Connect. Create. Give. Repeat.
Historically, a band’s accessibility has been inversely proportionate to their fame. Once an artist rose above the fray, or more accurately was hoisted up by doting fans, the artist no longer needed to tend to the human foundation that supported his art. Once commercially viable, marketing machines whir and manufacture the demand necessary to fill concert halls and stadiums, sell songs and book high visibility appearances. Professionals are employed to tend to the garden. Success in music, in many ways, has ushered the uncoupling of the artist from the fan. Not so with Chadwick Stokes.
It’s a rainy December day in NYC. It’s not just cold, it’s wet, bitter. Walking through Chelsea is a chore, a reality reinforced by the wind-stripped umbrellas and stone faced downward gazes of passerby. Nobody in Manhattan seems to have any desire to be outside. Stokes will be taking the stage at Bowery Ballroom this evening as part of his Full Band Fall Tour. He’s just come off his Living Room tour, where he ingeniously raised all the proceeds necessary to complete his next album “The Horse Comanche” by playing micro-shows before committed fans in their own living rooms across America and Europe. On the surface, a cross country tour of countless shows sounds grueling; there is the life on the road, the driving through countless unfamiliar towns, planning, charging the GPS, finding accommodations, lugging around of gear and the itinerant unknowns of being a seemingly perpetual house guest of strangers. But somehow this isn’t a necessary evil for Stokes. Somehow this is a necessary good. Somehow Chad’s own travels, sometimes through the bucolic countryside on sunny days, other times on colder, less pleasant, rainier days like today, is the secret sauce. In fact, it might be said that there are two driving forces in Stokes’ work: Giving and people. In this way the living room tour is a bit of a custom fashioned tool, a prosthetic that fits Chad perfectly, and that he desperately needs to be whole.
The Living Room tour found Stokes workshopping songs with the most discerning of critics; his own fans. Day after day Chad travelled to their homes, presenting his work in whatever form it existed at the moment. Delighted fans opened their home to listen and opine, share their stories and sofas, and contribute towards The Comanche Horse. The tour did not double, but triple duty, serving as a grand, sprawling workshop, a gesture of generosity towards his fans, and a means to fund more work for those same fans, or “people who listen”, as Chad refers to them. Along the way it presented Chad with the primary raw material of his craft-genuine interactions with people. And taken as a whole, it serves as a concise portrait, a summary of the Stokes worldview. Connect. Create. Give. Repeat.
On December 20th, Chadwick will take the stage at the House of Blues in Boston for the “Calling All Crows” benefit concert. CAC was launched as a non-profit organization focusing on women’s rights. The group enlists fans and musicians to work side by side to improve conditions for women all around the world through service work. The day before the benefit concert, CAC will host a service project with their partner IMEC (International Medical Equipment Collaborative).
Fans, volunteers and donors will work from 10AM- 2PM Saturday, December 20th, preparing and organizing packages and equipment to be sent to areas of need. Stokes utilizes shows as an opportunity to employ concert goers in service work, a permanently present priority in all that Chad does. But like the living room tour, it works because it obliterates the psychological and physical distance between “people who listen” and artists. By establishing service work as the priority and placing the artist shoulder to shoulder with volunteers, it creates a type of populism, presence and purpose that other artists might utilize as part of a carefully crafted marketing effort. It legitimizes and obviates the artist’s role as agents of change and it directs the energy and efforts of Stokes base in a way that elevates the music to something more than a commodity, a track that can be purchased or streamed. The music becomes the vehicle, not the destination. Perhaps this is why Stokes has always promoted the free downloading of his music. Perhaps this is why he wants fans to experience his music live, participate in service projects and spread the word. Perhaps more than anything, what Stokes has created is a movement.