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The Arts

Rockin’ for a free world

Three local bands headline ACLU benefit show at 118 Elliot

BRATTLEBORO—Musician Ben Yelle says he and his string band, Blackjack Crossing, have “never been an overtly political band, but these are different times.”

With the inauguration of Donald J. Trump just days away, Yelle said he wanted to do something constructive to counter the plans of the president-elect.

So Yelle has put together a benefit concert in Brattleboro for the Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The show, which features three local bands, is Saturday, Jan. 14, starting at 6 p.m., at the 118 Elliot performance space.

“The ACLU has been vocal and public about its plans to stand up to the president-elect should he try to enact the unconstitutional things he’s promised,” Yelle said. “It just seems to make the most sense to try to help their efforts.”

Yelle made it clear that he’s “always been pretty much anti-political, or at least I kept my opinions mostly to myself,” but that this election “was not about whether to cut taxes or change trade policies. It was about the idea that certain people don’t belong in this country because of their religion, their race, their gender, and even because of their political opinions.

“It’s a scary slope, and I feel like if I’m not saying ‘this is wrong,’ I couldn’t live with myself. My goal in putting this together was to counter those emotions. So, yes, it’s about resistance, but it’s hopefully also a message about love — a love for the differences that have always made this country special.”

Eager volunteers

Yelle said the benefit came together easily, with people eagerly jumping on board to volunteer.

“We had so many people express interest in being a part of this that it was hard to narrow it down,” he said. “An old friend from college who plays in a national touring death metal band offered to come; a woman I only know through Facebook who is a top-10 bluegrass songwriter showed interest; tons of musicians from around here all stepped up.

“I knew it could get unwieldy if decisions weren’t made quickly. So, once I had three confirmed bands, I said, ‘Good enough.’”

The OtherWise Band kicks off the evening. Composed of longtime friends who are all teachers in Windham County — Susan Shmitt, keyboards, Charly McLoughlin, rhythm guitar and vocals, and Michael Auerbach guitar and vocals — they play originals and covers from Cab Calloway to the Decemberists, Tom Waits to Tammy Wynette.

Yelle’s band, Blackjack Crossing, plays second. The four-piece string band (Coretta Corbin Bliss, guitar, guitjo and vocals; Carey Bluhm, fiddle and vocals; Ben Ridgway, double bass and vocals; and Yelle, mandolin, guitar and vocals) has played all over New England since forming in 2009.

They’ve cut back on performing lately to focus on writing and recording, but all band members were quick to agree to do the benefit, Yelle said.

Closing out the night is The Elliot Street Alibi, a Brattleboro-based group that combines songwriting styles from a wide spectrum to produce a unique funk rock sound. The band (Ernesto Sanchez, vocals, rhythm guitar; Kevin Hayes, lead guitar, vocals; Joshua Francis, drums; and Scott Griswold, bass) has been working on original material for about two years, fine-tuning their sound and show.

Grass-roots wingding

“I’m really happy with the diversity of the three bands,” Yelle said “We’ve got some classic, mellower stuff early in the evening, we’ll ratchet things up with my band, and we’ve got a jamming rock band with some great musicians to close out the night. Even if it wasn’t for such a good cause, I think it’s going to be a really fun night of music.”

Yelle credits the generosity of the Brattleboro area for making it easy to put this show together.

“This is a true grass-roots community effort, and others have been just as involved as me, or more so,” he said. “Coretta designed the posters, Mike secured the place, people I don’t even know are volunteering to help with cleanup. Kevin Dremel, the brains behind the Keene Music Festival, is loaning us equipment. I’m fortunate to have so many generous caring people in my life. I think that’s the kind of attitude we all could benefit from these days.”

He said he wanted the show to happen before the inauguration, “while the energy is still high.”

“It is important to keep things moving forward,” Yelle said. “We’re small-time artists in New Hampshire and Vermont, so I’m not worried about any record burnings or boycotts. I don’t want to speak for anyone else, but for me, this concert is the best way I can go on record as standing up for my fellow Americans.”

Yelle said the organizers don’t want to turn anyone away, but they hope people will dig deep for the cause. They are suggesting a minimum $10 donation. There will also be snacks and a raffle, with proceeds also going to the Vermont ACLU.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #390 (Wednesday, January 11, 2017). This story appeared on page B1.

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