By Elmer Ploetz
The VetsPlayGuitars program is growing this spring.
That means more vets, more teachers, more guitars — and it also means a special event in Buffalo at The Cave on Saturday, March 25, from 2 to 4 p.m.
The event at The Cave (71 Military Rd.) will be a special two-hour free workshop open to veterans and their families. Space is limited to 12 students.
Bob James, the founder of the program, said the Cave event is intended to build awareness of the overall program, which is held at the West Falls Center for the Arts (1863 Davis Rd. in West Falls, which is south of Orchard Park).
The program was started in 2019. It’s part of Buffalo Blues4Vets.
The concept is simple: veterans can bring their acoustic guitar and learn to play.
As James told the JAM in 2019, “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.”
Due to Covid setbacks, the program didn’t launch until 2022, with Doug Yeomans (like James, a Buffalo Music Hall of Fame member) joining the team. This spring a third instructor has been added, Dan Horning.
James said the 12-person class is an ideal size, particularly with the three instructors. He said the instructors do an assessment to see where the students are at. All three instructors will be at the Cave event.
Then Yeomans tends to handle more technical elements, such as scales, keys and modulations. James said he helps the vets learn simple songs such as “Blowing in the Wind,” “Don’t Be Cruel” and John Denver songs.
“Everybody that’s been part of it so far has already owned the guitar,” James said. “Some of these guys had guitars back in the ‘60s when they were active Vietnam-era military, but never really raised their skills beyond kind of ‘Kumbaya’ or campfire songs.
“These songs are very kind of middle of the road, and they’re also realizing that if you know four or five chords that you can play a thousand songs.”
All of this is on March 25 will be in support of the main VetsPlayGuitars program, which starts this month and runs through May 11 at the West Falls Center for the Arts. To register for either the Cave lessons or the West Falls program, contact James at firstname.lastname@example.org.
James said the West Falls Center for the Arts location that has been perfect for the lessons.
“We found the missing link,” said James. “It was waiting right around the corner from my house, a perfect partner with a beautiful space and creative leadership in Carolyn and Bill Panzica, who were growing additional programs.”
Carolyn Panzica said they are happy to help. VetsPlayGuitars adds to their growing community programs for youth, seniors and veterans. She and James have been connected through the local music community for over 30 years.
“ ‘VetsPlayGuitars is a fit for us, going into our third year of music (ukulele & harmonica) lessons for veterans, our fourth year of Musical Memories Cafe and our fourth year of kids music mentoring,” said Panzica. “I’m consistently reminded about the profound power of music to bring people together, support emotional health and connect us to something greater than ourselves.”
Buffalo Blues4Vets is a Western New York music charity responsible for raising over $200,000 in donations to 21 non-profits serving local Veterans and their families.
The VetsPlayGuitars program is also made possible by the Cullen Foundation and the New York STate Council on the Arts.