Music entwined Seth Bernard’s formative years on his family’s Earthwork Farm. “It wasn’t anything separate that was just for entertainment. It was part of our work; it fueled our work,” he says. In the neighboring county, May Erlewine — Seth’s future wife — picked up a guitar and wrote her first song at the age of 11. Nearly two decades later, Seth and May are the innovators behind Earthwork Music Collective. The recording studio on Seth’s family farm has an impressive tally of more than 25 bands and solo performers, but the duo says that Earthwork “is less like a record label, and more like an opportunity to do meaningful work with a large group of like-minded people.”
Cooperation, collaboration, and serving the community are the three founding principles of the Collective, where there is a conviction in “the intrinsic and historical power of music to raise both community and self-awareness.” The couple thinks of music as a “tool” to inspire courage in people and a “language” that can break down barriers and transform communities. Each songwriter has at least a dozen tunes in which environmental conservation or social change is the mantra. “We feel really lucky that our music has just been this catalyst for us to experience all of these worlds,” says May.
Though the majority of their touring is within the Great Lakes Basin, Seth and May have also served as musical ambassadors to the coffee-growing regions of Mexico and Ethiopia as part of an effort to raise funds for water projects for area farmers. Benefits like these are not out of the ordinary for them — for 12 years, Seth and May have been a go-to for benefit concerts. But they’ve also started their own ways of giving back, founding popular seasonal events like The Water Festival, Harvest Gathering, Family Weekend, and School of Rock, all centered around community activism and social engagement. “But it always comes back to that common goal that we have,” Seth says. “It’s not about looking at each other all the time — it’s about looking forward together and walking that path together.”