Big Papa for a Cause

As firefighters continue to battle blazes in Southern Arizona, victims of the fires are recovering and rebuilding.

According to the Southern Arizona Red Cross, 58 families have become homeless due to fire damage to their homes.

Yet times of hardship often bring out the best in people, including a desire to help others. With so many in need, the Tucson music community has stepped up to lend a hand—and is inviting others to join.

The Rhythm and Roots concert series will be hosting a second benefit concert and dance this Saturday, in an effort to raise money for Red Cross disaster-relief efforts.

Rhythm and Roots has been staging live music since 1998 and specializes in styles such as American roots, bluegrass, gypsy and the blues.

"We're kind of a boutique concert series," said founder Jonathan Holden.

The idea for Rhythm and Roots to use musical talent to drum up support came to Holden and his colleagues after seeing the devastation caused by the fire.

"We were all watching the news in our homes," said Holden, "and it was heartbreaking to see this happening to people in our area."

The original plan was to use the concert venue as a donation site for things like clothes, food and toiletries—but what the Red Cross needs more than anything else right now is money.

The funds raised from the concert will go directly to the Red Cross and its assistance programs, said Red Cross spokesperson Gloria Verdin. The organization's assistance programs help people get practical things like housing, clothes and food.

The money also helps the Red Cross provide mental-health services for people dealing with trauma.

"We are able to provide these services because of the generosity of the public," said Verdin.

There is no specific fundraising goal set for the concert, although the suggested donation is $15 per person. Firefighters, law-enforcement officers, EMTs and U.S. Forest Service employees get in for free.

Red Cross representatives are expected to be present to talk with people about their work and the kinds of services they provide.

When Rhythm and Roots put out the word about the benefit concerts, a rush of people volunteered to perform, Holden said. His only regret is that the organization does not have a larger venue for more artists.

"The Tucson music community is very generous," said Holden.

The Carnivaleros played at the first benefit concert, which was held on Friday, July 1.

"I've found that it seems like most musicians are of a nature to step up and rise to the occasion," said Gary Mackender, a member of The Carnivaleros.

This week's concert will bring to town Big Papa and the TCB, a Southern California band known for swing and jump blues.

"I love a good cause," said Chris "Big Papa" Thayer. "I don't have the millions (of dollars) of a Brad Pitt, but I can give something. Everyone can give something."

According to both Thayer and Mackender, it's important to support people, through money, time or talent.

Big Papa and the TCB have a goal of bringing blues back to the forefront of American music. This goal has picked up steam since signing with Papa John's Pizza as the sound behind the "Go, Big Papa" ad campaign.

Their performance this weekend will mark their first Tucson gig, and they hope to make performances in Arizona routine. With fine suits and light shows, Big Papa and the TCB strive to give audiences a good show that is about more than just music.

"The style is still there," Thayer said. "What we're doing is the root of all American music—it started with the blues."