Fire, drought, rain, flooding, ash rain, giant hailstones. At least 28 people killed, 3,000 homes destroyed, an estimated billion animals dead. It's an Australian apocalypse. Containing this disaster has evolved into an international effort.
Deb Jones has lived in Rochester for two decades, but is a native of Australia, where the landscape has been ravaged by fires since late July. After watching this unfold on television from a half a world away, she has assembled "Songs for South Australia Bushfire Relief." The show is at 5 p.m. Friday, Jan. 31, at Lovin' Cup Bistro and Brews.
"I had probably 50 different artists reach out to me in 24 to 36 hours," Jones says. "This community is so awesome. I think later on, I would say a day or two after I put that post up, Roy reached out to me and said, 'We'd love to put together New Math for this, we haven't played for a decade and I'm pretty sure this will attract some attention.' "
Roy is Roy Stein. Drummer for a handful of local bands over the years. For this show it's New Math, which during the late 1970s and early '80s was a regular at now-extinct clubs such as The Penny Arcade and Scorgie's. The show also includes Chris Cady, Left-Handed Second Baseman, Teressa Wilcox, The Krooks, River Lynch & the Spirit Makers and Anonymous Willpower.
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Jones grew up in Adelaide. Among other things, it is wine country, and it's been devastated.
"Adelaide Hills has been on fire for a couple of months," she says. "I keep reaching out to people in the McLaren Vale area where I lived for several years, where I have experienced bushfires myself there in the '80s, the last time there were huge bushfires in South Australia. It was called Ash Wednesday, they ended up calling it. It was 1985, and I lived on a big farm with my mother, and we had 300 cows and 400 sheep and horses and all sorts of things. And we had to evacuate our farm and fight the fires ourselves."
The dryness of the region -- very little water or rain -- makes it a natural tinderbox.
"I saw fires start on the side of the road," Jones says, "I saw power lines touch together and spark and instantly start fires."
Besides the bands, dozens of raffle items have been contributed for the show. A banjo, South Australian wines, jewelry, paintings by local artists, even a trip to Kangaroo Island, off the south coast of Australia. That's where the funds from Songs for South Australia Bushfire Relief will be directed. A benefit for the Ligurian bees.
"It's kind of a tough sell, when you say it out loud," Jones admits. " 'Oh the bees, what about the koalas?' Everybody wants to save the koalas. And the kangaroos. And that's awesome, and so do I. But a lot of the money has already been directed to those funds."
The Ligurian bees have, as Jones says, "a nice attitude." Not too aggressive. More importantly, environmentalists say bees are among the most important living things in the ecosystem. A leading pollinator of plants, bees encourage the spread of vegetation. Which charred southern Australia is in need of. And the bee colonies of Kangaroo Island have been seriously compromised by the fires.
The bees' comeback will be just as sweet as the one by New Math. The band was last heard of in 2008, at a tribute show in memory of the old Andrews Street club, now long gone, Scorgie's. This will be the '80s lineup of bassist and songwriter Gary Trainer, keyboardist Mark Schwartz and guitarist Chris Yockel. Original singer Kevin Patrick is not available. He's in England as the manager of the indie band Matt and Kim, so he'll be replaced by Kim Draheim of the Infrared Radiation Orchestra.
Says Stein, "Old guys reminiscing, it gets a little…"
"Yeah, it is, and it gets a little embellished. But really, you didn't need to embellish 1979 and '80 in Rochester, there was just a tremendous club scene at that time … You kind of had the Penny Arcade rock scene, and then, when Scorgie's opened up downtown, it became kind of the citadel for newer alternative, what we called back then punk music, and then became New Wave, in the early '80s."
Stein joined the band in '79. "It was fabulously simple and powerful music, four on the floor, you know?" he says. Punk. However, the Arcade was known for the progressive rock sound propagated by the likes of Journey and Styx. New Math was playing a Monday night, the club was full, 400 people in the place, and they weren't reacting well to fabulously simple, powerful, four on the floor.
"The hostility toward punk music from the bartenders, and the people that worked at the Penny Arcade, was palpable," Stein says.
The bartenders were wearing "Punk Sucks" T-shirts, and four or five songs into the set began handing out eggs to patrons.
"They actually threw eggs at us because they detested our music so much," Stein says.
And when Patrick was hit in the face by an egg, he said show's over, and the band walked off the stage. New Math never played the Penny Arcade again.
Aside from memories of breakfast that morning, there was a connection, and an excitement, to getting any kind of reaction from the audience.
"I would love people to throw eggs at me now," Stein says. "You know, to be able to have people upset enough about your music, that they would actually throw eggs."
And today? "People would just look at their iPhone instead of throwing eggs at you."
So that era is over.
"I think most of our fans would probably hurt their shoulders now, were they to throw eggs at us," Stein says. "Their orthopedic surgeon would say, 'No, don't do that.' "
A Blaze of glory
You've never heard of Blaze Foley? It's OK, but that has to change. In this flurry of tribute shows that we find ourselves caught up in (Bob Marley and Barenaked Ladies at Lovin' Cup, Dolly Parton at Abilene), the choice of Foley is truly unexpected.
But a handful of Rochester musicians will try to do this legendary outsider justice with "Duct Tape Messiah – A tribute to Blaze Foley" at 9 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 1, at Abilene Bar & Lounge, 153 Liberty Pole Way.
A true original (he duct-taped his boots and even made a suit out of duct tape), Foley lived in Austin -- sometimes in his car -- and played the bar scene, writing songs. He worked with some respected people in the music industry, like Gurf Morlix, and was a friend of Townes Van Zandt. He recorded three albums, but the master tapes generally disappeared in unusual circumstances, like drug busts and floods. When Foley was shot to death in 1989, that seemed to be it for the legend.
It was not. People such as Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, John Prine, Lyle Lovett and Nanci Griffith have recorded his songs, and his music has appeared in TV shows and films as well. Songs have even been written about Foley; The "Drunken Angel" on Lucinda Williams' album "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road" is Foley. Morlix made a documentary on him, "Duct Tape Messiah."
The musicians for the night include Tyler Westcott and friends, Matthew Corrigan of Tough Old Bird, Cody Barcroft and Randy Lee. Admission is $5.
Jeff Spevak is WXXI's Arts & Life editor and reporter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.