Monday, July 27, 2015

Feed-A-Smile (07.25.15) & Homes For Our Troops (07.26.15)

Music is primarily thought of as an art (for the practitioner) and a means of entertainment (for the listener). And it's fine to leave it as simple as that; even if music had no other purpose, that would be plenty good enough. After all, both for musicians and music lovers, it is often described as an essential aspect of fulfilling and enriching people's lives. Some people regard music as important to them as the food they eat or the air they breathe (though I tend to think of this as hyperbole; you can go ten minutes without listening to a song much more easily than without taking a breath). Regardless, in terms of quality of life, music can stand alone for many people as being crucial to their happiness.

Why, then, should we bother making music something even more important than its already key role? Sometimes, music can be a rallying point for action that's above and beyond the music itself. Think back to the cultural change that was affected by start of rock music in the 1950s, or by the musically-oriented hippie culture of the late '60s. Think back to the mid 1980s, when musical projects such as Band-Aid, USA for Africa, and Live Aid helped raise awareness and money for critical world events. There are plenty of other art forms out there... painting, sculpture, dance, and many more. Music, though, has a common-man, mass appeal that can penetrate through every level of ethnicity, socio-economic background, and more. It tends to unite rather than divide, and also tends to be inclusive rather than exclusive. In other words, it's effective for these causes, because everyone can relate to a good tune.

I can now tell you a little bit about two live shows I did on Saturday and Sunday for the Feed-A-Smile charity and Homes For Our Troops... two very different and yet very worthy causes to whom I've had the pleasure of contributing via my music on several occasions.

Saturday July 25: Feed-A-Smile
So, before you start nominating me for sainthood, my first thought when I got up on Saturday was, "Oh great. I'll be spending the whole weekend playing music and getting nothing out of it." Yeah... nice, huh? In my defense, I was tired and coming off of a busy work week. Regardless of your level of goodness and maturity, everyone has a childish aspect of their persona that rears its head occasionally, and I believe this is true no matter if you're some random musician or an industry leader or a major political figure. Sometimes you go into selfish mode; we all do.

After awhile of waking up and coffee consumption, I remembered what I got out of performing at The Lavender Field for Brique Zeiner's Feed-A-Smile events. I got a lot. First and foremost, there's the knowledge that with Brique's personal, hands-on direction of the Live and Learn in Kenya non-profit organization, I could be assured that my efforts would directly benefit the intended recipients, with no middlemen or big corporations siphoning off the funds we help raise. Second, I am also aware that the lives of kids in Kenya who benefit from these musical fundraising efforts are literally changed by them, via the provision of school facilities and (most importantly) food.

All photos by Kat.

I've played for Feed-A-Smile a good number of times and have written about it often here. No need, then, for many details. I'd like to mention that this show was particularly cool since three of Maali Beck's team of artists -- Sassy Nitely, myself, and Lyndon Heart, in order of our performances that day -- all played, and played well. We had a reasonably good sized crowd throughout the event, and people gave generously. As has been the case at previous Feed-A-Smile shows, it was an honor to take part in the event.

Feed-A-Smile Lavender Field set list...
Hunger Strike (Temple of the Dog)
Bag of Nothing (They Stole My Crayon)
Long Time Gone (Crosby, Stills & Nash)
Carey (Joni Mitchell)
*Pretty Pimpin (Kurt Vile)
I Am A Child (Neil Young)
Things Under Trees (They Stole My Crayon)
Here I Land (Nicholas Stevenson)
Waking Light (Beck)
Got Guilt (They Stole My Crayon)
Pink Moon (Nick Drake)
Peace Love and Understanding (Elvis Costello)
*Improvised Outro (Zak Claxton)

*Indicates the first time I've performed this song in SL.

Huge thanks to my friends, fans, and various Second Life residents who contributed so generously!

Sunday July 26: Homes For Our Troops
Every charitable cause needs a champion... a person who makes it their biggest personal priority, and spends time and effort making it a success. Like Brique does for Feed-A-Smile, in the Second Life community, a fellow musician named Frets Nirvana holds that role for Homes For Our Troops at the U.S. Veterans Center in SL. I was aware of Frets via the SL music scene for quite awhile, but it was at the Nashville Jam in May 2014 that I met and got to know him better. Since then, I've done a few of his charitable events, which occur on the last Sunday of every month. He was formerly focused on the Wounded Warrior Project, but then shifted to Homes For Our Troops, which as the name implies is a non-profit organization that builds homes for severely disabled veterans. Here's their official description:

Homes for Our Troops (HFOT) is a privately funded 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization building specially adapted, mortgage-free homes nationwide for the most severely injured Veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. Most of these Veterans have sustained injuries including multiple limb amputations, partial or full paralysis, and/or severe traumatic brain injury (TBI). These homes restore some of the freedom and independence our Veterans sacrificed while defending our country, and enable them to focus on their family, recovery, and rebuilding their lives. Since its inception in 2004, nearly 90 cents of every dollar donated to Homes for Our Troops has gone to directly to our program services for Veterans. HFOT builds these homes where the Veteran chooses to live, and continues its relationship with the Veterans after home delivery to assist them with rebuilding their lives.

So, it's obviously a worthwhile cause, and a topic that's important to me. As a person with a strongly anti-war outlook, it's my belief that the least we can do for military personnel who are put in harms way and severely injured is to make sure that their quality of life afterwards is as good as possible. Sadly, as we all know, that's not been the case. Ultimately, my vision of a world that's devoid of war seems futile at times. Since I can't personally effect the global changes needed for such a dream, the least I can do is help out those who are impacted by their contributions in defending their country.

Another side note: I am not a religious person. I am an atheist. I don't believe in any God of any sort, though I'm always respectful to those who do. Some people wonder why I do things like help charitable causes, since it's not like I'm going to get some special treatment in an afterlife for having done so, heh heh. Simply put, I do it because it feels good to help others where I can, and music is one thing at which I'm good enough to help put it to use for those causes.

All photos by Kat.

Anyway, I was rather unconfident about the possibility of a successful show for Homes For Our Troops on Sunday. I'd just done a charity show the previous day, and honestly doubted that I'd be able to draw a crowd, or have any expectations that they'd be able to give to this cause. You can only hit people up so many times in any time span. Imagine my utter shock when, toward the end of my show, Frets announced that during my hour-long set, we'd raised L$78,000... well over $300 USD. As I said through the mic at the time, it's just insane! The way that was accomplished, as far as I can tell, was through a few very generous people and the matching funds of a few more very generous people. I was astounded.

Homes For Our Troops set list...
Low Key (Tweedy)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Big Empty (Stone Temple Pilots)
*Gimme Shelter (Rolling Stones)
Blew The Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Pretty Pimpin (Kurt Vile)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Love Hurts (Everly Brothers)
On The Way Home (Buffalo Springfield)
Just Like Starting Over (John Lennon)
Jane (Barenaked Ladies)

*Indicates the first time I've performed this song in SL.

Again, thank you so much to everyone who attended for their wonderful generosity!

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