Like a good bottle of wine, the Concert for Haiti gets better and more valuable with the passage of time.
This past Saturday, for the seventh consecutive year since a catastrophic 7.0 Mw earthquake hit the area around Port-au-Prince, Haiti, the Montclair community gathered for an evening of eclectic music and heartfelt social activism to benefit the poorest nation in the western hemisphere. With new partnerships and an expanded reach, the concert committee has strategically grown its collaborative network and strengthened its core. It has effectually built its “brand,” making a philanthropic name for itself in the Haitian and Haitian American communities and becoming an anticipated Montclair concert event.
According to Concert for Haiti co-founder and organizer, Montclair resident Cindy Stagoff, the key to the event’s increasing success is the dedication of the participants – from non-profits and musicians to volunteers and audience members. The concert community and the people of Montclair have proven, year after year, that Haiti sincerely matters to them.
“While we of course care deeply about our local neighbors in need, we are also a community that is concerned about people and places beyond our borders,” Stagoff told Baristanet. “This benefit concert is an opportunity for those of us who live in the Western Hemisphere’s richest nation to extend a hand to those in its poorest. Proud and resilient as the people of Haiti are, they remain in dire need our help and we are committed to doing what we can.”
The reality of Haiti is harsh. Despite concerted and targeted efforts by a cadre of grassroots organizations – including the event’s four beneficiaries, WhyHunger, Edeyo Foundation, Lamp for Haiti and Haitian Education Leadership Program – the nation continues to be plagued by systemic poverty, inequality and squalor. In some cases, conditions have actually worsened since the initial earthquake recovery effort, and Haiti’s political upheaval and economic instability are making news headlines.
Montclair mayor Robert Jackson echoed Stagoff’s sentiment in the event’s written program, stating: “The seemingly endless challenges thrust upon Haiti can only be overcome by our collective will and tenacity. The task is daunting, but we are even more resolute.”
As is the tradition with social activism, the evening of doing good was built on music. Newcomers to the annual concert lineup, singer-songwriter Jen Chapin (daughter of the late musician Harry Chapin) and folk-rock band Aztec Two-Step (Rex Fowler and Neal Shulman) joined crowd favorites from years past. Returning performers included: Paul Beaubrun with Zing Experience, the Temple Ner Tamid group (Cantor Meredith Greenberg, Leora Perlman, Bob Mellman, Peri Smilow and Melissa Schaffer), the Jazz House Kids Legacy Orchestra featuring Melissa Walker, Richard “Earthman” Laurent and daughter Soleil Laurent, Montclair High School’s Passing Notes and Big Mamou.
While each musical act was distinctively outstanding, a notable point was Jen Chapin performing her father’s iconic song “Cats In The Cradle” (accompanied by sibling Brooklyn musicians Don and Jephté Guillaume). Chapin sits on the Board of Directors for the concert’s newest beneficiary WhyHunger, which her father co-founded in 1975 with the intention of solving the problem of world hunger.
While the revenue from the seventh annual Concert for Haiti has not yet been finally tabulated, Stagoff believes that this year’s event will net an amount above and beyond what past concerts have brought in. She notes, however, that in addition to raising funds for a worthy cause, the concert’s focus is on bringing people from different worlds together and creating partnerships. “The event seems to inspire unique moments of collaboration and connection. It’s inspiring and powerful to see the network growing.”
The Concert for Haiti was hosted by the Concert for Haiti Committee. While the list of committee members and sponsors is too extensive to mention, it was noted that members of the Montclair Town Council were in the audience, along with Essex County Freeholder Brendan Gill. Additionally, Concert for Haiti partner The Haitian American Committee (THAC) took the stage with Assemblyman Thomas P. Giblin, noting that he and Stagoff had recently been honored for their ongoing community support.