Sept 16, 2021 Playing For Change
The drummer’s smile was infectious. His presence lit up the TV screen as he sat at his drum kit. Ringo Star looked at the camera and cracked wisely, “What key is it, Robbie?” He laughed and spoke again, “F, demented.” His smile grew wider as the screen went blank.
Robbie Robertson beamed as the camera lit his face and he began strumming his guitar in Los Angeles, California.
The scene shifted to Marcus King standing at a microphone in Greenville, South Carolina. He started to sing, “I pulled into Nazareth, was feelin’ about half past dead. I just need someplace where I can lay my head. ‘Hey, mister, can you tell me where a man might find a bed?’ He just grinned and shook my hand. “No” was all he said”. With those first lines, my soul was filled with the energy of the song.
Music is a truly international connection. Fifty years ago, The Band came out with the song, “The Weight” and now it was being celebrated across the world by an amazing collection of musicians, including Robbie Robertson, the original writer of the iconic melody. He was joined from across cultures in celebration of his music.
“Take a load off Fanny, Take a load for free. Take a load off Fanny and (and)put the load right on me.”
So many amazing voices rang through the air on my screen. I was swept away by the beauty of the song. It’s a song about helping each other. A song connected through generations and across time and space to unite us in a common cause. A cause of love, peace, and celebration.
The group of musicians was from all corners of the globe. A man stood in the savanna of the Congo and sang the words, joined by Larken Poe in Venice Beach, California. The scenes kept shifting across the globe – Japan, Italy, Jamaica, Seattle, and numerous other places around our earth… A universal connection in a time when we have been separated by a microscopic foe.
They are called ‘Playing for Change’, and this amazing collection of artists has been connecting the world since 2002. Almost twenty years now.
Playing For Change was born as a shared vision between co-founders, Mark Johnson and Whitney Kroenke. They hit the streets of America with a mobile recording studio and cameras in search of inspiration and the heartbeat of the people. This musical journey resulted in the award-winning documentary, “A Cinematic Discovery of Street Music.”
Then in 2005, they found a street performer singing, “Stand By Me” His name was Roger Ridley. They filmed him singing the song on the streets of Santa Monica, California, then proceeded to travel the world filming artists singing along. ‘Songs Around The World’ was born. Shortly after, they founded the Playing For Change Foundation and started raising money for music and art schools and programs for underprivileged children around the world.
Until my YouTube premium algorithm popped the song into my feed, I had never heard of Playing For Change. Sometimes the bots in my internet feed get it right. This kind of connection is what they were created for.
Playing for change is a great example of the good people can do when they unite across cultures and across borders. Music is the purest form of connection. On September 20, the song, Peace Train, by Cat Stevens, will be released as a Song Around The World. I can’t wait to enjoy another iconic song redone by this group of musicians. They have done a great job so far, with songs as diverse as ‘Higher Ground’ by Stevie Wonder, ‘La Bamba’ by Los Lobos, and Bobby McFerrin’s Don’t Worry Be Happy, that one was sung by children from around the world.
In these days of the coronaverse, I am grateful to have musical therapy to help soothe my soul in the chaos. Check out www.playingforchange.com; join in and enjoy.