Dawg Whistle Paul Whistler Vini LopezShore music legends Paul Whistler and Vini Lopez team up as Dawg Whistle, while fellow famed musicmakers Glen Burtnik and Bob Burger (below) suit up for the Weeklings, when the 41st annual Clearwater Festival returns to the Brookdale campus this weekend.

Burtnik BurgerIt’s all about the message, when you get right down to it, one of care and respect and vision for this coastal place where we make our home. But when the Clearwater Festival returns to Lincroft for a frankly amazing 41st annual edition this weekend, attendees might be forgiven for thinking that it’s equally about the music — an attraction that’s drawn the participation of some pretty awesome figures over the years.

Presented as always by Red Bank-based New Jersey Friends of Clearwater — and pitching its tents for a sophomore session at its new home, Brookdale Community College — the yearly “party with a purpose” (in the words of Ben Forest, the organization’s Environmental Policy/Coalitions Liaison) commandeers the Larrison Hall Commons area with three stages’ worth of live music, kids’ activities, arts and crafts vendors, environmentally themed informational displays, and of course plenty of free parking on the sprawling BCC campus.

Even better, the free event (which returned to the Greater Green in 2015 after nearly a decade in Asbury Park and Long Branch) has been restored to a two-day affair that runs from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, September 10 and 11.

Inspired by the work of the late folk music icon/ pioneer activist Pete Seeger and his Hudson River excursions with the sloop Clearwater — and founded by Bob Killian, a singer and songwriter best known for his hyperlocal anthem “I Like The Jersey Shore” — the all-volunteer festival spent  its earliest decades at the Fort Hancock area of Sandy Hook, where the organization then called Monmouth County Friends of Clearwater laid the foundation for a late-summer tradition that was fueled as much by the timeless appeal of our local waterways, as it was by an evolving music scene that was primed to take the national stage.

With the dissolution of the North Jersey and Raritan River Clearwater chapters, the Monmouth County Friends became, as Forest told redbankgreen, “IT for New Jersey.”

As a serious public forum for environmental awareness, education and policy, the Clearwater Festival has spotlighted appearances by the Sierra Club’s Jeff Tittel, Congressman Frank Pallone and President Obama’s then-future Department of Environmental Protection chief, Lisa Jackson. But all concerned will vouch that the speeches take a back seat to the  music, a long-running show whose past editions have boasted the participation of Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Levon Helm, Jersey music legends Glen Burtnik and Pat (Smithereens) Di Nizio, a certain looking-for-a-gig troubador by the name of Springsteen — and the only man that the Boss called boss, Mr. Pete Seeger himself.

Now under the supervision of entertainment coordinator Brian Ostering — whose Middletown-based band the Wag continues to be a staple feature of the open-air event — the 2016 schedule boasts dozens of acts on three stages, with the Killian Stage showcasing such Saturday headline performers as Burtnik (returning to the festival in the company of his acclaimed new band project the Weeklings), Tinton Falls rising star Taylor Tote, and Red Bank’s musical mayor Chuck Lambert — while Sunday spotlights the festival debut of Dawg Whistle, a project that teams former E Street Band drummer/ Hall of Famer Vini “Mad Dog” Lopez with fellow Sound of Asbury Park contemporary Paul Whistler.

Taking the Seeger Stage over the weekend are such revered singer-songwriters as Arlan Feiles, Mary McCrink and Kevin John Allen, while the intimate Circle of Song stage boasts Jim Crawford, Dale Lakata, Lorraine Stone, and the lovely voice of Ingrid Heldt (coordinator of the Clearwater group’s monthly Circle of Song events at the Eatontown Community Center). A detailed schedule of performing acts can be found here.

Thousands of attendees are expected to enjoy the sounds and sights at this year’s free-admission Festival, with the theme for 2016 centering around “Environmental Justice: Get the Lead Out!” and its connection to the headline-making issues in Flint, Michigan and other communities. The public is invited to an Environmental Justice Roundtable forum, scheduled for 1 p.m. on Saturday.

All donations and proceeds from vendor sales will benefit the ongoing programs of the nonprofit NJ Clearwater organization — a year-round slate of activity that includes a Traveling Environmental Festival program that’s brought its message to nearly 40,000 New Jersey schoolchildren in recent years. The Friends host regular committee meetings in Eatontown, at which input is welcome toward the NJFC’s ongoing efforts to preserve and maintain the region’s coastal ecosystems.

Sponsorships and donations of time and funds are always welcomed by the Clearwater volunteers, with details on supporting the Red Bank-based nonprofit available here on the new website, and a volunteer application downloadable here.