Sometimes the ball just bounces your way. Who cannot relate to that? It was certainly the case on May 16 at Gruene Hall (pronounced ”green”), the legendary dance hall located deep in the heart of Texas.
Gruene Hall is a lazy tube float down the winding, cypress tree-lined shores of the Guadalupe River from our New Life Children’s Center in nearby Canyon Lake. The geography has a Garden of Eden-like quality to it and Gruene Hall with it’s well-worn wooden dance floor and the surrounding area makes it a jewel of Central Texas.
Largely through the inspiring generosity of others, LSS was fortunate to create the New Life Children’s Center campus in this setting. The surrounding natural beauty is the first thing (but not the only thing) that strikes the first time visitor. It’s bucolic. For the unfamiliar, New Life houses up to 60 girls at a time between the ages of 11-17 who have been physically, emotionally and sexually abused and neglected. They come from all over the state, and most are part of the Texas foster care system. Sadly, there is always a waiting list for more girls who are in need of the treatment and services provided at New Life.
What we were delighted to find out is that for ten years running, KNBT 92.1 FM, our neighbors downstream in New Braunfels, broadcasting a stone’s throw from Gruene Hall, stages the Americana Music Jam. Like the name implies, it is a celebration of Americana music as well as a fundraiser. What is “Americana music”? Read on!
Each year, KNBT and their partners choose a local charity to donate the proceeds of the Americana Music Jam. The proceeds from this year’s Jam is going to help the girls at New Life Children’s Center. Last week we learned these music-loving merry makers raised a whopping $55,772 for the New Life girls! Wow! THANK YOU!!!
Like a good rain dance, timing is everything. The timing could hardly be better as New Life is preparing to open a fourth, 20-bed dormitory later this fall. The proceeds will be used to address other needs beyond the new dorm expenses (which are not slight). Each year, we must raise 30 percent of the cost of running the 24/7/365 facility through private donations like these.
Back to this ball bouncing your way on occasion thought. I know it’s certainly true in my life. I can easily think back and pick out a few times when the chips were unmistakably down, and when I needed it the most, somebody did something seemingly simple they didn’t have to do that made a huge difference in my life. A “Thank You God” kind of difference. Landing at Lutheran Social Services – best job, best mission I’ve ever had – was one of those moments.
New Life Children’s Center is one of four children’s shelters we operate in the state. Nelson, Krause, and Bokenkamp in Denton, Katy, and Corpus Christi, TX respectively, have much in common with New Life. They are all designed to be the place where the ball can bounce into the hands of children who rarely, if ever, have had that experience. Children with stories often so horrific they’re hard to believe.
When it happens at a place like New Life, it feels miraculous and is enough to make rooms full of adult women and men cry. If you don’t believe me, watch these videos of Jennifer and Kai, former residents at New Life and Nelson who will tell you that the net affect of their time at our centers was that the ball finally bounced their way. They got what they needed when they needed it most. By design.
What’s great about KNBT, their listeners, their partners, Gruene Hall and the music lovers who attended this show, is that it introduced us to each other. Two sides that seemingly have nothing in common except for maybe geography and an understanding of the power of generosity. And maybe that’s enough. Maybe there’s more!
So, what is “Americana music?” Loosely defined, Americana music is when traditional American country and folk music mixed with rock’n’roll music in the mid-sixties through the mid-seventies creating an entirely new sound that largely shaped and defined a solid chunk of popular music during that time. As a reference point, think The Eagles. Well, the early Eagles. The Peaceful Easy Feeling, Tequila Sunrise, and Take It Easy Eagles. Great melodies, multi-part vocal harmonies, rooted to a country twang, with maybe a mandolin, fiddle, harmonica, or banjo solo somewhere in between, often with a heavy back beat. Soul-soothing sounds about love gone wrong, usually. That’s Americana music.
So the thrill in all of this for me personally, which is far less important than the work described above, is the discovery of a Sunday evening radio program broadcast on KNBT 92.1 FM that is archived on their website every week called the Cosmic Power Hour hosted by Tom Gillam. You’ll see Tom’s name listed as one of the acts that performed at the Americana Music Jam along with other Texas music icons Robert Earl Keene, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Charlie Robison and others. So first, thank you Tom and all the other performers for your personal contributions to the success of this year’s jam and all the good it will be doing for the girls at New Life!
Secondly, the Cosmic Power Hour offers several things worth mentioning. It plays great music from not-so-long-ago that represents a cultural movement that is nothing less than a corner of the American fabric itself. A lot of the great music you’ll hear on the Cosmic Power Hour was largely deemed “uncommercial” at the time, failing to register chart-topping hits but often inspiring other artists who went on to log monster radio hits as a result. Again, The Eagles are a good example. Even better, the show is hosted by a veritable Americana Music professor, Tom Gillam, who provides ample insight and back story on the era. He is capable of spinning yarns all night long about how Not A Hit Song X influenced Hitmaker Y that you would otherwise not know. Above all else, it is simply highly entertaining radio in a way radio used to be and no longer is.
No way of explaining that without showing my age a little bit. I was intrigued to learn from Tom that the iron-hot peak of the whole era took place in Southern California cerca 1974. You wouldn’t ever think of Los Angeles as a hot bed of country music, first of all. My family moved to L.A. when I was a kid in 1975 (I got to Texas as quick as I could). In those days, if you admitted you liked straight-ahead country music, you’d likely get beat up. The very first and best friend I made in L.A. was with KMET 94.7 FM radio literally the day we moved in. KMET 94.7 was one of the all-time great FM radio stations and was in it’s heyday at the time. Jim Ladd, the iconic DJ of that period coined the phrase “sitting around the electronic campfire” which is what it felt like. It was just DJ’s spinning hit records, it was about being connected to a larger community. That’s the feeling I get from the Cosmic Power Hour and from the folks I met from KNBT and Gruene Hall that day they handed over the huge check to us to help the girls at New Life. I know it’s a small way of saying thanks but I’ve been telling all my music loving friends around the country about it. They’re enjoying it and I tell you, if you like that kind of music, you’re going to like the Cosmic Power Hour.
And thanks again to everybody who made the Americana Music Jam a great success!