Understand and respect the depth of your instrument’s power. The guitar has the capacity to save lives; it has given many a desperate person reason to go on. Use it’s power wisely.”
– Philip Toshio Sudo, “Zen Guitar”
We used to have a local monthly student open mic at a music store I teach at. Students were encouraged to form bands and perform in front of their peers and teachers. The open mic grew, and due to the event’s popularity, the students were limited to two or three songs.
As my students’ bands stayed together and continued practicing, their set lists grew. Several bands eventually had set lists that were 45 minutes or more. These bands needed to be challenged. I started taking a few select bands to a restaurant in Northern Virginia to play at open mic events, and mix with adults. This got me thinking about the kids playing shows in better venues. With those experiences in mind, I decided to create a “Kids Rock” program, a program to get youngsters gigging in better venues.
Starting and running Kids Rock was a real learning experience for both the kids and myself. The kids learned a lot about professionalism and what it takes to play gigs. They also learned how much work it takes to do a show, and that doing a show means more than just learning the tunes. They became interested in related topics like live sound, recording, and photographing live music. I was surprised at how many kids would work hard on their craft, with more professionalism, gratitude, and dedication than some adults I have dealt with. As a result, I have had some great shows playing with some amazing young players.
Of course, Kids Rock wasn’t for everyone. Some bands didn’t fit the available venues, and at other times there were no available venues. Sometimes the bands weren’t interested in pursuing things at the level of a Kids Rock show. After all, the average ten year old will set up their guitar gear, and then immediately search for a location to go skateboarding. This obviously isn’t appropriate in a professional gigging environment. Sometimes, the experiences were a little too real. We’d arrive, set up our gear, and then play for a crowd of ten people because the event we booked into had a poor turnout. Adults can process this kind of situation fairly well; “it was a bad day, no big deal.” The average ten year old who has practiced three months for this one upcoming show will process the situation as “this sucks!” and quit.
So I needed another forum that was open for all ages and levels of dedication. And I also wanted the kids to be playing to consistently large crowds. I also wanted the events to somehow be more satisfying and more meaningful than just playing another gig.
I had started attending a local annual concert event, called Santa Jam, organized by bassist John Perry. (More info at www.santajam.org.) Santa Jam is an annual charity event to raise money for homeless women, children, and victims of domestic violence. The money is donated to shelters in Northern Virginia. This event really resonated with me, as I had my own period of homelessness after leaving an unhealthy relationship. I asked John if I could borrow the idea and use it with kids. He gave me his blessing, and wished me luck.
Two years after the first Kids Rock show, I had a much clearer vision of what I wanted. Sudo’s imagery of the “life giving sword” melded with my experiences at Santa Jam, my personal experience with homelessness, and a desire to “do more” than just play gigs with the kids. The Kids Rock program gently evolved into Kids Jamming For Kids. There are two goals of Kids Jamming For Kids. The musical goal is to allow a wide variety of bands to showcase in a concert environment, regardless of experience or age level. The second goal was to direct all that musical energy toward the goal of giving back to the community. To teach students that they each carry a “life giving sword”.
So far, the response to Kids Jamming For Kids has been stellar. Our first show of this type was in March of 2008, and we donated 240 pounds of food to the Fredericksburg Food Bank. The hall was packed for the entire three-hour show.
Our second show raised $764 for Guitars Not Guns, a group that helps at risk kids by supplying guitars and lessons. (Head to www.guitarsnotguns.org/virginia.html for more info). KJFK raised enough to send 15 children through the Guitars Not Guns program. We also raised 109 pounds of food for the local Food Bank.
The third KJFK show was in September 2008. KJFK was invited to perform as part of “Rev Your Engines” a charity event in Northern Virginia. One of the most popular KJFK bands, “The Red Light Effect”, showed up and put on a great show for event attendees. The entire event raised $4000 for Stop the Silence, an organization that works to fight childhood sexual abuse.
Our most recent show was in Dec. of 2009. That event raised $1,861 for Guitars not Guns. We had over 211 pounds of food donated for the Fredericksburg Food Bank. The hall was packed for the entire three-hour show. We raffled off a donated Epiphone SG electric guitar and a donated DiPinto Belvedere Deluxe Bass as part of the fundraiser.
Over time, Kids Jamming For Kids has begun inspiring other events. I would write up KJFK post show reports in my Myspace blog. (Find KJFK online at www.myspace.com/kjfk or at www.myspace.com/ladybassmusic.) Through Myspace and my blog, Carol Moxley found me and interviewed me for her blog. As a result of that experience, she organized “Kids Jammin’ For Jessie” in Fort Worth, TX. The event raised money for the Hemispherectomy Foundation. The lineup of performers included Carol’s band (Heredity), her daughter’s band (Red Tape Window) and Daze Off.
My students benefit on many levels, however their immediate concerns are usually doing a good show, running sound, and being the best musicians they can be. I think the message of service to the community becomes apparent when the performers see the donations that come in. Every student, even the smallest and the youngest, understand they all carry a “life giving sword”.
“The virtuoso players are the ones who rise above technical mastery and exhibit true virtue in every note they play – honest, integrity, charity, gratitude, compassion. To them, music becomes more than a personal release or ecstasy. It serves to create harmony in the broadest sense of the word. These players are the true guitar heroes…” -Philip Toshio Sudo, “Zen Guitar”