My good friend Rick Fowler and I went to a concert last night billed as “Harry Chapin: A Celebration in Song” at the Quick Center in Fairfield, CT. The music was incredible, as I had expected. The politics were great, as I had hoped. What wasn’t expected by me and my compatriot was kindness.
When we arrived, we had people pointing out parking spots. These were not paid professionals. They were concert-goers with bags of food they were bringing to the show. Our neighbors in the seats seemed friendly. Even the lines in the men’s room was friendly with people willing to wait for the old guy behind them. The audience was just that way. It wasn’t exciting! It wasn’t angry! or radical! All of these things that require our limbic system to get going feel normal now, but they’re supposed to be signs of danger.
Here was a group of hundreds of people and the danger in the world was buffeted by kindness. We knew it was there. We acknowledged it, and we were angered by it, but evil didn’t feel normal in that room. Harry, years ago, sang “Remember when the music came from wooden boxes … and set our hearts on fire”. During this concert, I remembered when kindness was the way it was supposed to be and was, in fact, the norm.
Either Woody Guthrie or Pete Seeger had an instrument that said, “this instrument kills fascists”.Banjos and acoustic guitars aren’t exactly scary things, but the warmth that they bring to us, with the human voice lifted in love, do indeed kill fascists. It is joy without rancor, love without anger, the cry for justice because it’s right that kills fascists because it conquers fear, which is at the very core of all this chaos.
During the concert/celebration, Sandy Chapin — Harry’s wife spoke about the things the Chapin Foundation is doing, and the incredible work people are doing because of Chapin Foundation grants. Speakers explained that hunger comes from poverty and poverty comes from hopelessness. Organizations that help people feel less hopeless, then hopeful, and then in charge of their own lives — done at the grassroots level — are so much a part of Harry’s dream for the world and they were represented here.
For instance, Operation Hope of Fairfield County was begun as a place to get food. Then it became a place for the homeless to find basic needs. Those basic needs are met by educational or training programs or counseling and require many people with many skills. It is the warmth of those kinds of people that forms a community where kindness is the norm. We need more of those kinds of places, where real people take care of real people in real life rather than from behind a computer. In places like that — whatever they do — the world feels good again.
Bill Ayers of WhyHunger spoke as well. The incredible work that they do lasts because it is built on long, slow, quiet work. Yes, it is work and in our world it has to get done. Harry and Bill and Sandy did it, and now we must do the work that is required. In an atmosphere of human kindness, and at a human pace, we build things that last. Much like craftsmen making things by hand, groups like WhyHunger craft the human spirit and apply it to our society and somehow it doesn’t feel as much like work.
Much of folk music, blues, and country music came from work songs to make the time pass. The work of making a better world slowly was certainly supported by the music we heard in Fairfield. Steve Chapin brought humor and style to the group on stage. Tom Chapin brought the deeper voice of Harry to the music. Jen, Harry’s daughter, brought passion and rhythm almost like beat poetry. The Chapin Sisters, Tom’s daughters, brought incredibly beautiful harmonies and hope to the evening in ways that I think only youth can. Martin Tubridy , the man who inspired Harry’s song “Mr. Tanner” was there, and brought the house down as a symbol of hope that endures through tough times because of the kindness of strangers. “He did not know how well he sang. It just made him whole” says the song, and Tubridy sang well at the concert. It is amazing how much kindness and caring give to us when criticism and harshness try to kill our spirits.
In addition to these stories, there were stories of old friends who couldn’t be there, like Big John Wallace, and the musical virtuosity brought by Jamie Fox on guitar, Howie Fields on drums, plus a great bass guitarist who replaced Big John for the night, and another Chapin on backing guitar. A rich textured life requires a collection of textured, skillful people. Yes, “the circle keeps spinning ’round”.
From all of this warmth in the room came the encore of sorts, a cry for justice called “We Will Not Stop Singing” written by The Chapin Sisters. Again, it was a call for justice born out of the knowledge that caring and kindness were possible, and now — for all of us — expected.
If you want to be a part of any of the organizations mentioned above, click on the links below for their websites:
Resisting oppression with peace,