When I started FODfest six years ago, my goal was simple – to honor and celebrate the life of my friend Danny Pearl. Of the forty or so people gathered on that beautiful October afternoon, some had known Danny from when he lived here in the Berkshires, while others had not. Some folks had traveled up to 200 miles to be there. What was it about Danny’s story that resonated so loudly with people? Was it that in him they saw a little bit of themselves or somebody they aspired to be? Maybe it was his face. Danny looked so real, like he could have been your brother, your husband, your colleague, uncle, son, or friend. Whatever it was, he clearly had touched the world. As day turned to night and everyone huddled together on my deck to sing one last song, I was struck by the sense of community we had created. It was a community built upon a need for healing. Music was the antidote and the connecting force that brought us together. What I discovered that day was something much larger than the simple goal I had set out to meet. I was deeply moved.
After a couple of years in my backyard, I decided to take FODfest on the road in 2007 to see if this same sense of community could be created in a more public and less intimate space than my backyard and in a town where Danny had never lived. The answer to my question was a rounding “yes”! During the course of that 8 day tour from Memphis to Massachusetts, hundreds of people came out to our shows. More than 100 musicians performed, most of whom had met just minutes before each concert started. A few folks along the way had known Danny. Most had not. To my amazement, some had never even heard of him. Wow! If it wasn’t Danny that brought those people out to the Friends of Danny Festival, then what was it? I concluded that it could have only been one thing - the music. Music possessed the power to draw these strangers in and connect them, regardless of their differences. Seeing this in action demonstrated to me that FODfest was bigger than any one person including me and including even Danny. It proved what I already knew to be true. Music is a universal language.
I spent the next nine months setting FODfest up as a non-profit organization then putting it to the task of pushing the boundaries of this idea of music as a universal language. I asked myself, what would happen if we organized our unique community concerts in areas where there is a long history of conflict? Would it work? Would music have the power to break down the walls that exist between people in those areas? And how can we nurture those seeds planted at each concert into longer term and more impactful community building? How can we reach every corner of the globe to share our mission?
The answer to these questions came in the form of three new programming initiatives that focused on youth, multimedia, and tours both here and abroad to underserved communities and areas where there is a history of conflict. With three international tours, a half dozen youth programs, and more than 100 multimedia productions under our belt, FODfest has outgrown its name. This past August, we changed the legal name of our organization from FODfest to Music in Common, or MiC for short, to reflect this growth, the broader scope of our work, and these new programs. Our mission and purpose remain the same – to strengthen, empower, and educate communities through the universal language of music and to provide a platform for the exchange of ideas and collaborations that can lead to positive social change.
As I celebrated what would have and should have been my friend Danny’s 48th birthday this past October 10, I thought a lot about that very first FODfest concert and how it has grown. My simple goal of honoring and celebrating Danny’s life may have exceeded my expectations in ways I never could have imagined, but a piece of it is still there in everything we do. Danny’s life and friendship continues to inspire me. His tragic death still serves as a call to action for me. He lives on in our work with Music in Common.
Todd Mack is a writer, musician, and producer, and owner of the Off the Beat-n-Track recording studio in Sheffield, MA. He is also the founder and executive director of Music in Common, a non-profit organization whose mission is to strengthen, empower, and educate communities through the universal language of music. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.