Jamming for Japan

Liana Gabel was one of the many who performed for the all day and all night Japan benefit show.
Liana Gabel was one of the many who performed for the all day and all night Japan benefit show.

Local musicians shared their tunes and artists sold their work on April 9 in an effort to raise money towards earthquake relief in Japan.

The all day and all night benefit show organized by Roger LaRochelle, Pete Newman, Avery Jenkins, Amanda Sisenstein and Garland Middleton featured more than 30 musical acts performing at venues such as Slash Root, Cafeteria and Snugs. One band already booked at Oasis also participated and artists contributed artwork to sell at each show as well.

The event was inspired by a similar fundraiser organized by the group last year after the earthquake hit Haiti. The Haiti fundraiser was so successful that when disaster struck Japan they thought it was a great opportunity to reuse some of the Haiti ideas. They decided to hold the Japan benefit at the same places, adding Snugs as a third venue. The idea of having art available for purchase also carried over from the previous benefit, as it had accounted for a main portion of the funds raised in the past.

According to LaRochelle, the main idea for both philanthropic endeavors came from the realization that New Paltz as a community has incredible potential for coming together to help others.

“The community as a whole is very conscious of global events, and there’s a strong activist mentality here among college students and other residents alike that encourages people to believe they can make a difference in the world and to act on that belief,” LaRochelle said.

LaRochelle noted that living in New Paltz for many years and being active in its “vibrant music scene” allowed him to bring events like the two fundraisers to life quite easily and quickly.

The planning process for the Japan benefit was fairly simple. LaRochelle found a day that all three venues had open and then began asking musicians to play. Most of the bands and musicians were people the organizers knew very well, but others were acts they had just seen before and enjoyed.

After determining the day and contacting various musicians, everything seemed to fall into place.

“Once we got started, it all went very smoothly. The infrastructure was already there. Everyone that was involved last year just sort of automatically resumed their role. It was like a machine, just start the key and it goes,” LaRochelle said. “And where there was any need for people to help out, there were immediately volunteers. People constantly came to me through the whole process asking what they could do.”

The greatest challenge of the event came when choosing which organization to send the money to.  Some issues arose such as Japan being a somewhat wealthy country and is probably in less need of “a few handfuls of change from some American college students” than a less affluent country, even after a major disaster.

The planning team heard about Doctors Without Borders, an organization that sends mobile medical clinics into areas that are difficult to reach. They discovered that the organization had started working in Japan and also delivered medical aid to more than 60 other countries, including Haiti.

“We decided to split the proceeds between the Japanese Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders, neither of which accepts donations earmarked specifically for relief efforts for the Japanese disaster, but both of which provide aid for various emergencies around the world,” LaRochelle said. “Our reasoning was that we could try to help out with the disaster in Japan, a situation that was getting a lot of attention and that people would be quick to recognize, and also contribute to some other major global emergencies that haven’t been as prevalent in the headlines.”

While the event only raised about $1,575, a disappointing amount after making $3,333 from the Haiti benefit, LaRochelle was still extremely happy with the turnout of the event. The fundraiser was quiet at first, but gained momentum over the course of the day and people “hopped from venue to venue.” LaRochelle’s initial concerns of Snugs being primarily part of the night life scene and a less central location were assuaged as well.

“The turnout was great at Snugs all day and night, and we probably raised more money there than anywhere else,” LaRochelle said. “Another cool thing about it was that Snugs was already booked to a band that night, so the original plan was to just have the benefit event during the day, and to have it end at 10 p.m. so that the scheduled show could happen. We later found out that Liana and the Michaels had booked the night, and before I could even ask them, they volunteered to make their show part of the benefit.”

Liana Gabel decided to participate due to the fact that she has good friends in Japan and wanted to help the cause. Gabel echoed LaRochelle’s positive sentiment.

“I was blown away by the diversity of sound and the willingness of our musicians to share their vibrations for the cause,” said Gabel. “The greater community graciously received these vibrations, resulting in an entire afternoon and evening of smiling, dancing and joyously celebrating life and music.

While LaRochelle would have liked to raise more money for the cause, he still sees the donations as “one more drop in the bucket.” He felt very pleased with the event’s attendance and how it ran overall and hopes that it will inspire similar events in the future.

“Everyone that saw what was happening realized that it was something really beautiful. It was an inspiring coming together of our community, and a ton of great music was played and enjoyed,” LaRochelle said. “The spirit of the day was amazing.”