.Local and National Musicians Step Up for Fire Relief Campaign

In the month since the devastating fires that consumed much of northern Santa Cruz County began, there have been a dozen or more catastrophes, outrages, disasters, and other headline-grabbing plot twists from the continually calamitous year 2020. The world’s gaze, so fixed on Santa Cruz in the early days of the fires, has moved on.

But for the hundreds of residents displaced from Bonny Doon and the San Lorenzo Valley who’ve seen their homes destroyed and their neighborhoods obliterated, the tragedy is only beginning. What they will continue to need in the weeks and months ahead is a resource that is necessarily finite: attention.

An ever-growing roster of musicians and artists is prepared to give it to them, with an ambitious fundraising effort called “Love You Madly—Artists For Santa Cruz Fire Relief.”

The campaign was established to bring much needed financial support to those affected by the fires as they rebuild their lives and their communities, through the already active Fire Response Fund managed and directed by Community Foundation Santa Cruz County. The idea is to create a series of short videos—songs and messages from local, regional, and national recording artists—to inspire donations.

But the campaign is designed to be the gift that keeps on giving. Instead of one enormous, heavy-lift benefit concert to take place on one specific date, “Love You Madly” will release a handful of individual videos from sheltering-in-place musicians every week, keeping the attention on the fire victims’ needs as the long process of rebuilding unfolds.

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“It comes at a really important time, as all these other fires start and people’s attention shifts away from the immediacy of our fires,” says Community Foundation CEO Susan True. “That’s really when the hard work, and the most expensive work, begins.”

“Madly” debuts this week, with the release of seven music videos created expressly for the fire-relief effort. They come from Santa Cruz natives Taylor Rae, James Durbin, Lindsey Wall and Alwa Gordon. Also included in the mix is ukulele man (and former Santa Cruzan) Oliver Cashman-Brown, former X frontman and singer/songwriter John Doe, and reigning rock guitar god Joe Satriani. Confirmed for future weeks are contributions from nationally and regionally prominent names such as Los Lobos, Jason Crosby, and String Cheese Incident, as well as locally beloved artists like Keith Greeninger, Mira Goto, the Coffis Brothers, Tess Dunn, and many more.

The first week’s release will also include fire-related photography from long-time Sentinel photographer Shmuel Thaler and original poster art from Bay Area drummer/artist Prairie Prince.

“My hope is that once people see these videos, we’re going to see more people wanting to contribute across the board,” says the campaign’s producer Jon Luini. “Anyone who is a local artist is going to get really encouraged and excited to see the submissions we already have and be moved to want to contribute something. And I’m also hoping some of the national artists are going to see this collection and go, ‘Yeah, I wasn’t sure, but I’m going to do this because I’m really amped up by what I saw.’”

“Love You Madly” marks the convergence of two separately conceived ideas. Luini is part of digital-music history as the co-founder of the pioneering Internet Underground Music Archive in Santa Cruz, and he has run his digital music and technology business Chime Interactive since 1998. Soon after the scope of the damage from the fires became clear, Luini went to work contacting some of his high-profile contacts, including Satriani and Los Lobos, and developing a master list of artists who might contribute down the line.

Meanwhile, Matthew Swinnerton of Event Santa Cruz was on the same wavelength, looking to the roster of local artists that he has cultivated and worked with to put together some kind of online concert to raise money for fire relief. Both producers called True at the Community Foundation, who suggested they combine forces.

Of the idea to make the campaign a weekly roll-out with an indefinite end, Swinnerton says, “That was Jon’s idea. That was all him. I had a completely different idea, and then when I heard his, I thought, ‘Man, that’s better.’”

“I just started working on a master list,” says Luini. “Thinking about everybody I know, booking agencies, management companies, listing agents. Who do I know who might have a connection to this artist or that artist, and direct outreach as well.”

Even as the first “Madly” videos are released, the outreach efforts are ongoing and, according to some of the names on the master list, Luini is reaching for the stars.

“We’ll definitely do it for at least a couple of months, as long as we can maintain it and we have enough content,” Luini says. “My hope is that we’ll go for six months, and even then, if we’re able to keep going, we’ll keep going.”

The videos released this week are simple and elegant in execution, featuring artists performing a song, often dedicated to Santa Cruz, preceded by a short message and appeal to donate. Satriani—born on the day Jimi Hendrix died—is one of the world’s most inventive and arresting rock guitarists. His contribution is a bewitching and furiously face-melting instrumental called “Passion Caprice Number 1.” John Doe, who has performed locally countless times over the years, both with X and The Knitters, and as a solo act, communicates his feelings for Santa Cruz with a version of his song “Don’t Forget How Much I Love You.”

Others are even more overt in their feelings for Santa Cruz. Oliver Cashman-Brown, who moved to Santa Cruz in 1994, says “Santa Cruz changed my life forever. It sets in your bones and becomes part of you,” to introduce what he calls a love song to Santa Cruz.

One of the most personal and immediate contributions comes from local native James Durbin, whose career was launched nearly a decade ago with his appearance on Fox’s “American Idol.” His ode to his hometown, titled “Santa Cruz,” name-checks the beloved touchstones of his upbringing, from the annual, now-defunct First Night celebrations to the performing arts nonprofit the 418 Project to “Rio Del Mar every Fourth of July.” The song is a heartfelt tribute from the perspective of someone drifting from town to town, always remembering the town where he feels most at home. The song’s chorus nails the point home: “No one loves me like you do.”

In the first “Love You Madly” releases, the younger Santa Cruz-based artists are working to articulate their connection to their hometown. Alwa Gordon, 31, is a born-and-raised rapper/singer who presents a stirring performance of his song “On My Way.”

“It’s relatively new and something that I wrote in the last year,” says Gordon of “On My Way.” “It’s a song about perseverance, about just being humbled in life, but also about being on your way to something.”

He says that the song was inspired by his experiences growing up and struggling with poverty, yet maintaining a faith in his future. “I’m trying to be as honest and vulnerable as possible, to tell my story.”

Singer/songwriter Taylor Rae grew up in Ben Lomond, but moved to Austin, Texas to pursue a singing career about a year before the Covid-19 shutdown. She was in Austin when she heard the news that much of her beloved San Lorenzo Valley was on fire.

“It was heartbreaking,” she says. “I felt helpless.” Rae’s contribution to “Love You Madly” is a song she wrote while house sitting for a friend in Felton years ago, titled “Morning Fade.” “It’s about those couple of moments right when you wake up in the morning where everything feels OK, until your brain starts to wander into all of the issues you may be going through at the time. It’s about that moment when everything feels at peace.”

Rae, 26, says she has several friends who’ve lost their homes, and the crisis has made her reflect on the unique nature of the San Lorenzo Valley, where she grew up alongside other notable local musicians such as Henry Chadwick, the Coffis Brothers, and Jesse Daniel—all of whom are expected to contribute videos to the “Madly” project in the coming weeks.

“There’s a spirit in the Valley that’s pretty special,” she says. “People see the world through a more magical lens, because of the landscape around us, and the fact that we get to live in the middle of all that beauty. Growing up in that atmosphere, it just opens up your imagination so much more. [As a kid], my imagination was free to run wild, and that’s contributed to how I write songs.”

Singer/songwriter Lindsey Wall, another contributor in the first week’s release, grew up in Bonny Doon. Though her family home was sold a couple of years ago, it was destroyed in the fires, as were many of the homes of families that were part of her childhood.

“All of that land that was burned was where I grew up,” she says. “I had been evacuated several times growing up, and we had a close call one time with the Martin Fire [in 2008]. But we never experienced anything like this.”

Wall’s song for the “Madly” campaign, titled “Undertow,” strikes an introspective tone. It was inspired by the coast north of town, closer to Bonny Doon. She echoes Rae in making the case that the mountain communities are of a different character than the more urban and suburban coastal communities.

“It’s another world up there,” she says. “Growing up in the mountains is so different than growing up in town. I really feel like it shaped me. That’s where I first was inspired to write music. I owe so much of who I am to that house, to that land.”

The Community Foundation’s Susan True says that the foundation’s fire relief fund has already distributed more than $300,000 to local nonprofits helping people in the immediate area. 

“Community members, even people across the country, have been so responsive,” she says. “We’re getting stories on the notes on the credit-card payment—‘I used to visit my grandfather in Ben Lomond every summer and it’s so special to me’ or ‘My sister got married in the Santa Cruz Mountains,’ or ‘The best concert I ever saw was at Highland Park.’”

True says that however heartening the response has been so far, “Madly” is a crucial element to keep the interest in donating as high as it’s been in the early weeks. “What we’ve learned from our counterparts in Napa and Sonoma and Ventura and other counties that have been hit hard is that the short-term needs tend to account for about 20% of all the funds you’re going to need. Long-term needs means rebuilding, mental health support. There’s so many costs that come later.”

Jon Luini thinks that musicians and artists are well-positioned to provide that kind of long-term support. “The thing that art can do—and always has done in times of trouble—is to lift people’s spirits, to not only give them hope, but to give them energy to face what they have to face. If we can get somebody, for example, who is a Los Lobos fan and who has to face the task of rebuilding, to see Louie (Perez of Los Lobos) speaking directly to them, ‘We know what you’re going through, our hearts are with you, and here’s something to lift you.’ That has a value you can’t really put a number on.”

For more information on the “Love You Madly—Artists for Santa Cruz Fire Relief” campaign, to watch the latest videos, or to contribute to fire relief efforts, go to santacruzfirerelief.org.



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