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Peaceful sounds: Bryson City woman organizes local musicians for a cause

By Sarah Kucharski • Staff Writer

Downtown Sylva will host a non-partisan stand for peace on Saturday, Feb. 17, with 12 hours of non-stop music.


Six venues will host free performances by local musicians from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. There also will be music on the sidewalks and at the front steps of the town’s historic courthouse.

“I’m definitely very excited about it,” said Tommy Dennison, guitarist with local band Mother Vinegar.

Dennison, along with friends and temporary band mates, will form the group The Crunch, playing a mix of jazz and fusion from 4 to 6 p.m. at Guadalupe Café.

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“It’s given us an opportunity to get together a bunch of musicians who have never played together,” Dennison said.

The event’s message of peace and acceptance resonated with Dennison. Dennison went to school with Brandon Sumner, 29, who was recently killed in a bar fight that erupted at Across the Traxx in Bryson City. Sumner’s girlfriend said that he was attacked trying to protect her. Another man in the bar was speaking harshly to her and when Sumner asked him to stop a fight broke out. Sumner was stabbed in the melee with a weapon believed to be a pool cue. He died later at the hospital.

Eli Hashemi was working the bar at Across the Traxx that night. It had been an otherwise quiet evening. It was early; the band was yet to go on. Just a few locals were hanging out when the violence erupted.

When Hashemi got off work that night, she went home and turned on CSPAN, which was covering a peace march in Washington, D.C. She watched until 4 a.m., an idea fermenting in her head. The angst of war had entered the mass conscious and she was tired of the violence. Although she couldn’t drive to D.C. she could, here in her own community, try to make a change.

At 8:30 p.m. the next evening, Hashemi learned that Sumner had passed. His death touched her as a senseless act.

“He was just a stand-up guy,” she said of Sumner.

By 9 p.m. she sent out an email addressed to musicians all over the country. It simply asked that they wear white T-shirts with hand-painted peace signs during their shows on Feb. 17 — the new moon of the month.

“Please wear a white T-shirt with the biggest peace sign that you can fit on the front of it, hand-painted or drawn, whatever you want,” read Hashemi’s email. “Just make sure it is blue and red. This is not left or right, right or wrong point we are trying to make. It is a way of telling our neighbors, near and far, that violence is not what we are about. Music is what we all have in common.”

Locally more than 30 musicians responded to Hashemi’s email.

“It was overwhelming,” she said.

The idea grew as musicians volunteered their talents to turn the day into a celebration. Hashemi contacted local restaurants and music supporters to secure the venues for the performances and booked musicians.

Hashemi used to bartend at Karen’s restaurant on Main Street and her connection to Karen Martyr, a downtown Sylva fixture and advocate who passed away this January following a battle with cancer, helped open doors. Fellow restaurant owners agreed to host musicians for no compensation other than the hope of increased business. After the funeral, Hashemi and friends had agreed that the best thing they could do to keep Martyr with them was to “try to do a little bit of some of the positive stuff she did.” In planning the Play for Peace event, Hashemi said that Martyr’s voice telling her “you started it, now you have to finish it” drove her on.

Hashemi begin spreading the word via a grassroots campaign. She posted flyers and word of mouth spread.

“I think it’s for a good cause,” Dennison said.

The six downtown Sylva venues — O’Malley’s, LuLu’s, Spring Street Café, John’s on Main, and Terri Clark’s photo studio — will feature music in two-hour time slots throughout the day. Across the Traxx will be supporting the message of peace with a special performance by Common Folk.

Hashemi’s goal is for Play For Peace to continue on the new moon of every month until the war in Iraq is over.

“Hopefully they will call a war one day and no one will show up,” she said.

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