When the sun rose over the remote fishing town of Taiji, Japan, in early September, activist Ric O'Barry was there, on a beach overlooking a cove, brazenly pointing a camera at the annual slaughter and capture of hundreds of dolphins.
Every year, the South Miami-based founder of the Dolphin Project protests and live streams the controversial dolphin hunt, always with his son, Lincoln, and usually with rock bands. This year, Guns 'n' Roses drummer Matt Sorum joined O'Barry in Taiji, along with Japanese activists, for a day of music celebrating the dolphin.
A similar scene of marine conservation and folk music will unfold Friday night at North Miami's Luna Star Cafe, site of a concert to benefit O'Barry's Dolphin Project, an organization with roots in Coconut Grove's vibrant music scene of the 1960s and '70s.
"Rock 'n' roll is in the Dolphin Project's DNA," says the 73-year-old, who returned home from Taiji this week. "Coconut Grove used to be the pop-music center of planet Earth. Stephen Stills, David Crosby, Joni Mitchell — they all came here. We all loved dolphins."
Sharing a stage with O'Barry — he'll be discussing his crusade in Japan — will be a warm gathering of singer-songwriters and buddies in Bob Ingram and Kevin Hurley, Diane Ward and Jack Shawde, Omine Eager, the Mariana Trenchcoats, Trish Sheldon and Jim Wurster, who organized the benefit.
A protector of dolphins since the late 1960s, which replaced a career training and capturing dolphins for the TV series "Flipper," O'Barry was the subject of the Oscar-winning 2009 documentary "The Cove." The film follows O'Barry under cover of darkness, espionage-spy-thriller style, as free-divers wedged cameras into submerged rocks to capture Taiji fishermen as they slaughtered dolphins. Shooting such footage is no longer a hassle for O’Barry — hence the blatant camera — as the documentary has drawn awareness from activists and international press coverage.
"It used to be very dangerous 10 years ago. How bad was it? These fishermen would threaten my life, stand in front of me with a spear in their hands and yell, 'I'm going to kill you, Richard O'Barry!' How about that?" O'Barry says. "The movie shocked everyone, but it shocked me even more that it won so many awards."
Wurster, who considers O'Barry a "hero," was inspired by the mid-1970s Dolphin Project benefit concerts at Coconut Grove Playhouse known as the Rolling Coconut Revue, then run by O'Barry and folksinger Fred Neil, which featured Crosby, Jimmy Buffett and others.
"I wanted to bring back the spirit of Coconut Grove, because it was really special back then, a colony of artists and musicians," says Wurster, a teacher at Cypress Bay High School in Weston. "The Dolphin Project has really had an impact on all of us."
The Dolphin Project Benefit will begin 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 20, at the Luna Star Cafe, 775 NE 125th St., in North Miami. A $10 donation is suggested. Call 305-799-7123 or go to LunaStarCafe.com and DolphinProject.org.