Musicians Soothe Evacuees at North Bay Fire Shelters

Precious, a pregnant dog, falls asleep to a live musical performance at a Santa Rosa Shelter. Her owner, Robert Maxwell, lost his home on Coffey Lane in the blaze.

Precious, a pregnant dog, falls asleep to a live musical performance at a Santa Rosa Shelter. Her owner, Robert Maxwell, lost his home on Coffey Lane in the blaze. (Photo: Gina Lopez)

Most days since the North Bay fire rescue operation started, Buzzy Martin has been coming to the shelter at Sonoma County Fairgrounds to play his guitar and sing for those displaced by the disaster.


“‘Zip-a-dee-doo-dah,’ is one of the big ones,” said Martin of his musical selections. Other evacuation shelter favorites include “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” “Lean on Me,” “Stand by Me,” and “My Girl.” The jovial musician also said he gets everybody singing along with him.

“I felt that it would be a good way at least for me to give something back to the community,” said Martin, who lives in Sebastopol and has a long history of performing in homeless shelters, prisons and other places where underserved communities are to be found. “I know that music heals the soul and I wanted to put some smiles on peoples’ faces.”

Musician Buzzy Martin entertains a passerby at a Santa Rosa shelter.
Musician Buzzy Martin entertains a passerby at a Santa Rosa shelter. (Photo: Gina Lopez)

Martin is among the more than 150 musicians who have volunteered their services at shelters across Sonoma County since the fires broke out late at night on Sunday, Oct. 8.

Local music promoter Bryce Dow-Williamson is one of the key organizers of the musical fire relief effort. He has booked both solo musicians like Martin, as well as groups, including an a cappella vocal ensemble and a brass band.

Music promoter Bryce Dow-Williamson organized the musical relief effort in the wake of the North Bay fires.
Music promoter Bryce Dow-Williamson organized the musical relief effort in the wake of the North Bay fires. (Photo: Chloe Veltman/KQED)

“When people are feeling all the weight of the tragedy that’s happened, music as well as other comforts can become more necessary,” Dow-Williamson said.

Martin’s music provided a healing moment for evacuee Robert Maxwell and his dog Precious, who were sitting on a bench outside Grace Pavilion, one of the main hubs at the Sonoma County Fairground shelter location, when the troubadour came by with his guitar.

“We just found out she’s pregnant and we’re just having a hard time,” Maxwell said of his dog, whom he said is due to give birth in November or December.

Martin’s music soon soothed the sad-eyed little dog. She stopped barking, rested her chin in her paws and closed her eyes as Martin strummed and sang “Stand by Me.”

Buzzy Martin plays while Robert Maxwell hangs out with his dog, Precious.
Buzzy Martin plays while Robert Maxwell hangs out with his dog, Precious. (Photo: Gina Lopez)

“It kept her calm,” Maxwell said of the song’s affect on Precious. “She fell asleep a little bit.”

Maxwell lost his home on Coffey Lane and said the music also helped take his mind off things. He has signed up for assistance through FEMA and doesn’t know how long he’ll be stuck at the shelter.

Even though the shelters around Sonoma County are emptying out as authorities are allowing evacuees to return to their homes, Dow-Williamson said he intends to continue his effort to bring healing to the community through music.

“Now that we’re beyond that first little bit of tension, there’s the long haul that we need to care about — the lives of people beyond survival,” Dow-Williamson said. “Now that we’re surviving, we need to thrive too.”

Musicians Soothe Evacuees at North Bay Fire Shelters 30 October,2017Chloe Veltman

Author

Chloe Veltman

Chloe Veltman covers arts and culture for KQED. Prior to joining the organization, she launched and led the arts bureau at Colorado Public Radio, was the Bay Area’s culture columnist for the New York Times, and was also the founder, host and executive producer of VoiceBox, a national award-winning weekly podcast/radio show and live events series all about the human voice. Chloe is the recipient of numerous prizes, grants and fellowships including both the John S Knight Journalism Fellowship and Humanities Center Fellowship at Stanford University, the Sundance Arts Writing Fellowship and a Library of Congress Research Fellowship. She is the author of the book “On Acting” and a guest lecturer at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. She holds a BA in english literature from King’s College, Cambridge, and a Masters in Dramaturgy from the Central School of Speech and Drama/Harvard Institute for Advanced Theater Training.
cveltman@kqed.org
@chloeveltman
www.chloeveltman.com

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