/songwriter. “He’s my twin brother,” Morehouse added, “but from a different mother.”
Kristofferson’s songwriting talent has resulted in classics, ranging from “Me and Bobby McGee” and “Sunday Morning Coming Down” to “For the Good Times” and many, many others he performed at the benefit.During a break noted artist Gail Pidduck of Santa Paula, who created the concert poster, said she believes, “People are becoming more aware of everyone’s housing needs.”Sheen, who was admiring a “Vinick for President: Santa Paula’s Favorite Son” button worn by a concert attendee - referring to the fictitious “West Wing” candidate that hailed from the Glen City - turned serious when it came to the issue of farm workers. Housing for farm laborers, said Sheen, has been “moved to the back of the burner” with the current rise in nationalism inherent to bad economic times, although farm workers are also losing jobs. In addition, “There’s very little sympathy and understanding” of immigration issues nationwide.Sheen noted California does have a better grasp of the issues overall. For the most part, “California does not have the severe problems farm workers face in other states... here there’s more appreciation and awareness of the reality of the situation and what should be done about the issues” affecting farm workers and their families.Problematic are those rental property owners who pack farmworkers and their families into unsafe housing. “Slumlords,” said Sheen, “would squeeze blood out of turnip... it’s a moral dilemma,” as most farm workers feel they cannot complain about substandard and often dangerous living conditions.

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