Vets Play Guitars is a new program that is being co-sponsored by the Sportsmen’s Americana Music Foundation. Since it’s a new program, we decided to do a Q-and-A with Bob James, the program’s founder, to explain what it’s all about.
— Elmer Ploetz
EP — Where did the idea for Vets Play Guitars come from?
RJ — The idea for the program came from a veteran attending our Buffalo Blues Benefit for Veterans event last October at the Sportsmen’s Tavern, the one we did with Veterans One-Stop Center of WNY. He talked to me about how he loves music, how it helps him, makes him forget certain things. It’s why he sees live bands, gets him out of his house. He always wanted to play and never had the chance. It dawned on me that of the nearly 200 musicians that have donated their time and talent to our fundraising events, that we have 100 of the best guitarists in the city that have already been helping veterans. I put those 2 ideas together and the seed was planted for “VetsPlayGuitars.”
EP — What is the benefit for vets in learning to play?
We’ll find out but our hope is that they’ll gain music skills that feed them and give them a new mode of expressing themselves. Musicians understand this – that music can be like a friend that you can go to when you are sorting out feelings and ideas. Ask most musicians ‘why’ they play and you’ll hear things that sound therapeutic before you hear about money and an audience.
EP — Are there any qualifications that the vets need to have? National Guard, Reserve too?
RJ — We are keeping it simple. If you are a veteran or active military who has a guitar, preferably acoustic, and knows a few chords, you are a fit. If you don’t have a guitar or know a few chords, but really want to join the group, we have a deal with The Guitar Factory to get you a decent low cost acoustic and get you ready to join.
EP — What kind of skills will they be learning? Strumming rhythm? Picking? Any particular kind of style, folk? country? rock??
RJ — We’ll start with basic chords and styles of rhythm and show the players that those basics can go in any direction based on what type music inspires them.
EP — How are you financing the program?
RJ — Up until now, the funds raised from our Buffalo Blues Benefit for Veterans events have all been donated to 5 existing WNY 501c3s that serve veterans with a range of needs, surpassing $40,000 in donations by June 2019. Helping support essential services is important but as someone who has been a life long musician plus a counselor and an educator we wanted to use some of our funds for something new and constructive, so we’ve dedicated funds to work with the Sportsmen’s Americana Music Foundation to launch this. It’s a good fit because SAMF is an important WNY music charity that also provides education, so VetsPlayGuitars will be a new item on their menu of programs.
EP — What are you most looking forward in being one of the teachers?
RJ — This is an overused idea but I expect to learn as much and maybe more than our group of guitar students. In addition to seeing what drives them to learn to play, I’m excited to see how being a musician impacts their life, PLUS as veterans who have a story to tell, we expect that skills to play may turn into interest in songwriting & performing, you know, putting their story into a song and sharing that with an audience.
EP — How will you know the program has been a success?
RJ — Good question rarely asked, but having full attendance, a growth of a team spirit among the group along with having a few members get up on stage and play for an audience as the group wraps-up would be great. We’d also like to see a 2nd level group grow out of this first one. If this first pilot group works, we can do more and we actually have an arts organization in the south towns who want us to bring this to their community.
EP — How does this fit into the other vets-related programs you’ve been doing?
RJ — This is the first ‘program’ coming out of ‘Buffalo Blues’, if you don’t count the community education we try to include in our events. There are arts programs for veterans around WNY but I haven’t seen any that use the guitar as a way to engage and teach veterans. I’ve been doing 12 months of independent research around veterans’ needs and programs and have heard about so many hidden insights that need to be addressed [that’s another story] so “VetsPlayGuitars” is our first response to those needs. It’s music, social connections, inspiration, and much more.
Those interested in joining the program or have questions can email us at VetsPlayGuitars@gmail.com