Seizing Life One Concert at a Time


By Laurie Horning

On the last Sunday of January, seven local bands came together to play a benefit show for their beloved friend. Rob Johnston was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer within the past several weeks. Fortunately, he has a strong chance of surviving it and has been shrinking his tumors through the use of medical Cannabis oil. Those who have known him for years in the local music community have come together to help him annihilate his illness by hosting benefit concerts featuring talented local musicians to raise money for his treatments.

The local concert series is called CarpeVita: Concerts For Life. Carpe vita is Latin for seizing life, explained one of the organizers. I talked to RJ Stangland who helps organize the shows and also performs. According to him, they have been able to raise between four to five thousand dollars and counting. He was completely genuine when he told me that they just wanted to help their good friend Rob.

When I first walked into the large venue space at the Secret Society, I almost instantly started dancing to an audio collage of brass instruments that sounded much different from a typical marching band. The Transcendental Brass Band were tootin’ and flarin’ their horns New Orleans style while the drummer was playing a jazzy tempo. Although they were purely instrumental, the titles of their songs, “You Move, You Lose” and “Tchfunkta” were quite catchy. This local band is made up of 8 talented instrumentalists, one being Christopher Ingold, the percussionist/bongo player. He was excited about their next show which will be on Fat Tuesday, February 9th on Mississippi Ave for the Mardi Gras parade.


Brad Parsons performed after with his band, which was a blend of bluegrass, folk, and rock. I liked how his style of folk was lively and upbeat. His lyrics were captivating and resonated with those in the audience, especially when he mentioned in a song how he was walking down Alberta Street in the rain after saying goodbye to a love. This Portland based singer songwriter has toured around and has opened for popular folk bands such as Fruition. It was a treat seeing him for the first time at this benefit show.


Before the next band got up to perform, a festie (definition: a person who attends a festival regardless of the line up or main purpose) recognized the name since she had seen them at Human Nature this past summer. She expressed how much she enjoyed Urban Shaman’s performance and she could not wait to see them play again. Once I saw that the band was comprised of a drummer and a didgeridoo-ist, I was intrigued to hear their sound. The drummer, Ronny Lam, was an energetic drummer able to keep tempo for fast beats. The lead vocalist, beat boxer, and didgeridoo player, Jeffrey Cooper, would create layered beats with sounds of the didgeridoo and loop them throughout the songs while freestyling over them. It was definitely a sound I was not expecting and I was impressed by their unique style.


The last band to perform, DANG!, produced an energetic presence with their soul funk grooves. Their toe tappin’, body bumpin’ songs were so steamy, they made the festie take her top off (don’t worry, she only took off her sweater; after all, it’s still winter). The lead singer, Annie Dang, has a powerful belting voice. Her prominent words inner mingle with soulful scatting as the rest of the band harmonize with her melodic voice. There was no doubt that DANG! got the crowd up for one last dance.


Not only did the show have an eclectic range of musical styles and talent, it was also completely donation based, there wasn’t a set fee. Even though this also meant that the musicians and bands who performed did not get compensated, it truly showed each of their commitment to helping a friend and the community of musicians who put this show together. They’re not only raising money to support their friend through a tough time, but they’re also creating a positive space for music lovers and talented musicians to share their songs with each other to strengthen the local music scene. If you’re interested in learning about the next upcoming show, check out their Facebook page. I look forward to seeing what other events they put on around town and hope that Rob Johnston succeeds in curing his cancer.


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