American Music Abroad Tour- What this work means.
April 2, 2013
We were four weeks into our tour of Latin America, sponsored by The US Department of State and American Voices when I had to return to the states to attend to a family emergency. It was not the way any of us envisioned this amazing experience ending- we were completely immersed in the joyful and transformative opportunity we had been given. I have not been able to truly reflect on our experiences until now.
The four weeks we spent in The Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador were the greatest musical times of my life. These band mates who I've known and shared stages with for so long transformed into an unshakable family of souls all forever touched by the beautiful folks we met every day and the lessons we learned.
The shows were amazing. It was an incredible honor to be invited into foreign towns, great and small to share our rock and roll dream. We played for crowds young and old and the response was so touching. I've always believed that Rock and Roll music can make peoples' lives better if even for one night. I believe that blues music can bring healing to the heartbroken, forlorn and disenfranchised- but one thing about the blues- while you're busy playing it or hearing it, you forget for that moment that you even had it!
Yes, the shows were amazing- but the true joy of this experience was the chance to share with and learn from young people. The workshops that were arranged in every city by the folks at American Voices and the good public service people we worked with gave us the opportunity to engage with kids, talk about what our music means in the context of American musical heritage and to learn from their music, their dreams and the realities of their existence in a quite different world than the one we know.
In Santo Domingo, what was meant to be a master class on Blues music became a lesson for us in Bachata and Merengue. High-School aged music students gave us a lasting education in the beauty of dance music and the value this music plays in bringing joy to people when life is hard, work is scarce and resources are low. Now ain't that just like blues?
We had an unforgettable concert in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. San Pedro is a city of beautiful people marred by the unfortunate title of being "The World's Most Dangerous City." What we encountered at our public concert was something quite different. We shared the evening with spirited, dignified folks. Between nearly every song people yelled from their seats: "Dios te bendiga, gracias por venir a San Pedro Sula. Te salute!" My Spanish is still a work in progress- I leaned over to Justin Goldner and asked what they were yelling at us. "God Bless you for coming to San Pedro Sula. We Salute You."
That night we played two beautiful Spanish-language songs that spoke to me the same way great blues songs do. "Duerme Negrito" and "Casas De Carton." I had the great honor and joy to let these people know that we had enjoyed our time in their beautiful city and were grateful for their support and friendship. We closed our set "In a prayer of peace for your city and ours," with the traditional anti-violence song "Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream." It was an unforgettable night and the greatest opportunity I have ever been able to embrace with a guitar and a voice.
If the perception of our humble rock and roll band by the people that we met on this trip is that of a group of young Americans, proud of their musical heritage and eager to learn from and engage with folks across borders and from all cultures- then I am content. That is who we are and that is what this kind of work inspires us to be. This is vital work- DIRECT diplomacy accomplished through true, meaningful exchange. The magic happens in small ways but the results are real and lasting.
My goals in music have shifted and my understanding of what music can accomplish is transforming. I am not a political type and I do not write political music. I have always believed that it is easier to connect with someone in music by getting them to dance, then by hitting them over the head with a lyrical creed. If I can serve the better good of my country and inspire a feeling of understanding and connection with folks thousands of miles away- then this is the work for me.