FODfest 2010 – The Middle East and More

Since 2005, the magic that is FODfest has been growing astronomically. “FOD” stands for “Friends of Danny” – Danny, being Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter who was murdered in Pakistan back in 2002. Todd Mack, a local musician here in the Berkshires (he also owns and runs the Off The Beat ‘n’ Track Recording Studios in Sheffield, Massachusetts), played in a band with Daniel when the two of them lived in Atlanta.

Todd has been doing a series of free concerts to honor his friend for six years now. FODfest has grown from a musical get-together between Danny’s friends in Todd’s back yard to an International touring show. Additionally, 2010 has seen the start of the “FODfest in the Schools” program, designed to keep the wonder and power that is music going long after the show has finished.

The concert format of the shows themselves is intricate and intriguing – part “song circle” with local singer/songwriters/musicians bringing original material to play, part “jam session” as the participants also serve as back-up band for each other, and then there’s the whole live concert aspect of it. These shows are nothing short of magical. Not only are they a fitting tribute to Daniel Pearl, they also serve as a testament on the power of music to bring people together.

Todd is currently gearing up for FODfest’s next great leap forward – a series of shows and school visits in Israel and the West Bank region of the Middle East. Busy as he is, Todd graciously took part in this short interview, exclusively for the readers of Guitar Noise.

And I hope that if you live anywhere near a venue where FODfest will be visiting, you take it on yourself to go see a show. Sharing the joy of music, letting its power bring people together – that’s what FODfest is all about. You’ll not only have a great time, you’ll also be inspired to go out and do the same.

GN: Five years ago you held the first FODfest in your backyard. Last year you brought FODfest to Taiwan and now you’re going to be taking it to Israel and the West Bank for a lot of October. How did this Middle East tour come about and how are you feeling about bringing the FODfest program to this part of the world?

Todd: We’ve been kicking around the idea of taking the tour to the Middle East for a while now, but I don’t think we were quite ready for it until now.

It is a huge undertaking planning these tours. We are still a very small, grassroots non-profit and we pretty much do it all ourselves, relying on contacts and partnerships in the places that we are going. The same is true even for tours here in the States.

This tour, like all our others, started with the idea to do it and exploring the contacts that we had in Israel and beyond. Things spider out and before you know it, you’ve got more on your plate than you can do. Our Board approved the idea of a tour to the Middle East last December. We’ve been working on it ever since.

We are excited to bring the tour to the region. Perhaps more than any other place in the world, it is an area where the seeds of community that we plant via our concerts and school visits can really result in creating positive change on some level, no matter how small it may be. We go with no agenda, no political motives, no expectations. We go only to do what we do and that is to provide a platform for people to come together. From there, anything is possible.

GN: The format of FODfest shows has also evolved a lot in the past two years, moving from a kind of acoustic “song circle meets jam session” to including choirs, drumming groups, multicultural dancers and even whole jazz bands. What can one expect to see and hear at the Israel performances?

Todd: I think the music will be reflective of the diversity that exists within the region. We will have everything from western-rooted music like folk, blues, rock, and jazz to more traditional Israeli and Arabic music and instrumentation. It should be a beautiful mix.

GN: In addition to the shows themselves, FODfest has also started a “FODfest in the Schools” program. Could you take a moment to describe how that works and also mention how someone who might be interested in participating in this program could get involved?

Todd: We are so excited about this program. As FODfest and the scope of its mission have grown, I’ve started to feel a sort of disconnect after the concerts. Not that they aren’t still magical, but more a desire to take that magic, that micro-community and build it into something longer term. That’s what the FODfest in the Schools program does. And who better to do it with than youth, the future of our world?

Essentially what the eight-week program consists of is a collaboration between students to write songs. This provides an environment in which they must learn to listen to one another, share ideas, and work together. At the end of the eight weeks, at least one of their songs is professionally recorded and performed for their school group. The recording of their song is then shared with other FODfest in the School groups in other parts of the world. This becomes a way of interconnecting kids from different areas and provides a tool for them to learn about what another. Those groups then add parts to each other’s songs as a way of furthering the collaborative component of the program. It’s like a musical chain letter or being musical pen pals. Our first round of programs finishes up this fall.

The FODfest in the Schools program is open to all students, regardless of their musical background, in the schools / communities where it is being presented. Schools that are interested in bringing the program to their community can contact us at [email protected] to learn how they can arrange to do so.

GN: Speaking of getting involved, none of these FODfest events and programs takes place by itself. How do you go about finding volunteers, what do you look for in those volunteers and what can a musician (or non-musician) do to help FODfest promote peace and harmony through music and communication?

Todd: Well, as essentially an all volunteer organization, finding and organizing volunteers is our bloodline. Simply put, we could not do what we do without them.

Our volunteers come to us through a variety of means. Often it is somebody who has recently attended one of our community concerts or perhaps read about us or heard about us from friends or on the web. We rely heavily on word of mouth and grassroots promotion. Sometimes we are doing targeted outreach to individuals with a specific skill set we are in need of, as is the case with a lot of our filming and multimedia work.

Regardless of how we get our volunteers, the number one thing we look for is a passion about and commitment to the work we are doing. It’s sort of a no-brainer. The reason people come to us or the reason professionals we approach agree to work with us pro bono is because they are passionate about what we are doing and it resonates with them in a way that moves them to get involved. That counts for everything! So, regardless of experience or skill, we encourage people who feel connected and aligned with our mission of community building to get involved. There is a form on our website that folks can fill out to do so.

GN: You’ve already been quite busy and brought FODfest further than ever in 2010. Are there any plans for more concerts before the end of the year?

Todd: We will be doing a short east coast tour from November 16-24, leading up to Thanksgiving. Dates for that tour are starting to get posted on our website. We will close out the year with a mid-west tour in the first half of December. Plans are in motion for a January 2011 tour of Haiti.