By Chris Cooper
My participation in the Play For Peace project has been, honestly, primarily for purely selfish reasons. The opportunity to play music live is one I’ll rarely pass up, especially when the lineup includes an abundance of fine players involved in our little community. The first PFP was mostly inspired by a pointless and tragic act of violence in 2007, which functioned as a platform to unite some of these musicians to simply make some noise and, at the very least, make people think about the things that are happening around us; good and bad. The “peace” thing brings with it some connotations, indeed: visions of well meaning but motivationally challenged hippies spring to mind. The peace symbol itself is a bit of a cliché, sadly. And up until a point- how in the heck does all this “playing” result in any more “peace” for anybody? Interesting.
Here’s the catch, though. The first PFP actually worked. So did the second. The event grew and grew, not without the prerequisite amount of missteps and scheduling blunders, but people knew about it, and began to anticipate the next happening. Musicians wanted to be involved, and- suddenly might not be the best word, if you asked the sometimes overwhelmed but always high-spirited event coordinator Eli Hashemi- it was a full blown festival, with music in nearly every genre represented with all day shows that often last from 2 pm to 2 am. The purpose grew as well, with hand made t-shirts being sold and donations accepted to move beyond simply “raising awareness” to actually assisting returning soldiers from Iraq that, time and again, are suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and find themselves lost and without the necessary means to cope with life outside of the military.
Pretty heavy stuff, indeed. But it also demonstrates how a simple idea, in the hands of a motivated person, can take on a life of its own and in many ways grow well beyond the initial expectations. As well, it shows that, under the right circumstances, a bunch of slacker musicians will actually get off their collective butts and put some energy into something beyond themselves. In my case, this meant taking the invitation of bassist Adam Bigelow to participate in a little musical endeavor (which at the last minute was bestowed the moniker Fungus Head- don’t ask...) that was to perform Saturday, December 6th at Guadalupe Café. The band consisted of Bigelow, drummer Nick Demos, guitarist Tommy Dennison and me. I was in a band with Demos and Bigelow called Triggerfish for a while, and Dennison has been a staple of the regional music scene for many years now. The guy’s also one helluva guitarist, a melodic player with fantastic technique that always makes me look at my fingers and wonder what the heck a goof like me is doing on stage with him.
But we were just a small part of an all day music affair; the bill included former Commonfolkers turned Freight Hoppers Issac Deal and Bradley Adams backing up mountain music expert Frank Lee, former Ali Baba’s Tahini and Mother Vinegar frontman Karl Engelmann going solo with and acoustic set, the punk jazz antics of Solito and a kind of impromptu set from a few of the members of local faves CIA, who as well sat in on our set with wonderful results. Though I was unable to catch all of the performances, what I did hear (and see) was great stuff, and the feedback from those lucky enough to catch the majority of the performances was nothing but positive.
As for our performance goes, well, it’s tough for me to say exactly, because I’m usually too busy trying to make it through the songs without falling on my face. But the audience’s reaction, let alone the sheer amount of people that came out in support of the event, was nothing short of inspiring. Whoops and hollers erupted from the crowd for all the players involved, every time any of us did something “cool” we got a reaction, which means- my goodness- people were actually listening. The tunes ranged from originals that Dennison and I put together over two rehearsals, and older Triggerfish tune, some Meters and, of course, an extended reading of Hendrix’s “Third Stone From The Sun,” which stands out as one of my favorite moments of the evening. It’s rare to get onstage with another guitarist and actually “go for it” together, as opposed to trying to outdo each other. In this case, the energy was positive and the results, though occasionally sloppy (my fault) were pure and unadulterated fun.
But let’s not forget that, though the music was happening and the booty shaking abounded, this was an event with an ever growing purpose, one that will certainly take on more power and importance with each continuing installment of the Play For Peace concept. At the same time that I left the stage feeling the rush of adrenalin and appreciated the compliments for the band’s performance, I hoped that in the back of everyone’s mind was the underlying awareness of why it all happened in the first place. If nothing else, maybe those in attendance were able to shake off some of the weariness we’re all experiencing this season, and find a bit of much needed peace within themselves.