Music For Mondays: Dark Was The Night

Courtesy of Red Hot. Fighting Aids through Pop Culture

Mondays are mondays. Nobody likes them. Heck, I have a 45 minute drive from Greeley to Frederick, CO so I can’t lollygag or putz around because I will be late but alas, I spent all morning catching up on Sterogum’s 5 Best Videos of the Week which I will one day write about here. But today I wanted to talk about one of my favorite compilations ever titled Dark Was the Night. A 31 song collection of many of my favorite current independent artists. Now is it new? Not even close, it was released in 2009. Many albums have come out between than and now, but when the weather outside starts to get moody and rains/snows/just feels chilly I like to put this album on and relax in the ambiance of mild depression. Come and join me in this journey to see why this is one of my favorite compilation albums. 

Dark Was the Night was an album released in 2009 and produced by Aaron and Bryce Dessner of my favorite band The National. If you don’t know who the National are, take a look at my Covered: The National series from previous months to get to know the band. The compilation comes in at a whopping 31 songs featuring exclusive songs, favorite singles, and covers from a wide variety of independent artists. Some of the more popular names on the Album include David Byrne, TV On the Radio, Feist, Ben Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie), and The Decemberists. The Album was produced for the national Aids awareness program Red Hot.

Red Hot is a non-profit organization dedicated to fighting Aids through the use of Pop Culture. As stated on their website:

Red Hot was founded in 1989 as a response to the devastation wrought by AIDS on a generation of New York artists and intellectuals. John Carlin, who first pursued a career as an Entertainment lawyer after receiving a degree in comparative literature from Columbia University, a Ph.D. from Yale in the same subject, and a law degree from Columbia had an “improbable dream: to create an AIDS charity album with pop stars singing Cole Porter songs.”

Red Hot has had over 16 compilations and featured over 400 artists

Since then, Red Hot has gone on to create over 16 compilation albums and has worked with over 400 artists to help raise awareness of the Aids issue. What I find really interesting about this non-profit is that unlike traditional organizations, they work less on a specific issue and more as a production company trying to raise awareness in hard to reach target audiences. By combining an important message with popular culture including art and music, a larger audience can be made aware of the issue and hopefully help to battle the Aids pandemic.

Working with an exuberant amount of non-profit organizations over the last few years I have stumbled upon a few of these “production focused” organizations. One particular organization comes to mind called SpokesBuzz. A non-profit out of Fort Collins dedicated to raising global awareness of Fort Collins sound and culture by bringing worldwide attention to local bands. This is done through the promotion and supporting of local musicians and artists at concerts and events including the SXSW music festival.

While working with SpokesBUZZ I was really frustrated because I felt that there was a lack of  actual direction or purpose. When I would talk to people you would either get “I think they are a great promotion company” or “who?” Neither of which I thought were appropriate for a non-profit. Pretty soon I found myself confused on what the purpose of the organization was. Were we a promotions company for our favorite bands in Fort Collins under the guise of a non-profit? Was there some sort of long run purpose I wasn’t seeing? I really was pushing for this organization but couldn’t understand its place or purpose. I had never seen anything like a “local art incubator” before and had no idea what it could do. That was until I learned about Red Hot.

Red Hot who have been around for a nearly three decades does exactly what I expected SpokesBuzz to do. Create an incubator for ideas and create awareness of an issue. Is it trying to solve Aids singlehandedly? No. Is it trying to make these bands conform to their ideology and become idealistic donating all of their profits to fighting aids? Hell no. But is it trying to create awareness of an issue using an invaluable resource like popular public figures who can reach a larger audience than anyone individually? You better bet your ass!

The use of music to convey a larger idea has been around for forever and the drive of average people to help their community or project ideas has always been around. But my thing was always that if you do something, you have to do the whole thing. If you are an Aids non-profit you fight aids. If you are a local music incubator, you focus on making bands self sufficient AND promote them nationally. But as I learn more about Red Hot’s history and see SpokesBuzz develop I can’t help but understand that you can’t solve the worlds problems by yourself but you can raise awarenss by focusing on your strengths. Red Hot uses the music and art community in a way that it can support itself. These musicians make music and in making music can attract the attention of their listeners to an issue. Something that they are already well equipped to do. In doing so, people are encouraged to learn more for themselves and help support the causes that their bands support.

As a young twenty-something I was really opinonated and looking back now I regret my stern stance on the idealism of SpokesBUZZ because now they are a tour de force and a big inspiration for me. I can’t wait to see what happens in the future for them!

Similar to SpokesBUZZ, the organization doesn’t want to completely solve Fort Collins music growth by themselves, but they want to use their strengths, Promotion and community involvement to raise awareness and let the audience become as involved as they want to be instead of forcing people to do something out of their comfort zone. Musicians make music. They are good at making music. So why would I think that an organization would force them to learn all these other aspects of music instead of helping an artist do what they love and in return get the help of the artist to promote their ideas and values. A relationship between a non-profit and an artist should be highlighting each ones unique abilities and collaborate on their skills to promote a higher value than expect to change each other to fit that higher value. SpokesBUZZ wants to promote the Fort Collins art scene. No more, no less. But in promoting the music scene and becoming a “Production/ Promotions” non-profit with compilations  featured stages at Festivals, and band-swaps, they are truly allowing the scene to show itself. Similar to Red Hot who after 3 decades of growth have developed from another non-profit to try and raise aids awareness futilely into an organization that has found an effective outlet for their message.

It’s amazing the power of music. It is amazing that a compilation of many of my favorite artists would lead me to learning about a new non-profit organization and put into perspective how amazing my own local non-profit organizations are. I love SpokesBUZZ, I love Dani Grant (Founder and most awesome lady ever) and love the power of music.

Dark Was the Night is definitely a great collection of music and worth  a listen if you get a chance. Even four years after it came out I still pull it out and listen to it on a regular basis. Trust me when it is roughly 3 hours of well spent time with your headphones and a good purpose. And please look at SpokesBUZZ because I think they are on their way to becoming a tour de force which I am now 100% behind in supporting.

Favorite Songs

The Books f. Jose Gonzalez- Cello Song
Bon Iver- Brackett, WI
The National- So Far Around the Bend
Antony w/ Bryce Dessner- I Was You When I Left Home
Justin Vernon w/ Aaron Dessner- Big Red Machine
Spoon- Well-Allright (This is the coolest acoustic song I have ever heard)
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings- Inspiration Information
Dave Sitek of TV On the Radio- With A Girl Like You (Best Cover of this song ever)
Conor Oberst with Gillian Welch- Lua



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