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This article by Richard J. Skelly was prepared for the February 5, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Making Music for Peace
Since their inaugural "Concert for Peace" in
the fall of 1982, the annual shows presented by the Coalition for
Peace Action have sought out a diversity of musical styles. The first
show in 1982 featured the Emerson String Quartet, Through the years,
the non-profit group, created to encourage nuclear disarmament, has
presented country, blues, folk, jazz and classical music.
This year’s concert on Saturday, February 8, at Nassau Presbyterian
Church features Philadelphia-area singer-songwriter Jeffrey Gaines
on a double bill with singer-songwriter Cheryl Wheeler from Washington,
D.C. Wheeler is known for her ability to make audiences laugh when
she is on stage, while Gaines is known for marathon solo performances.
Although it is unlikely that he will pull a marathon at the Concert
for Peace, several years ago at Club Bene in Sayreville Gaines played
a set that lasted more than three hours.
"From the beginning, we’ve had a really wide range of music,"
explains Reverend Robert Moore, executive director of the Coalition
for Peace Action. "And after all, diversity is one of the core
values of peace. We’ve had just about every genre of music you can
Moore, who grew up in Indiana, the son of a naval officer, has directed
the Coalition since 1981. In addition to his full time ministry at
the Coalition for Peace Action, Moore serves as part-time pastor to
East Brunswick Congregational Church and to the Livingston Avenue
United Church of Christ in New Brunswick.
Moore recalls that George Kennan came to speak at the inaugural Concert
for Peace in the fall of 1982.
"George is the famous diplomatic historian and former ambassador
to the Soviet Union who is now at the Institute for Advanced Study,
and he’s been a terrific leader in terms of nuclear disarmament,"
Moore says. "After all it was talks Kennan gave in Princeton in
1979 that gave birth to the local anti-nuclear movement, and gave
us the inspiration for the Coalition for Peace Action."
Since 1982 performers at the annual concerts for peace have included
Pete Seeger (twice), folk and blues singer Odetta, Dar Williams, Lucinda
Williams, Lionel Hampton and his orchestra, jazz singer Jeannie Bryson
and blues singer Scarlett "Lee" Moore, Suzanne Vega, Richie
Havens, and former Talking Heads leader David Byrne.
Jeffrey Gaines has a knack for blending pop sensibilities
with his own folk influences and at Saturday’s show he will be celebrating
the release of his new album, "Toward the Sun," with a good
company, Artemis Records of New York City.
In concert, Gaines is known for long ballads that tell poignant stories
of love and life, while his vocals are a mix of gospel, blues, and
soul influences. He will likely perform songs from his new album,
including the radio ready "Over and Over," "Without You,"
and "Beyond the Beginning."
Artemis, which will officially release "Toward The Sun" on
February 11, is also home to Jimmie Vaughan, Susan Tedeschi, and other
solid roots-rock and blues performers. The label may be best known
for its hit with the Baha Men, "Who Let The Dogs Out?!" But
more important than the commercial success of individual releases
is founder and CEO Danny Goldberg’s commitment to artist development.
At Artemis, musicians are not dropped like hot potatoes if their first
album does not sell in excess of 500,000 units. This is in stark contrast
to the current situation at many major record companies, where the
pressure for "hits" and profit is extreme.
Cheryl Wheeler is a well-known performer on the folk festival and
coffee house circuit, but she has had great commercial success as
a songwriter, as author of such country hits as "Aces" for
Suzy Boggus and "Addicted," a No. 1 country hit for Dan Seals.
Other performers who have recorded Cheryl Wheeler songs include Maura
O’Connell and Bette Midler.
Wheeler, who records for Rounder Records, is also known for poignant,
thought-provoking songs like "Is It Peace or Is It Prozac?"
She can write funny songs for sure, but she also sings songs that
can change the mood of an auditorium full of people. Wheeler’s real
talent as a performer is often found in her between-song patter. Her
live shows are punctuated by short, funny monologues between tunes.
Her Princeton audience should be receptive to both the music and the
monologues. "Our founding event was an interfaith service for
peace, and every autumn we do these," Moore says. In addition,
the Coalition for Peace Action remains active with a variety of other
activities throughout the year: "We do advocacy, hold a lot of
educational events, and frequent community forums throughout the year."
More than 5,000 people are on the group’s mailing list as members
or supporters, says Moore, who is also currently the co-coordinator
of the New Jersey Coalition Against War in Iraq, a consortium of 35
New Jersey organizations.
Asked about recent activities at the Coalition for Peace Action, Moore’s
response was predictable. Growing concern about the possibility of
war in Iraq is at the forefront. "As you can imagine, right now
we’re up to our eyebrows trying to stop a war in Iraq," says Moore,
"and it’s just basically been non-stop. But I think we’re turning
the corner now in terms of public opinion. Just look at what the market
is telling us will happen if there’s a war now. It’s dragging us down
further and further."
While Moore will get up to speak briefly at Saturday’s show at Nassau
Presbyterian Church, the evening is devoted primarily to music and
music lovers. "I’ll just say a few words about the Coalition,
because it’s basically an evening of music," he says.
— Richard J. Skelly
Presbyterian Church, 609-924-5022. The annual concert features Jeffrey
Gaines and Cheryl Wheeler. Proceeds benefit the Peace Action Education
Fund. Pre-concert reception and dinner at 6 p.m., $110. Concert only
$20, $30, & $55. Saturday, February 8, 8 p.m.
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