Known for their ear-bleeding volume and their flirtations with alternative rock stardom in the early '90s, the Amherst-based trio Dinosaur Jr. return to the Pioneer Valley Tuesday. But this time the group's show will be about more than just rattling the walls.
Instead, when J Mascis and company take the stage at the Calvin Theatre in Northampton to tear through their 1988 album Bug in its entirety, they will be doing so as part of a benefit concert to support the Hadley organization Whole Children.
That organization, dedicated to the enrichment of young children and teens with developmental disabilities, will also benefit from several other acts on the bill for the night, including local garage rockers the Warblers (featuring J's brother Migel on guitar and vocals), Sonic Youth co-founder and Paradise City resident Thurston Moore, and former Black Flag singer Henry Rollins, who accompanied Dinosaur Jr on their recent tour.
While many in the audience will inevitably come to the show purely for the music, Whole Children Marketing Manager Valle Dwight maintains that the motivation behind the concert is just as capable of impacting audience members' lives.
"Just about everybody in the world knows a child who could take advantage of what we have here at Whole Children," she said during a recent talk with the Advocate. "Whole Children is a center for kids with disabilities, developmental disabilities, things like autism, Down syndrome, Williams syndrome. We provide classes to kids with disabilities. Things like fencing, gymnastics, music, cooking, all kinds of stuff. And all ages, pre-school up through teenagers."
The difficult part of Whole Children's existence has always been struggling to serve its members with only a modicum of state funding and assistance.
Dwight said, "We have to raise money to keep it affordable. We've recently affiliated with an agency that gets us state funding, but it's never been a big part of our income at all. It's always been fundraising and through families and friends. Wherever we can, we've done a lot of other fundraisers. That's mostly how we get our money."
Fortunately, one of the families who has donated time to assist with the fundraising for Whole Children is the Mascis family. Noreen Cmar-Mascis (wife of Warbler's member Migel) was a founding board member of the organization back in 2005, and has remained in touch with the institution. Noreen's and Migel's efforts recently got an added boost when another family member stepped in to do his bit for their cause.
"They [the Mascis family] wanted to help with fundraising," said Dwight. "And J had said years ago that he would do a concert to benefit Whole Children. He had done one before to benefit Community Resources for People with Autism, and so we were working on putting together this show and his manager [Brian Schwartz] just stepped in and said, 'Look, we'll take care of it. We'll do everything. You guys will just get the money.' So we really haven't been involved in anything other than helping get the word out. It's a concert that really sells itself.
"This has really been just a fabulous thing for us, because we're a small organization serving a lot of kids," Dwight says. "So if someone else does that sort of legwork for us on a fundraiser, it's huge. Since we usually do it ourselves and run ourselves ragged, we really know what's involved and we really appreciate it."
However, the story hasn't just been about the big names who have lent a hand. In fact, for Warblers lead guitarist Leo Hwang-Carlos, who is also associate dean of humanities at Greenfield Community College, the thought put into the event has been linked to a concentrated community effort from the very beginning.
"We're all parents, and we have all been involved with figuring out ways to support the kids in this community, both kids with special needs and kids who need the kind of support that a strong community gives. And I think because of that, an organization like Whole Children is really something that we all stand behind and are really happy to give time to support," he said.
Apart from his work with the Warblers, Hwang-Carlos also spends his time on a project with a much larger scale. Entitled Rethinking the Creative Economy, it's a cooperative effort between Hwang-Carlos and a team of researchers who hope to increase awareness of what artists contribute to the area's resources. Along with co-coordinator and sociologist Abby Templer, Hwang-Carlos has hired 23 artists and artisans to assist in his work and instructed them in an important idea: how to look at assets rather than deficits in the community to support art and culture in the region.
"What so often happens is, you get stuck with deficit thinking," he said. "Where [people say] 'We can't do this because we don't have enough money,' and it's all about things you can't do without getting an influx of outside funding. If you start looking instead at what assets you have—and there are really some amazing assets in the [arts] community, whether it's musicians sharing PA equipment or something cooperative like they have in Greenfield [Coop Concerts]—artists are doing amazing things that don't get counted in the regular sense of what an economy is so that they can continue to be creative and add to the vibrancy of the community as a whole."
Among the community's collection of artists, Hwang-Carlos singles out fellow members of the Whole Children concert lineup for their specific efforts in establishing an example for others to follow.
"I think it's great, particularly with Thurston and J and how much they are in our communities," he said. "Just to be a presence in this region that really has a wealth of talent is both inspirational and also a model for people who have a much bigger name and who have quite a bit of success, but they're still active members within their own hometown communities.
"One of the things that I've strived for is a sense of a community economy," he continues. "That's where everything is interrelated and working to help the community as a whole. So that means artists work to help support organizations that support children, and I think artists in this region have consistently worked to support a broader community mission, whether it's performing for benefits or donating art for fundraising, that sort of thing."
Still, even though there is an important purpose behind Tuesday's concert, the night's festivities will be about enjoying music. "I think one of my favorite aspects about playing music is how it hits you on so many multiple levels," Hwang-Carlos said. "And what I would ask for in any audience is that they allow themselves to inhabit the music for the evening, to try and feel it down to their bones, which won't be too hard once the volume goes up."
Dinosaur Jr., Henry Rollins, Thurston Moore and the Warblers: June 21, 6:30 p.m., $25, Calvin Theatre and Performing Arts Center, 19 King St., Northampton, (413) 584-1444, www.iheg.com.