SOUP AND SALVATIONWhoever said that there's no free lunch has obviously never met Brian Flagg or the rest of the Catholic workers and volunteers at Casa Maria. For just shy of 25 years, the local soup kitchen, located at 401 E. 26th St., has provided free meals to the poor and homeless from 8 a.m. to noon, 365 days a year. In addition to doling out massive amounts of soup, juice and coffee to those in need of a hot meal, Casa Maria also hands out bulging sacks of groceries for families and roughly 500 brown-bag lunches for individuals every day. No one in need is ever turned away, and remarkably, Casa Maria receives no funding from any government agency; every penny comes from private donations.
A few years ago, local musician and San Jacinto Records owner Rich Hopkins decided to make a video for the song "Tender Mercies" by his band, the Luminarios (he's also guitarist for The Sand Rubies). The song is about the ongoing plight of the homeless community, and when Hopkins asked around to find a location to shoot, all paths led to Casa Maria and Flagg, whom Hopkins quickly befriended. The video was eventually shown at every stop on the Luminarios' subsequent European tour, and Hopkins raised funds for Casa Maria from those stages.
Upon his return, Hopkins began volunteering at the soup kitchen. Realizing just how much money it took to keep the place operational, he decided to do something about it. He came up with the idea to record songs performed by some of the people he was feeding each week, compile them onto a CD, then pour the proceeds back into the Casa. But it soon dawned upon him that, even though he was impressed with the patrons' songs, there weren't a lot of people who would shell out the money for a CD of songs by people of whom they had never heard. So he enlisted the talents of local musicians--Howe Gelb, Calexico with Mariachi Luz de Luna, Nancy McCallion and Danny Krieger, Al Perry, Stefan George and his own Luminarios--to contribute songs to what eventually became Bread, Soup & Struggle: A Tribute to the Casa Maria. Flagg contributed a moving spoken-word piece, and the disc's original intent was represented by the presence of Felipe Jarra. A pair of out-of-town donors also participated: Steve Wynn and one of Hopkins' heroes, Country Joe McDonald.
Shortly after the CD's release, Hopkins organized a benefit show for Casa Maria, which he's done each year since. The annual Casa Maria Thanksgiving Benefit returns to Club Congress this week, with performances by Luminarios, Billy Sedlmayr, Stefan George and Jesse Stanley, and a very special headliner--Country Joe McDonald. McDonald is best known for his amazing performance with his band, Country Joe and the Fish, at the original Woodstock festival, where he seared "Fish Cheer" and his "I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-to-Die" onto the world's collective consciousness. He's maintained a presence as a solo performer in recent years, and Hopkins, for one, couldn't be more pleased to bring him to Tucson for this year's benefit.
The event takes place at 9 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 24. Club Congress is located at 311 E. Congress St. Admission is $5, and the door goes to Casa Maria. For further details, call 622-8848.
ROOTLESS TROUBADOURNot unlike Richard Buckner or David Dondero (with whom he's performed), Jason Anderson is one of those rootless troubadour types, seemingly always on the road and never in one place very long when he's not. A utility musician for the likes of not only Dondero but also Microphones, Mirah, Yume Bitsu, Little Wings, as well as K Records impresario Calvin Johnson, Anderson has released a trio of albums on K under the Wolf Colonel moniker. Those albums encompassed everything from pop balladry and folk-rock to post-punk workouts and the occasional hip-hop-inspired tune, all refracted through his off-kilter prism. Earlier this year, Anderson released the first album under his own name. The critically acclaimed, acoustic guitar- and piano-driven New England (K) is said to be a melancholy country-folk affair, and has drawn comparisons to the likes of Will Oldham.
On the bill with Anderson this week is a "more or less acoustic performance" by local wunderkinds the Galactic Federation of Love; a set by Portland, Ore.'s Thanksgiving, aka Adrian Orange, whom the Portland Mercury says "is capable of making mopey, indie folk pop that's downright fucking transcendent"; and the intergalactic musings of the ever-entertaining local singer-songwriter Gary Bear.
It all goes down at an early, all-ages show at 8 p.m. Monday, Nov. 22, at ITL Cafe, 415 N. Fourth Ave. Admission is a measly $3. Call 622-4411 for more info.
ON THE BANDWAGONThis weekend marks the debut of the Velocity Tour, a hodgepodge of an event that includes championship drag racing, an extreme sports exhibition, a lowrider competition and five stages chock full of live musical entertainment. The four midway stages will include mostly local performers, while the main stage will feature a rather bizarre roster of bands such as Korn, Yellowcard, Chevelle, the Scorpions, Tesla, Keith Emerson, My Chemical Romance, Vendetta Red and locals 7 Days of May. It all takes place from Friday, Nov. 19 through Sunday, Nov. 21 at the Southwestern International Raceway and the Arizona Super Stage, both located at the Pima County Fairgrounds, 11300 S. Houghton Road. For ticket info and a complete schedule of all madness the Velocity Tour encompasses, head to www.velocitytour.com.
Two of Chicago label Drag City's finest make their way to our burg this week. (Smog) is the enigmatic songwriter Bill Callahan, who mixes economic, heartwrenching stories of woe with a gallows humor that is his alone--despair and subtle hilarity in not quite equal measures. Neil Michael Hagerty is the former guitarist of both Pussy Galore and Royal Trux, whose recent solo work reminds of the Stones at their greasiest. Both will perform at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St., at 9 p.m. (or whenever this week's Monolog Cabin finishes up) Saturday, Nov. 20. Admission is $6. That number again is 622-8848.
Another nifty double bill hits Plush this week as honky-tonk traditionalists and Bloodshot recording artists Rex Hobart and His Misery Boys take the headlining slot over Canucks The Clumsy Lovers, who specialize in a hybrid of traditional Irish music and country twang. The show begins at 9:30 p.m. and carries a $5 cover. Plush is located at 340 E. Sixth St. Call 798-1298 for more information.