Natural Rock Stars
Texas eco-musicians inspire young naturalists through music.
By Tolly Moseley
“A major turning point of my life was rafting the Mississippi River,” says Oliver. “I was a huge fan of Mark Twain novels — maybe too big a fan — and my buddy and I decided we were going to sail the whole thing. This would have been the summer of ’68, when I was kind of attending college, but mostly playing music and having adventures. That trip changed a lot of things for me.”
It’s not a surprise that this would be the man who would help lead the Texas River School, produce nature festivals on the shores of Barton Springs and release an album titled Friend of the River. The last time I watched him perform, it was at a benefit for the Edwards Aquifer organization Save Our Springs.
“Water is very sacred to me, but it’s also an easy sell for kids, too,” says Oliver. “Being out on a boat is a novelty. Exciting, you know? So that’s why I really like to involve water in our festivals, because believe it or not, some of the kids who come have never even been out to Barton Springs before. So this is nature education what we’re doing here, but it’s exciting and out of the ordinary, too.”
Oliver’s nickname — “Mr. Habitat” — grew out of the song that put him on the musical map. An Internet search for Have to Have a Habitat pulls up scores of YouTube covers 30 years after its release. Oliver wrote the song while taking classes at Austin Community College’s Biology Department, where he was moved to do more with his music — to “take a stand,” as he describes it.
It’s a good thing, too: Since he began singing for children in the ’70s, the radius around the home where most children are allowed to roam on their own has shrunk to one-ninth of what it was then. It’s a fact Richard Louv reports in his book Last Child in the Woods.
“I grew up in treehouses,” Oliver tells me. “It’s a different world for kids now, but I think that’s why they are so jazzed when they come out for a show or for the River School. They might not get too many experiences like that, and whether they’re on a boat, or dancing to a song — hopefully both simultaneously — it’s like, this is it, kids. This, right here, is a rich moment.”