Two Texas Exes Organizing Massive Guitar Jam To Benefit Soldiers

In the Live Music Capital of the World, 8,000 good-hearted guitar players should be easy to come by, right?

That’s the hope as a couple of Texas Exes try to take back a Guinness World Record for Largest Guitar Ensemble — all while benefiting soldiers’ post-battle recoveries.

On June 26, the nonprofit Soldiers’ Angels and its Voices of a Grateful Nation division will gather every musician they can at the Texas State Capitol for the record-smashing fundraiser “Pickin’ for the Record.”

Texas briefly held this world record after the same groups sponsored an 1,867-player guitar jam in Luckenbach in August 2009.

Poland took it away, however, when 6,346 musicians brought their guitars to a Jimi Hendrix festival not long after.

With all due respect — Poland?!? 

The organizers are hoping that the 2011 event will boast numbers far beyond 6,346.

The crowd will gather and jam on the Capitol’s south steps between 1 and 4 p.m. Then, together, they will play “This Land is Your Land,” an old Woodie Guthrie song chosen for both its patriotism and its easy-to-play three-chord structure.

The $15 registration fee gets participants admission, a T-shirt, and dog tags. For another $5, they can enjoy barbecue donated by Rudy’s and cooked up by church volunteers. And all the proceeds will go toward Voices of a Grateful Nation, which helps soldiers heal through musical therapy. 

The organization is the brainchild of two Texas Exes, Charlie Gallagher, BFA ’78, and Craig Hillis, BA ’92, MA ’00, who were talking over lunch a few years ago about all that today’s troops were facing.

Along with their friend, music producer and former Eric Clapton drummer Jamie Oldaker, these guys were of the Vietnam generation, and they remembered what their peers had gone through coming back from war.

Between brain injuries, roadside bombs, and post-traumatic stress, though, they were worried about how soldiers who’d served in Iraq and Afghanistan were transitioning back home.

The nonprofit they formed has since produced two albums of music on patriotic and military themes, but its leaders want to make learning music available to more soldiers.

Music — for those inclined to it — can help on many levels, Gallagher says. “The memorization work you do learning to play chords on a guitar or keyboard is fulfilling emotionally and something you practice,” he says. “It has, in almost every case I’ve experienced, helped those soldiers improve their memory and given them something to focus on.” 

The group has the advice and support of neurologist Barry Bittman, who has studied music’s healing effects on the brain for cancer patients and the mentally ill. They also have the involvement of the Yahama Music & Wellness Institute. They are hoping to raise at least $50,000 to expand the program.

Register for “Pickin’ for the Record” here. And remember: rumor has it the Aggies are coming out in full force, so the organizers encourage the wearing of orange!


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