On Thursday, June 21, three of our town’s most creative music ensembles will gather at Center Stage Theater for a concert, titled Songs for Africa, benefiting Direct Relief International (DRI), the Santa Barbara-based philanthropic organization that has been recognized as one of the most important and effective nongovernmental relief organizations in the world. The catalyst for Thursday’s benefit is Sally Barr (pictured above)-singer, violinist extraordinaire, humanitarian, adventurer, and a member of all the groups on the bill, which include Jim Connolly’s Gove County String Quartet, Barr’s own group, MamaJama Jazz, and Joe Woodard’s wild and stylish Headless Household. The music will start at 7:30 p.m., with three sets and two intermissions-a perfect schedule for listening, socializing, and supporting our city’s most impressive global charity. In 2006, DRI brought more than $200 million of direct aid in the form of medical material assistance and targeted cash grants to 23.8 million people in 56 countries.
The benefit concert alone would be a substantial gift to DRI, but Sally Barr is not one to proceed by half measures. In addition to organizing and hosting Songs for Africa, Barr will go to Africa herself in July to do relief work with DRI, and she is thrilled.
Mention Sally Barr to any of the progressive musicians in town and you’ll hear all kinds of praise. As Joe Woodard of Headless Household and The Indy‘s Fringe Beat column put it, “Sally Barr is one of those rare ‘serious’ musicians who is not only interested in a wide range of sounds and styles-and also attitudes-but she’s game to get involved in styles off to the left of straight classical music.” Woodard went on to express his admiration for this particular project, saying, “Lately, Sally has really been branching out, letting out the entrepreneur within and also exploring her new persona as a singer. I was thrilled when she asked if Headless Household could play the Direct Relief International benefit.”
I spoke with Barr last week by phone while she visited her parents.
How did you become involved with DRI? I have been a contributor to its fundraising efforts for years, and I have always been impressed with the way DRI is so often first on the spot when a crisis breaks out. I was in New Zealand when the earthquake hit Pakistan in 2005, and I remember turning on CNN and seeing two insignias on the scene within the first 24 hours-Red Cross and DRI. When I first got more involved with the organization after the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, I saw what they were doing was no-nonsense, and that they had the means and the passion to make a real difference.
What are you going to be doing in Africa? For me, this is the first time going with the team on a relief mission, and I am honored to be involved. Lori Willis asked me if I would go with them to Africa, and I couldn’t say no. The basic idea is we will meet up in Nairobi and do three clinics in Kenya, then get on an eight-seater bush plane and fly to Uganda, where we will do three more clinics. I recently met the man who coordinates DRI’s work in Uganda, and he was so moving. Here is someone who deals with death every day, and he is the most positive, optimistic person you could ever imagine.
Have you always wanted to do something like this? Yes, I have. I was even thinking about joining the Peace Corps. I suppose this is like the tourist version. (Laughs.) Seriously, the way I feel about it is like this: Living the life of a musician in Santa Barbara is not easy, but you know, when you look around you and see what’s happening elsewhere in the world, you realize that, hey, it’s not exactly hard, either. That’s part of why I am really excited about this trip-to be more aware of how things are in the world, and of how lucky we are living here.
What was it like getting the bands together for the benefit? They were all great about it-everyone said yes right away. Jim Connolly was a Peace Corps kid, and Tom Lackner’s family has been involved with DRI for decades. And Joe Woodard is always supportive, so that made things easy. I’ve known these guys for years, and I’m still excited by what we are doing together.
Is there something you want to accomplish on Thursday, beyond just raising money and having fun? Raising awareness would be nice. You know, I have told some people about what I am doing, and they have heard of DRI, but they didn’t know it was here. They say, “Direct Relief International is based in Santa Barbara?” and I say, “Yes, so get involved.”
Songs for Africa kicks off at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 21, at Center Stage Theater (751 Paseo Nuevo). Tickets are $30. For more information, visit centerstagetheater.org or call 963-0408.