’Tis the season for community-oriented musical gatherings. Hot on the heels of (and inspired by) the Wheel’s third holiday extravaganza at the Bluebird, major label hotshots Flobots are throwing their own holiday hootenanny, with plenty of guest stars, free stuff and last-minute merch gifts.
But the Flobots’ event is more than just another opportunity for musicians to get together, show their mutual admiration and take your money. This particular event will benefit the group’s nonprofit organization, Flobots.org, and the work it does to promote social justice. This is one holiday party that might actually have you feeling better when you leave than you did when you arrived.
“Just like any other nonprofit, this is our last chance to get some extra funds before the end of the year,” explains Andy Guerrero, a.k.a. Andy Rok, Flobots guitarist and member of the board of directors for Flobots.org. “This was a down year for the band,” he says, referring to the fact that the band spent more time recording its next album, “Survival Stories,” than touring. “When there’s a new song on the radio, we can play one show and donate the proceeds to the nonprofit. This year, we didn’t get to do that because we had to pay all the Flobots bills.”
While the event is a fundraiser, it will be done in Flobots style. That means no black ties, no pricey tickets (admission is free) and fewer people talking through clenched jaws. Festivities will be spread out between the Meadowlark Bar, where Laura Goldhamer, Phelyx the Mentalist, Science Partner and Jen Korte and the Loss will be performing loose sets with plenty of unannounced guests, and the Flobots.org Community Space next door (2705 Larimer Street), where assorted Flobots-related music — much of which has never been heard before — will be playing and the party will be popping.
“We want to show what we’ve been doing this year,” says Guerrero.
One of those things is the Flobots’ continued work with Denver Children’s Home, where the group runs a music therapy and mentorship program. Under the guidance of local musician, composer and educator Serafin Sanchez, who also plays with Guerrero in the funk-soul outfit Bop Skizzum, Guerrero and Flobots’ violist Mackenzie Roberts teach instruments and music theory to kids who’ve suffered abuse and poverty.
Meanwhile, Jamie Laurie, a.k.a. ’Bots emcee Jonny 5, teaches how to write and perform lyrics. In the end, Sanchez helps produce professional-quality recordings of songs written and performed by kids who have more than their share of challenges. At Saturday’s party, “Live from DCH! Volume 2,” a compilation of those recordings, will be playing, and will also be available for purchase, with proceeds going right back into the music program.
Check out “Life” from “Live from DCH! Volume 2”
Another album that will get play at the party and also be available for sale is one that some consider the first Flobots record. Recorded by Laurie and Yahktoe (a.k.a. producer Farhad Ebrahimi) in 2000, while Laurie was on summer break from Brown University, “Onomatopoeia” went out of print long ago. The least expensive copy on Amazon.com is selling for $59.95, and the most expensive is priced at an astounding $192.54. Laurie decided to print a limited supply of the sought-after album and offer it for sale for a mere $10, via Twist and Shout Records, internet sales and the holiday party. Laurie and Flobots won’t see a dime from the sales, because all the proceeds will benefit Flobots.org.
While busy with all this do-gooder activity, Flobots are also navigating the difficult terrain of being a major label band that wants to maintain its integrity. As a special treat for those who come out to support Flobots.org at Saturday’s party, the group will be spinning tracks from the recently completed new album, which includes guest spots from Colorado singer-songwriter Matt Morris and Rise Against’s Tim McIlrath. Recorded with superstar producer Mario Caldato, Jr., who has worked with G. Love, Money Mark, Manu Chao, Tone Loc and, most famously, the Beastie Boys, the creation of “Survival Stories” has been an uphill climb, but it will finally see daylight in the spring.
“To their credit,” says Guerrero, referring to the chieftains at Universal Republic Music, “they’ve stuck with letting us do what we want to do, even though it’s been a bit of a battle. They put the record out that we wanted to put out.”
“Good Soldier,” one of 12 songs on the new album, made a profound impact on a fan at a recent show. “There was this soldier there who just came back from 16 months in Iraq, and has to go back in January,” recounts Guerrero. “The song is about not having to be a good soldier, about it being OK to sometimes feel like it’s too much, and he had to leave because he started crying during that song.” That wasn’t, however, the last the band would see of that soldier. “Later, he came back and he had this dollar bill and he had us all sign it,” the guitarist remembers. “He told us about having to shoot a 15-year-old kid, and he said, ‘Nobody understands, but you guys understand.'”
As the 28-year-old activist and musician tells this story, he’s noticeably choked up. While promoting change and advocating for the needy is critical to Flobots’ mission, making real connections with real humans is, in the end, what it’s all about. Saturday’s party — with its free music, sneak previews and a craft table for making ornaments out of garbage — underscores that. “We’re not just a political band,” insists Guerrero. “We don’t want to be framed as just that. We want to be knowing for caring about things and having integrity.”
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Eryc Eyl is a veteran music journalist, critic and Colorado native who has been neck-deep in local music for many years. Check out Steal This Track every Tuesday for local music you can HEAR, and the Mile High Makeout every Friday.