Gulfsongs Oregon: Supporting the Gulf Through Music
Over the last several months, Gulfsongs Oregon has been working hard to bring the Portland music community together to support the Gulf of Mexico. Organized by Stacy DeHart and Jim Friscia, the initiative has put together numerous live performances that have all benefited selected non-profit organizations — Gulf Aid Acadiana and Second Harvest Food Bank — actively involved in recovery and assistance efforts. Since the middle of July, Gulfsongs Oregon has successfully raised over $5100.
The final show in this series will be this Saturday, September 25th, at the Alberta Rose Theatre. It will will be a Celebration of Louisiana Music and includes Reggie Houston, Devin Phillips, Steve Kerin, the Too Loose Cajun/Zydeco Band, Turtle VanDemarr, Paul Brainard, Paris Slim, and a number of other special musical guests.
We caught up with one of Gulfsongs Oregon’s organizers, Jim Friscia, to learn more about the inspiration behind the project, why music is a good way to harness support for an issue and where they go from here.
What inspired you to put together Gulfsongs?
Oil gushing into the Gulf, feeling frustrated and helpless, having friends who live there or are from there, having an affinity for the culture and music of Louisiana and Gulf Coast, having awareness of the environmental issues concerning the loss of coastal wetlands, knowing that the impact on ecosystems and people would be great, and not exactly having faith in corporate or government responses. But what could we do?
Stacy had decided that she wanted to produce a show or two to raise money to send to the Second Harvest Food Bank in Louisiana and contacted me to ask if I would publicize it in my music blog. I simply said “why one or two?” I said I’d be willing to help produce a series.
We each know a lot of folks in the music community and began contacting artists and venues. Musicians – most of whom are making nearly nothing from their work – are so willing to step up to help and ask nothing in return. We really wanted to do something that would as directly as possible help the people who lived there, so we chose the food bank and a fund set up by the Community Foundation of Acadiana in southern Louisiana specifically to provide community-based assistance to those economically hurt by the disaster.
In your mind, what has been the series’ greatest success?
Just being able to pull it off; to relatively quickly gather support for the project and raise over $5000 from the community through a series of mostly small music club shows around town. The encouragement we’ve received from inside and out of the music community helped me see that we were doing at least a small positive step.
It was wonderful to get the support of organizations like the Cascade Blues Association, Oregon Music News, and Amanda Gresham’s Delta Music Experience for the effort. Our efforts have been gratefully received by the organizations in Louisiana and hopefully created and sustained some awareness of the magnitude and impact of the oil spill.
On a personal level, it’s been a tremendous opportunity to learn more about the issues and connect with others who share concerns and a desire to act. It helped establish and grow friendships and connections, which spurred a lot of thinking about my own behaviors in light of the issues.
Why use music as a way to gather people around a cause?
It’s an effective way to combine something people enjoy – live music – with cause awareness. We have seen this being done for years for issues global, local, and personal. For people who love hearing live music, it’s a pretty simple way to contribute money. That being said, being able to raise a lot of money this way can be a huge challenge, but people have come out to the shows, and even paid attention when we talked about the issues.
Seems like people have been pretty interested (more than usual) in Southern/Gulf Coast culture this summer because of the oil spill. How long do you think that’s going to last?
Unfortunately I think it will too quickly recede from people’s attention. We are really talking about complex issues of energy policy, environmental policy, and cultural/personal change ; things that become overwhelming for most of us to really wrap our brains around and take the steps necessary to comprehensively address them. If we don’t see it or feel it in a very immediate way, we can ignore it – absorbing it into the great background wash of issues we know we need to deal with on a personal/national/global level, but just don’t want to constantly think about.
I’d like to think efforts like Gulfsongs and PDX2GulfCoast will help build/maintain awareness and be small parts of a much bigger, and necessary, societal change. But unless there are compelling in-your-face reasons to take action now, I am rather pessimistic.
There are those of us who care about the rich cultural history and contributions of the people of southern Louisiana, and have a growing understanding of the complex economic, social, and environmental issues that shape the region. But communicating why we need to be concerned about them – what they mean to those of us who don’t live there – will be a very difficult task, particularly when awareness is overwhelmed by the latest sensational stories in our 24-hr news cycles and how we are personally being affected by the current recession, wage erosion, healthcare and housing issues, etc, etc.
Good question, especially in light of my last answer. Besides the final show of this July-September series that will be a Celebration of Louisiana Music on Saturday night at the Alberta Rose Theatre, we’re exploring some options now. We know we’ve established something – I guess “brand identity” – with Gulfsongs Oregon that we might decide to build on in the future. It’s in the discussion stage. I think Stacy and I are both a little tired after planning and doing 11 shows in less than three months. Stacy’s post from Saturday on the Gulfsongs website sums up our current thinking pretty well.
Images: Annaliese Moyer