When his buddy and fellow musician Willie West suggested someone do a benefit for water-poisoned Flint, Michigan, Paul Metsa sounded the alarm in the Twin Cities.
“I know everybody in the music community, and I have a great relationship with almost all of them,” said Metsa, over lunch at Pepito’s Mexican Restaurant last week. “I’ve offered them paying gigs when I can; supported them; hung out, played with them, shared their stories. So I just got on the phone, and it’s on everybody’s minds, and God bless the generosity and soul of the Twin Cities music community — it didn’t take but a couple hours of emails and phone calls to line up almost 30 acts.”
The result of all that hustle is “Water For Flint: A Benefit for the Community Foundation of Greater Flint” at the Parkway Theater Friday night, featuring an all-star rock, blues, and folk line-up of West, Metsa, Willie Walker, Mari Harris, Randi Starr Hudson, Bobby Vandell, James Loney, Pat Hayes, Mick Sterling, Sherwin Linton, Andy Lindquist, Barry Thomas Goldberg, Dan Israel, Tom Lieberman, Brian Powers, Andra Lee Suchy, Ronn Easton, Lonnie Knight, Chris Mulkey, Jon Manners, Alicia Corbett, John Fenner, Brian Drake, Doug Collins, Stan Kipper, Willie Murphy and more.
“I was just appalled, like everyone else, watching the news,” said Metsa. “This is the first of hundreds if not thousands of communities [that will be similarly affected by lead poisoning], because we all have rusting infrastructures.
I initially wanted to call the benefit ‘A Drop In The Bucket,’ because that’s all it is, but no matter what, all the money raised will go to provide relief to kids in Flint.”
Geographically, Flint isn’t all that far from Minneapolis, where drinking water is clean, plentiful, and valued – so much so that a water bar is set to open this spring not far from Metsa’s northeast Minneapolis home. But water supply-wise, the Twin Cities and Flint are worlds apart, and the tainted drinking water in Michigan has served as a warning sign that everybody needs to do better in taking care of the environment and future generations.
“I grew up in Northern Minnesota, which is surrounded by water,” said Metsa. “Ten percent of the world’s fresh water is in Lake Superior. I’m a double Scorpio; water sign. Water has always been very sacred and precious and very appealing to me on so many levels — I just love water. I have great tap water in my house in northeast. I drink right out of it. We all take it for granted, and hopefully the bigger view of this benefit is to not only help the kids in Flint, but to appreciate what we too often take for granted.”
Leave it to a musician to rally the troops for Friday’s benefit, with more to come. “I’ve done hundreds of benefits for various causes in the Twin Cities,” said Metsa. “I’ve done four shows this year for Homeward Bound [Dog] Rescue, another cause that’s near and dear to my heart. But there’s a really nice feeling, especially in this volatile election year, that we can reach across state lines and help our brothers and sisters in other states around the country.
“[Music] is the great healer. Musicians have always gotten the short shrift over the years, and I’m guilty of everything: I’ve been a late-night rock and roller, a crazy guy who stays up too late and is a bit of a lazy sod at times. … You know, musicians have always been looked at with a kind of jaundiced view: What exactly do we do? We just run around, drink, do drugs, and chase girls. “Not really, not anymore. I mean, look at the pillars of society. It used to be the Catholic Church, it used to be doctors and lawyers, it used to be politicians you’d look up to. And now you can find examples in any of those categories where the people at the top have been poisoned by greed. Musicians are the ones who you can really rely on, and if you consider the occasional uplifting of your soul and you’re able to sing a song with neighbors you might not even know and enjoy two or three hours of good entertainment, at the end of the day that becomes a very precious and powerful thing.”
Friday’s suggested donation of $20 will go to the Community Foundation of Greater Flint, and the lasting good vibes from Metsa and crew are sure to have a lasting impact long after this weekend.
“It’s the musicians who you can always count on to rally for the cause,” said Metsa. “It’s the reason why, in the Revolutionary and Civil wars, the musicians were always the ones carrying the flag with the fife and drums. They led the charge. It’s a calling. It’s a vocation and an avocation. It’s a variety of musicians on this bill, and they all take their music very seriously, they take themselves very seriously, and they take their community very seriously. But not so seriously they can’t have a little fun.”