Kerri Pinchuk > Senior > Journalism >University of Maryland
In the music industry, summer is anything but a vacation. For bands – and their devoted fans—summer means three months of crisscrossing countries and selling out stadiums in major cities and tiny towns alike. For rock-reggae trio State Radio, summer 2010 was all the above—and then some.
With an objective far beyond selling records and signing autographs, State Radio embarked on a “Green Summer of Service” tour in May, calling on fans across the country to dedicate their time to local community service projects. From San Francisco to Philadelphia, volunteers joined band members Chad Stokes, Chuck Fay and Mike Najarian in beautifying beaches and parks, sending letters to President Obama and learning about climate change.
“The spirit of volunteerism is growing,” said 34-year-old Stokes, the band’s guitarist and lead vocalist. “We’ve changed our focus as people; we’ve started caring about each other.”
Stokes’ Captain Planet-esque outlook is incredibly refreshing in a world that measures success in Facebook fans, but he’s no newcomer to the scene. The curly-headed crooner was the lead singer of service-oriented indie jam band Dispatch, which dissolved in 2002 despite their overwhelming success. The same year, Boston-based State Radio was born with a mission reminiscent of 1960s-era musician activists.
“Writing music is about finding something that gets you fired up,” Stokes said. In State Radio’s case, that “something” ranges from local environmental awareness to global human rights.
Aside from the band’s summer service agenda, State Radio has been heavily involved in humanitarian efforts like stopping violence against women through the Darfur Camps Project. The band’s music video for the catchy track “Calling All Crows” has been used as promotional material for the African campaign. “And if you feel like you are witnessing a movement, then get up, girl, and let them know you’re free,” Stokes sings in the revolution-ready ballad off Let It Go, the band’s third full-length album.
And then there’s the music. While Dispatch was known for their acoustic, folksy sound, State Radio experiments with a variety of genres, often blending hard and soft rock with roots-reggae. Confused? Imagine stumbling upon a jam session with Bob Dylan and Bob Marley. Mainstream? Hardly. Enlightening? Positively.
Somewhere between the guitar riffs, island beats and powerful lyrics, there’s something catalytic about State Radio’s music that makes you want to dance uncontrollably and save the world at the same time.
“A perfect show is transcendental, other-worldly,” Stokes says. “It takes you to a different place.”
While an average State Radio audience member can range from high school hipster to old school hippie, Stokes credits the younger fan base with the ability to promote non-mainstream artists via word of mouth.
“When people get older, they’re not in record shops digging for new music. They’re not going from MySpace to MySpace seeking out bands,” he says. Like the band’s grassroots volunteer efforts, Stokes says, “It’s all about starting from the bottom up.”
Second photo by Drew Guri.