“The thing I love about this band — I mean, I’ve loved every band I’ve been in …,” said Julie Davis, vocalist and upright bass player for Fairchildren, and quite a few other top Denver bands over the years, in an interview last week, “is how it’s been something we all fell into. There’s so much joy in it, so much fun!”
Fairchildren are planning to display all of that love for music towards raising money for a fitting cause on Tuesday at the Mercury Cafe. The benefit seeks to support the Emmanuel Music School in Haiti, which offers free music lessons for all sorts of instruments to natives of all ages, still open — and extremely active — despite dire post-earthquake conditions.
Born in the wake of Nathaniel Rateliff’s shooting folk/rock star in Denver, Fairchildren is most of Rateliff’s former back-up band, the Wheel, with a few notable additions. Besides Davis’ strong voice and bass out in front, there’s shimmering, spacey guitar by Joseph Pope III, keys by James Han and drums by Patrick Meese. Together, this quartet plays a curiously strong, yet ingeniously smooth, hybrid of Europop, Americana, folk, rock and jazz.
According to Davis, part of all the joy she finds in Fairchildren comes from a genuine love for music and performing, based in an understanding of its natural force in humans. And the rest of the group follows suit, which is why the band is participating in this benefit.
The Emmanuel School, despite the current living conditions in the disaster-stricken country, is so popular that the students line up for hours to wait for a turn to learn and practice on the few, well-worn (some so much they’re just a shade inside of functional) instruments they do have.
“Music is such a basic part of life, across all cultures,” Davis explained about Fairchildren’s involvement. “I can definitely understand why these people would be lining up to play instruments, even though they have no running water, maybe even no shelter.”
The benefit is the communal brainchild of local artist Cameron Jones, Jules Bethea (Rateliff’s wife) and local musician Liz Forster.
“I wanted to find people I could help directly,” said Jones, as we met last week to discuss the show. “Helping the school seemed simple enough, until I began researching shipping regulations and costs, customs — all of them were huge obstacles. I wanted to do something more simple, more effective.”
When Jones went on a volunteer trip to Haiti in January 2011 with All Hands Disaster Relief, she met Robinson Michelot, a trumpet teacher at the Emmanuel School. After Jones told Michelot about her art and music connections in Denver, he cautiously told her about the school and their lack of instruments, and asked if there might be a way she could help. After that, the benefit was a lock.
“There are people of all ages waiting for a turn to use one of the instruments,” added Jones, “and they have people with all talent levels teaching and learning. There are three maestros and plenty of musicians, all training to maybe catch work at weddings, parades, funerals. It’s a way out for them.”
“Once I explained what I wanted to do, to Jules [Bethea],” Jones explained, “she immediately stepped up and organized things … She’s been the perfect impetus behind this project the whole time.”
The group arranged the benefit with the Mercury, and asked Fairchildren to play, as well as Ron Miles and Todd Ayers, and involved some local visual artists as well. There will also be a screening of the documentary “Poto Mitan: Haitian Women — Pillars of the Global Economy.”
Thinking about the school reminded Davis about some of her earliest musical memories, her feelings about the cultural nature of music and why she’s so happy to be part of the benefit.
“We were having a party recently, and somehow all the instruments in the house came out — horns, clarinets, pianos, drums, guitars — and everyone there just played music,” she said. “It reminded me of the excitement I felt when I got my first flute as a young child — and … marched all around our neighborhood ‘playing,’ of course with no idea how to play.”
The rest of the group have similar feelings, and they’ve built their work — and everyday lives — around music as much as the Haitian student musicians have.
“It’s true, really, of all the Fairchildren. Patrick teaches music, Joseph teaches guitar, James teaches piano – all so they can play music,” Bethea pointed out. And Davis also tutors students for the same reasons.
“When we first started playing, and Gregory Alan Isakov asked us to tour the West Coast with him (in April), I was a little frazzled. After all, we hadn’t even really played Denver yet. But it was Patrick,” she said, “that put it into perspective. He said to all of us: ‘I don’t live my life this way — teaching music and working this hard — so that I can’t drop everything and just hit the road on tour.’ “
Meese’s strong bohemian attitude resonated with the band then — and it still does.
It’s also exactly why the school, along with this chance to help out, makes so much sense to them.