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Music Is Medicine

Rhythm and Roots' Jonathan Holden: 1951-2012

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I am a rich man with little money.

This is not the same as a poor man with abundant wealth.

I can share riches better than gold, more sparkling than silver, and beyond property.

We know that hearts on fire create a ring of love that brightens the world like the sun above.

—Recently found written in Jonathan Holden's day planner.

Talk to anyone in the music industry, and they'll tell you that some of the more unscrupulous characters in the business are concert promoters. Too many of them are in it for the money, not the music.

Jonathan Holden represented not just an exception to that mindset; he was its antithesis.

Holden died unexpectedly on Tuesday, Jan. 17, at age 60. He was admitted to the hospital on Friday, Jan. 13, with a lung infection. After a procedure to drain fluid from his lungs, he suffered a pulmonary embolism that took his life. He is survived by his wife, Susan, and two sons, Devon and Gabe.

Since the mid-'90s, Holden was the force behind Tucson's Rhythm and Roots concert series (motto: "Music Is Medicine"), which features national, international and local acts performing at a number of venues around town. Most recently, Rhythm and Roots acts have performed at two venues at Plaza Palomino, at Swan and Fort Lowell roads: in the outdoor courtyard, and at a relatively new listening room called Suite 147.

Holden was born in Santa Cruz, Calif., in 1951, and grew up in Sacramento. He moved to Tucson in 1970 and worked on his uncle's ranch in Sasabe, attended classes at the University of Arizona, and worked on the air at KWFM. He briefly returned to California and graduated from San Francisco State University; he also worked in television production in Pacifica.

In 1975, he returned to Tucson, where he worked in media production for a number of clients, including the Window Rock School District, Carondelet Hospitals, the University of Arizona and KUAT. He also helped found community radio station KXCI FM 91.3, and sat on the original board of directors.

According to friends and associates, Holden was happiest when he was promoting concerts.

"When he was onstage announcing, introducing the artists, you could just tell," says Michael Hyatt, a former underwriting director at KXCI. "That was his little throne, his little kind of heaven, and he just radiated pleasure from the stage when he was up there introducing artists. He was the kind of guy who walked through the crowd; he shook hands; he knew everybody there, and if he didn't, he wanted to meet people. It wasn't just a means of selling tickets. He wanted to share the pleasure of good music with people."

It was his love of music that propelled him to keep Rhythm and Roots in operation through difficult times. Carol Anderson, host of KXCI's Ruby's Roadhouse, recalls Holden telling her, "I'm not getting rich off of this business. I just love these artists so much, and I want to hear the music, and I want to bring it to town.

"It didn't matter if they were a big name or a small name, famous or not famous—and he knew he wasn't going to make a lot of money on these shows—but he still did it," Anderson says. "And that says a lot to me. ... It was a large labor of love on his part."

Jim Lipson (a Tucson Weekly contributor), says that Holden was a pleasure to work with.

"Concert promotion is a high-pressure, high-stress business, and I never saw him lose his temper," Lipson says. "I'd see him right after shows where he lost a lot of money, and all he would do was say, 'Well, it was an artistic success.' Even though he didn't like to lose money, he never let that get in the way of booking a show he wanted to book, with a performer that he thought was really deserving."

Cavern Recording Studios owner Bill Cashman agrees: "It was all very casual and not about money. He just operated on a spiritual plane—not to be dramatic about it, but I always felt that way about him."

Says Lipson, "He was a business guy, but he was really driven by the music. In his own way, he was a musicologist for roots music, Americana and roots. And I don't think he ever got credit for that. I think he got credit for bringing people to town and promoting music, but I don't think he ever got acknowledged for how much he loved these musicians and what they did."

Texas-based singer-songwriter Terri Hendrix, for whom Holden had promoted concerts, writes that "Jonathan was a friend. We kept in touch, and he's going to be missed on many levels. I'll always think of him as a modern day 'Patron Saint of the Arts,' for producing shows and music he believed in, even if it didn't always equal out to a great payday for himself at the end of the day. He was a light. He's still a light."

Holden had booked a full slate of shows for the spring season, and Susan Holden, along with the Rhythm and Roots team, are making sure those shows go on. The next one is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 4, at Suite 147 in Plaza Palomino, with the Fred Eaglesmith Band and The Fabulous Ginn Sisters.

According to Susan, his love of music and concerts never ended. "Here's a typical Jonathan story," she says. "The day he died, Tuesday, I took his cell phone away from him for two hours, and I went and ran an errand. He used a landline and placed (underwriting) ads with KXCI. There just wasn't any holding the man down. He was passionate about it."

A memorial service was held on Friday, Jan. 20, and details are being worked out for a musical tribute to Holden that will take place on the afternoon of Sunday, Feb. 19, in the courtyard at Plaza Palomino, weather permitting. Further details will appear in the Soundbites column of our Feb. 16 issue, and at www.rhythmandroots.org.

Memorial donations may be made to the Jonathan Holden Memorial Fund at any Bank of America branch nationwide. In lieu of that, there's another way to show support, says Susan.

"A lot of people have said, 'What can I do?' Well, you can buy a ticket, that's what you can do. Don't send me flowers. Buy a ticket to a show."

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