Artists don’t tend to keep quiet when they feel something needs to be said.
Particularly not artists who play the banjo and have a penchant for protest songs.
On Saturday, local musician Tom James will gather with like-minded artist friends for an event called “March Forth on March Fourth.” It’s scheduled for 7:30 to 10 p.m. at R Coffee House, 1144 N. Bitting, and will include performances by local poets and musicians who have a social justice message to share.
“These are people that have been writing songs and speaking out on social issues for years,” said James, 65. “That’s just kind of what we do. But it just seems like things have accelerated lately. And artists are the last people to be complacent about things.”
James describes himself as a folk musician in the vein of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. He’s been writing protest songs for years, starting during the Iraq War in 2003. His creative juices started flowing again after the presidential election last fall, and he formed a loose group called Musicians for Social Justice.
They’ve been busy of late, he said, providing music at a recent political rally in Topeka and putting on musical events in bars and venues around town.
Saturday’s event will start with a performance by “Activist Songwriters in the Round,” which will feature James and musicians Aaron Fowler and Kirk Miller taking turns performing their songs. After that, the Toltec Sisters, a piano/vocal duo featuring Roxanne Kellogg and Carol Denning of Roxanne and The Toltecs, will perform. (The rest of the Toltecs will be there in spirit, James said with a laugh. But they have tickets to see Mike Finnigan and The Phantom Blues Band perform at The Cotillion that night.)
John Jenkinson, a poet and professor at Butler Community College, will read a poem or two before each set.
The group, which recently put on a show at The Artichoke that raised money for Planned Parenthood, said they’ll accept donations at Saturday’s show, too. Those will likely be donated to the Islamic Society of Wichita.
James said that although his large musical community supports Saturday’s message, he’s aware that some people don’t. Part of the group’s goal, he said, is to reach out and try to start a dialogue with people who have other outlooks.
“We obviously have to get to a common ground somehow,” he said. “As artists, what we do is keep making our music and hoping that the message gets out there.”
March Forth on March Fourth
What: An evening of music and poetry focused on social justice
When: 7:30-10 p.m. Saturday
Where: R Coffee House, 1144 N. Bitting