Submitted by Why We Ride fan, John Velghe
A couple weeks ago, there wasn’t much about my inaugural Organ Transplant Motorcycle Tour that looked like it would be a success. Without any payment guarantees I was left to play for tips. Every journalist who said they wanted to write about the tour ended up blowing me off. And my first show in Saint Louis was mostly playing for people more interested in watching the most hated baseball team in the post-season than listening to me sing songs about redemption and love (go Royals). Then the world got a little brighter East of the Mississippi.
Once I crossed that river, the shows got better and better. The groups of people not only grew, but they were welcoming and cared about music and the point of the tour. And it became clear to me that real people, who engage with music in person, are the whole point of making music. No one showed me this more than a four-year-old named Esther.
I played a house show at Gift of Life Family House in Philadelphia. It’s the only facility of it’s kind in the US where organ transplant recipients and families can stay when they are receiving treatment. While I was there playing, these three little sets of eyes kept peering over the couch at me, when I’d look at them they’d hide. These little kids kept dancing and bouncing around the room to my songs. And one little girl, Esther, had particular liveliness and vitality.
I found out that Esther had a double-lung transplant just two months ago in July. Esther, with two new lungs, engaged with music viscerally and uninhibitedly. She’d never promised anything. She just did it. Esther and her brother and her friend Katy did more for the success of this tour than any writer or booking agent could have. They reminded me that music is a service we musicians give to other people. We make music and play it for people regardless of who they are, or what they promise, or their station in life.
From that show on, the nights just got better. Late starts and PA malfunctions couldn’t stop the magic that happens when a singer and the audience connect and interact. It was easier to inhabit the songs and perform them without pretense; knowing I only needed to do it for the people who were there, and not the people who weren’t.
After riding 3,069 miles over two weeks I ended up being able to raise a few hundred dollars for Merle Jam and TRIO. This is more than I’d hoped for, and more money than I’ve ever ended a tour with. My hands are sore. My head is sore. My ass is sore. But the generosity and engagement of the people who became friends and fans of the music numbed all of that and showed me that real people engaging in music and art is all that really counts.
For those of you who came out, listened, engaged, thank you. — John Velghe
About John Velghe and the tour:
In the summer of 2014 Velghe embarked on a 3,300-mile solo motorcycle music tour across the Eastern USA. The two-week, self-funded and self-booked Road Show was a benefit for Transplant Recipients International Organization where Velghe played shows at traditional venues and at residences for Transplant Recipients and their families. The tour connected music, motorcycles and fans for the cause of helping transplant recipients offset some of the costs of their care. – from johnvelghe.com