Visiting rockers pull their share
State Radio brings altruism and music to the North State
Exactly what was a group of scruffy-looking rock musicians from Boston doing on a foggy, drizzly Saturday morning in Forest Ranch, their soggy clothes caked with mud? Helping pull out thousands (3,769, to be exact) of tenacious French broom plants, as a matter of fact.
They were joined in the effort by a group of equally wet and muddy, helmeted California Conservation Corps workers and a dozen or so community volunteers. Together they worked for almost three solid hours.
The members that make up popular Boston indie rock-reggae trio State Radio—lead singer, songwriter and guitarist Chad Stokes, bassist Chuck Fay and drummer Mike “Mad Dog” Najarian—arrived overnight last Friday (Jan. 25) after playing a gig at San Francisco’s Fillmore West. Conveyed in their huge tour bus by their driver, Dan, the band and small crew, which included tour manager (and Stokes’ girlfriend) Sybil Gallagher, rested up for the demanding work ahead of them.
Their goal? To make it to Forest Ranch in time to help local volunteer group BEEP (Broom Education and Eradication Program) eliminate a roadside infestation of the large, invasive broom plants—one of many in the area, which BEEP works to eradicate on a weekly basis, in part due to the severe fire hazard they pose.
The State Radio folks reported for their strenuous, messy “gardening” job at 9 in the morning, just around 12 hours before the band—whose socially and politically conscious songs bear titles such as “Guantánamo,” “C.I.A.” and “Sudan"—was due to play another concert at Chico’s Senator Theatre with current tourmates and fellow reggae-rockers Rebelution, from Santa Barbara.
State Radio’s work with BEEP is one of a string of altruistic projects the band has made a regular part of its “tour package,” for which State Radio has become widely known on the East Coast. Matt Wilhelm, State Radio’s community outreach manager, has the job of booking community-service “gigs” for the band that coincide with the musical gigs that Gallagher organizes.
In conjunction with a concert in Santa Cruz earlier in January, Stokes, Fay, Najarian and their helpers (often including fans recruited via the band’s Web site) volunteered to make weeks’ worth of garlic paste to be frozen for residents of the New Life Recovery Center, which runs a shelter and an addiction-treatment program for the area’s homeless and chemically dependent.
Before that, in Ventura, the band volunteered at a food bank, separating donated oranges—the good from the bad.
“Our interest in service parallels our music,” said Stokes, State Radio’s likable 32-year-old ringleader, who often wears a T-shirt on stage bearing the single word “Troy"—a reference to Troy Davis, a death-row inmate in Georgia. State Radio, spurred on by the work of Amnesty International on Davis’ behalf, is seeking to raise public awareness of his need for a new trial for a 1989 murder he may not have committed.
Stokes mentioned being “raised in a liberal household” on a small farm in Massachusetts, where he was steeped in “music with fierce meaning—Dylan, Hendrix, The Who—musicians who stood for something, who were sticking up for someone,” as part of what has helped develop his passion for the activist work he does both on and off the stage.
At age 16, Stokes became a camp counselor for developmentally disabled adults, a job that “totally blew [his] mind” at first, but gave him “a fantastical, different viewpoint” of his fellow human beings and taught him the joy and satisfaction of “taking care of others who can’t take care of themselves.”
Stokes also gives huge credit to the seminal experience he had in 1994, fresh out of high school at age 18, when he and his friend Oakley moved to Zimbabwe, where the latter had lived at the age of 10 with his missionary parents.
Stokes, completely unaware of the even-then dire situation in Zimbabwe, found himself confronted with “open fields of graves waiting for HIV deaths to take their toll,” among other things.
After a month of utter culture shock, during which he and his friend asked themselves repeatedly, “What do we do here? How can we be of help?” Stokes and Oakley ended up as volunteer teachers of English and soccer coaches at a local school.
“I don’t want to just have tunnel vision, and just play in the band and go in and out of the tour bus,” said Stokes. “I want to do something tangible [to help make people’s lives better]. We [as a band] feel that it’s important to not just talk the talk, but to walk the walk.”
BEEP member Dulcy Schroeder, who worked alongside Stokes on last Saturday’s broom-pulling project, was quick to praise his heartfelt approach to life.
“He works with his heart,” said Schroeder. “And I think it spreads—that kind of spirit. People pick up on it, and pretty soon there’ll be more Chads. …
“I’m so incredibly impressed with [State Radio’s] outreach philosophy.”