Buffy Sainte-Marie.
Buffy Sainte-Marie. Contributed

Sainte-Marie still rock solid for what she believes in

IT'S been decades since Buffy Sainte-Marie played on Australian soil without a band, but that's about to change.

Widely known for her 1960s protest anthems such as Universal Soldier, and her open-hearted love songs, Sainte-Marie made waves during the Vietnam War, and kept up the fight for a better world through music and the visual arts, education and activism.

Her songs have been immortalised nearly 150 times with artist including Neil Diamond, Elvis and Courtney Love recording their own versions.

Now, at age 74, Sainte-Marie is about to return to the Woodford Folk Festival stage, going solo and with something a little different in store.

"When I used to come to Australia in the '60s and '70s, it was always solo," she said.

Since then, Sainte-Marie has played in capital cities across the country, as well as Byron Bay and Woodfordia, but always with a band or symphony behind her.

"It'll just be a little bit different, a little more intimate for audiences, I think," she said.

"And very often people will say, 'Oh I saw you in the '60s and you did a solo concert. Will you ever do a solo concert here again?'. And so the answer is yes."

Fans can expect a "closer" experience with Sainte-Marie, and "just a little less dancing", but her shows will include an extra element: a solution she has found to do justice to some of her pieces.

"Some of the most powerful songs I write, I actually write them for a band or for a symphony and they just don't work as solos," she said.

During her career, spanning five decades, Sainte-Marie has been a tireless advocate and educator on North America's First Nations people and their cultures.

Her reach has extended beyond her music to television, film and tertiary education programs, but she said songwriters still held a great power to make positive change.

Protest music never really went away, Saint-Marie said, it just went underground.

"I'm a little disappointed that people like Paul Simon and Sting and all have not really stepped up to the plate and applied their great talents to contemporary issues," she said.

"And Neil Young put out a song last week where he mentioned Standing Rock, but it's the stupidest song in the world. It's just embarrassing."

Sainte-Marie's son Cody is among protesters weathering the cold North Dakota winter at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, opposing the construction of an oil pipeline.

One of the crucial issues, she said, was that Indians were being pushed around.

"The white towns have all refused the pipelines because they all say it's too dangerous and they don't want it contaminating their water," she said.

"So the oil companies decided to go to the reservations because we don't have as much influence. And so we're having to stick up peacefully for our right to protect our water."

Sainte-Marie remained positive about the changes she had seen in North America since she began talking about indigenous issues as a graduate in Greenwich Village, New York City, in the 1960s, but she said there was still room for improvement, and a better understanding of the contributions indigenous cultures have made to the world.

Buffy Sainte-Marie will join Rhoda Roberts (AO) for a discussion on life in art at Woodford Folk Festival on Friday, December 30, and perform on Thursday and Friday, December 29 and 30.