August 5, 2011

Helping Those 'Deserted' by the Foster System

Maxwell’s in Hoboken will rock in August as Charlotte Sometimes, Speed the Plough, Robbers on High Street, Yung Wu, and eight other bands perform in the first CamelFest Music Festival.

Sure to attract crowds of young people, this music festival organized by Dromedary Records, distinguishes itself from so many others in that it will also help young adults, namely those who have aged out of the New Jersey welfare system.

This is a population forgotten by many, but not by Roots & Wings, a non-profit organization founded in Mountain Lakes in 1999. Since its inception, it has been providing safe housing, educational support, and practical life skills to these young adults.

In a press release, Kim Spangenberg, executive director of Roots & Wings, stated, "Because Roots & Wings is funded almost entirely by private donations and special events, support from individuals and organizations that work hard to put on events like this are critical to our sustainability."

She added, "Often becoming suddenly homeless with no plan for the future, youth who phase out of foster care can find themselves alone with no one to depend on, leaving them at disturbingly high risk for dependence on welfare and unemployment, homelessness, unplanned pregnancy and incarceration. Roots & Wings provides these young people the support they need to become successful, contributing members of society. Without the generosity of groups like Dromedary Records and its bands, Roots & Wings could not exist."

CamelFest is the brainchild of Al Crisafulli, owner of Dromedary Records, an independent music record label that operated out of Boonton from 1993 until 1999.

A year ago, Crisafulli received a direct mailer from Roots & Wings requesting money.

"It spoke to me somehow," he said.

This was a group of people Crisafulli had never thought of before and was moved by the quotes of the young adults, struggling with simple things like buying groceries, or as Crisafulli said, "things you and I take for granted every day that they never learned to do."

He wanted to help in a way that went beyond writing a check. His first thought was to donate the proceeds from six Dromedary CDs that will be released over the next seven months, starting with "Shine" by Speed the Plough, due out later this month. This is similar in idea to what the company did in response to the earthquake in Haiti, for which they made a compilation CD. Because Dromedary is a small label, the goal was more to raise awareness than money.

It is custom in the music business to have parties to celebrate CD releases and with six CDs coming out, there was reason for a huge party, which is CamelFest. Besides Speed the Plough, the upcoming CDs are from Shirk Circus, The Mommyheads, Cuppa Joes, The 65s, and Guy Capecelatro III.

The bands playing at the music festival are not only those with Dromedary, but also friends and "just bands we love," said Crisafulli.

The festival is primarily supporting Roots & Wings, but it is also a tribute of sorts to the New Jersey indie music scene. With the exception of a couple of bands from New York, most are from the Garden State.

Crisafulli said that the history of New Jersey indie rock dates back to the late 1970s/early 1980s, when a handful of bands played at Maxwell’s. Richard Barone, who will perform at CamelFest on Aug. 12, was part of The Bongos, a legendary indie band, and before that, he was with A, a band that in 1978 was the first to play at Maxwell’s.

The Feelies was a major indie music band in the early 1980s and will be well represented at the festival. Speed the Plough’s Glenn Mercer had been a member as were several of the musicians in Yung Wu. Both these bands perform on August 13.

"It is a cross-section of indie music, representing 20 to 30 years of Indie rock in New Jersey," said Crisafulli.

In a phone interview, Andrea Lovas, development director for Roots & Wings said the festival will help the organization "reach a new audience that we don’t know and gets us new contacts and exposure."

Because the festival takes place in Hoboken, it also spreads Roots & Wings name beyond Morris County, appropriate since the organization helps young adults throughout the state.

Also fittingly, it lets a younger demographic know about the organization. As Lovas pointed out, this is a group for which Roots & Wings resonates, "having just gone through their own young adulthood."

The bands, too, have taken up the cause. In particular is Jessica Poland, also known as Charlotte Sometimes, who was a former foster child herself but was fortunate enough to have been adopted. According to Lovas, Poland has stated interest in having her own benefit concert for Roots & Wings and is encouraging her fans to both support and learn more about the organization.

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