Forest Woodward Photo
State Radio: Mixing music, service and activism
It’s hard to know what costumed persona Chad Stokes, lead singer and guitarist for Boston’s politically-infused reggae-rock trio State Radio, will morph into for this year’s annual Northampton Halloween 5K. A few years ago he was a kangaroo, then, the following year, Luke Skywalker.
Last year’s run, to raise money for State Radio’s activist organization Calling All Crows, was cancelled due to the freak early season snowstorm. But this year, barring any outrageously inclement weather, Stokes, State Radio and the band’s charitable 5K will be back, mixing music, service and political action, as they do so fluently. For those looking to run in a road race, wearing a Halloween costume in support of marriage equality while gaining access to a concert at the Calvin Theater, the upcoming Halloween weekend offers just such an opportunity.
“We were looking for an annual event,” native Bay Stater Stokes tells me over the phone, adding, “Northampton has always been close to our heart.”
For State Radio (whose members include Chuck Fay on bass and Mike Najarian on drums), no music tour is complete without the addition of a community service project. We in the Valley have just lucked out that their Northampton tradition combines costumed regalia and outdoor recreation with political activism.
“The outfits are amazing,” says Stokes (who warms up for State Radio’s Calvin show on Saturday, October 27 with a solo show at the Iron Horse the night before) of the hundreds of runners who have joined them in years past. “They’re a trip.”
“While supplies last, individuals who raise $100 will receive a free ticket to State Radio’s post-race show at the Calvin Theater,” says the Calling All Crows event page. “Want to go above and beyond? Raise $200 and receive two tickets to the show!”
Over the past few years, State Radio’s Calling All Crows (callingallcrows.org) has partnered with organizations like Oxfam America and Amnesty International to raise $250,000 in support of various causes, including empowering female Sudanese refugees in Darfur by providing them with energy-efficient stoves, and supporting pregnant women in Afghanistan with medical equipment that makes giving birth safer. This year, however, State Radio is focusing its energy stateside, to support marriage equality.
“For each tour we do, we have a different cause,” explains Stokes. “For this one, we contacted Marriage Equality.”
It’s a cause that will, no doubt, get a lot of support here in the Valley. But this fall’s marriage equality campaign schedule brings State Radio (stateradio.com) all over the country, performing concerts and raising funds everywhere from Ann Arbor, Mich. to Allentown, Penn. to Boulder, Colo. Several of their stops, including Carrboro, N.C., Cleveland, Ohio, and Baltimore, Md., will be in states that have voting questions concerning marriage equality on the ballot this November.
“It’s good to go to places where you can make a difference,” offers Stokes.
Stokes has been active in lending his voice to support the Occupy Movement, regularly playing at Boston’s Dewey Square and visiting New York City’s famed Zuccotti Park, as well. Just a few weeks ago, Stokes joined Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello, Michelle Shocked, Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth, and others who converged on Zuccotti Park for the one-year anniversary celebration of the Occupy Movement. Despite the impatience with or overall dismissal of Occupy’s impact that has been articulated by some, Stokes remains supportive of the movement’s efforts, saying he continues to be “inspired and honored by the sacrifices people have made.”
“It’s still very vital,” he continues. “But it can’t be what it was a year ago.”
Stokes adds that he hopes the energy created by the Occupy Movement can begin to work within the political system, so that we will be able to “elect officials who represent the people.”
For both Stokes the individual musician and State Radio the band, nothing is more natural than infusing music with politics.
“I love when there’s a message in music,” states Stokes, who says he draws inspiration from a long tradition “going back to Woody Guthrie, a hero of mine, through to Rage [Against The Machine].”
“It’s a great way for me to shed light on and express what I feel about,” he adds. “And it’s cathartic to get the issues out, as well—issues that mainstream media may not be focusing on.”
The socioeconomic background of our current politics plays a prominent role in State Radio’s newest release, Rabbit Inn Rebellion. The album features songs about greed on Wall Street (“Big Man”) as well as an updated recording of “State Of Georgia,” the group’s protest song against the controversial imprisonment of Troy Davis, the African-American man who was executed in Georgia last year.
Rabbit Inn Rebellion offers less ska and reggae than fans of State Radio may be used to from Stokes, Fay and Najarian. But the album “captures our live energy better than our other albums,” Stokes says.
To fully appreciate State Radio’s energy live, however, fans will have to attend their show at the Calvin—or at least throw on a Halloween costume and some running or walking shoes to join the 5K jog for marriage equality.•