Chadwick Stokes Combines Music, Activism

Hermosa Beach Patch   
February 27th, 2012

Credit: gopherkc/Creative Commons

By Jaqueline Howard

The story behind one of Chadwick Stoke’s favorite songs to perform, “All My Possessions,” remains just one example of his ongoing efforts to create not only music, but also social change.

The song features Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars and moves to a powerful, reggae beat as Stokes meaningfully sings, “I can not tell my dreams from the memories I believe, but all in all it keeps me alive.”

“The song’s about a friend, Troy Davis, who was killed on death row last September,” Stokes said. “I wrote the song thinking about his last night … and then thinking about his dreams that night.”

Stokes protested in previous years for the abolishment of the death penalty with Davis’ sister, who introduced Stokes to Davis, Stokes said. The first time Stokes performed “All My Possessions” was Davis’ last night before he was executed, which garnered national attention.

“You know, I try to kind of visit with him during that time when we play that song,” Stokes told Patch.

“All My Possessions” and many other tunes will sound from the stage at Saint Rocke in Hermosa Beach at 9 p.m. Tuesday when Stokes and The Pintos are set to kick off a West Coast mini-tour.

After performing in the Los Angeles area, Stokes and The Pintos will perform in San Francisco, Portland and Seattle, where volunteers are invited to join in service projects then watch the band on stage each night.

The volunteer program, called Alternative Break Tour, is organized by Calling All Crows, an organization Stokes’ co-founded. The tour aims to leave communities in a better state than they were before Stokes and The Pintos arrived.

“We’ve been doing it for years, all sorts of things, like pulling weeds in a public garden or painting the inside of a halfway house or organizing boxes in a warehouse for a women’s shelter or soup kitchen,” Stokes said.

The Boston Music Awards in 2008 honored Stokes as “Humanitarian of the Year” for creating Calling All Crows, as well as the Elias Fund and the Dispatch Foundation.

From a young age, Stokes has had a fascination with exploring different communities, travel, and humanity. Raised in Massachusetts, he grew up as a pacifist. He spent time at The Peace Abbey and volunteered in Zimbabwe.

But Stoke’s freight train-jumping adventures with his brother and cousin during a trip across the U.S. remains one of the biggest inspirations in his music, especially much of his solo debut albumSimmerkane II, he said.

“You get to see all sorts of towns and landscapes you never get to see, and then the train itself is so rhythmic and often its so loud you don’t even want to talk, you’re just sitting there… and for hours and hours the rhythm gets beat into you,” Stokes said about jumping trains.

A memorable moment from that period in Stokes’ life hit when he arrived in California.

“We got off in California, jumped the fence to get out of the yard and we didn’t realize we had jumped into a military base,” Stokes said. “All of a sudden we were surrounded by black SUVs and SWAT teams came out with guns pointed … they took us down into the station, subpoenaed us for a court date, and it kind of went back and forth for a few months, until they dropped the case.”

Stokes chuckled in between words as he described one train-jumping adventure after another. In his demeanor and reflection, there was no question the musician’s life journey has shaped both his art and activism.

“When anyone goes on a big trip and sees things they haven’t seen before, the benefit from that kind of traveling is the perspective it brings you,” Stokes said. “It just kind of becomes a part of who you are.”

About this column: The entertainment column, “Hermosa Sounds,” features local bands, performances, and pioneers in music.

[Source: Hermosa Beach Patch]

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