On July 1, 2002, music fan Matt Moore, a regular on the Tucson club scene, became the first member of Samaritans to venture out into the desert in search of migrants needing medical attention. Three years and 500 or so volunteers later, two of Moore's followers in No More Deaths, Shanti Sellz and Daniel Strauss, have been charged with felonies for their trouble.
Tuesday night's effort to promote their freedom gathered on the Club Congress stage one of the most eclectic assortment of performers ever booked there. Howe Gelb and Spacefish! Al Perry and Chango Malo! If the mix both onstage and in the crowd was representative, those who think "Humanitarian Aid Is Never a Crime" are a diverse bunch: Goths and hip-hoppers drooped or danced among grizzled folkies, core activists, the merely curious and at least a handful of folks who may never have been in a rock club in their lives.
The evening opened with The Raging Grannies and ranged through eight more acts, a raffle drawing, and thumping, grooving, between-set mixes by DJ Daddy, wearing a T-shirt that hollered "Freedom."
Two moments in particular riveted the crowd; both involved original songs about the reason for the evening. Tucson's own Pete Seeger, Ted Warmbrand, led the audience in his protest-ready "Who Is the Criminal Here?" a song destined to rally the masses for the scheduled Dec. 20 trial. Howe Gelb joked that he had written his "Free the Tucson 2" that morning, recorded it in the afternoon and already got it played on KXCI. The line, "Last time I looked, humanitarian aid wasn't a crime," drew cheers. Gelb closed with his new "Arizona Amp and Alternator," about defining who you are, not by geography, but by the music that moves you. He played barrelhouse piano for subsequent sets by Al Perry and Tom Walbank.
Sellz in particular beamed through The Jons' set, which seemed to lift her considerable cares. The Tucson-via-Nogales band wisecracked, "It was a long walk, but worth it" to get to the gig, and their music effortlessly criss-crossed linguistic and musical borders. Chango Malo dedicated their set to their friend Matt Moore, and then proved that even walls and ceilings were no barrier to their energy. The evening closed with the antic Spacefish, who also closed the diversity loop, in a way: Lead singer-songwriter-guitarist Jim Vancza's mother Georgia was among the first Samaritans.