In 1992, while he was enrolled at George Washington University, Jeff Campbell had an idea that initially was inspired by a class project. The concept was to bring street musicians and other D.C. music talent together for a concert called Hungry for Music, that would benefit the Coalition Against Homelessness.
These concerts were held in 1992 and 1993, and included a food drive. Two years later, Hungry for Music became a tax-exempt non-profit charity, with the purpose of supporting music education and bringing the positive qualities of music to others through concerts and workshops at schools, church programs, retirement homes, and homeless shelters.
Twenty years later, HFM has evolved into an organization that “supports music education & cultural enrichment by acquiring and distributing quality musical instruments to underserved children with willing instructors and a hunger to play.” Explained best on their website: “We serve children who demonstrate a desire to learn music as well as teachers who have students willing to learn.”
By holding events and benefits, community drives to collect musical instruments, and releasing CD compilations to raise awareness and funds, HFM has been able to donate over 7,000 musical instruments in 41 states and 11 countries.
From what I recall, I think my most successful class project was growing a bean plant in a Dixie cup.
This past Father’s Day weekend, the Bearsville Theater (which might be located in the hamlet of Bearsville, but has a Woodstock address) presented an HFM benefit called A Tribute to Harry Smith’s Anthology of Folk Music, featuring some of the area’s residents. This concert culminated a month-long Hudson Valley music instrument drive sponsored by Radio Woodstock.
Supporting this great charity by lending their time and talent were John Sebastian, Happy Traum, Jay Ungar and Molly Mason, Steve Katz, Ed Sanders, Mikhail Horowitz and Gilles Malkine, Charlie Knicely, Bill and Livia Vanaver, The Saturday Night Bluegrass Band (with Bill Keith and Eric Weisberg), Professor Louie & the Crowmatix, Women of the World, Michael Eck, and the Rosendale Improvement Association Marching Band and Social Club. There may have been a few more; forgive me if I missed someone.
It would be fruitless for me to even try to explain how magical the music and performances were, but I’ll tell you something…it sure was a night to remember. The old time folk, blues and roots music was presented as an Our Gang-style revue, with each performer doing a couple of songs before turning it over to the next act. Jay, Molly, Sebastian and Traum (above photo) kept popping up to support other musicians as well as doing songs of their own.
In what for me was probably one of the most interesting moments of the night, Ed Sanders spoke eloquently about his friendship with Harry Smith; and told stories about his life and times in the East Village, the bookstore he ran, and recording with the Fugs. (That’s Ed on the right, playing a song about nothing.)
As I was thinking about how I could best talk about the mission of Hungry for Music, and also share the evening’s sparkle and shine, I discovered that photographer Mike Melnyk was in the house and he’s given me permission to share his work. Check out his website for some great galleries of roots music events he’s covered over the years.
There’s a lot of organizations that do great work and ask for our time and money. Hungry for Music does the same, but it also offers musicians and collectors something different. By turning over our unwanted or unused instruments, we can experience and contribute to changing and transforming our big old planet just a tiny bit…one note at a time.