A Detroit rocker whose band was once described as "a loud bunch of meth-crazed punks on a power trip" stepped up to use his musical power to do some good on Friday (March 19) at the South By Southwest Music + Media Conference.
MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer used this year's event to launch the new charity initiative Jail Guitar Doors USA, which brings musical instruments into prisons in the hopes of using music as a rehabilitation tool. Named after a Clash song that sports a lyric about Kramer's own late '70s incarceration on drug charges and inspired by a smiliar charity singer-songwriter Billy Bragg launched in England, JDG USA began with a visit by Kramer and some of his musical friends to the Travis County Jail on Friday morning, then continued with a wee-hours "after party" at a club called The Ghost Room."
"When people think you care about them, and want them to get better, they respond," Kramer said backstage before the show. "These guitars aren't a gift -- they're a challenge."
The Ghost Room show, meanwhile, was nothing less than a hoot, a 70-minute all-star round robin of passionate musical fellowship. Musical highlights included Kramer's acoustic rendering of the MC5's "High School" -- "Really, we were sensitive guys," he quipped -- Bragg's a soulful "I Keep Faith" and a slamming three-song set by Tom Morello and Boots Riley's Street Sweeper Social Club that culminated in a stomping cover of LL Cool J's "Mama Said Knock You Out." R.E.M.'s Mike Mills delivered a charged version of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's "Ohio," while the BellRay's Lisa Kekaula tookk the lead on the MC5's "Lookin' Back" backed by Kramer and SSSC. Gang versions of the Clash's "Jail Guitar Doors" and the MC5 anthem "Kick Out the Jams" also featured the Foo Fighters' Chris Shiflett, Anti-Flag's Justin Sane and members of the bands OuterNational and Cobra Verde.
Kramer -- who said he's planning some Jail Guitar Doors events for Michigan in the future -- made sure the Ghost Room Crowd remembered the show was about a cause and not just the tunes. He forcefully "suggested" that those in attendance make donations by texting "JGD" to 738674 and also visit the web site jailguitardoors.com.