musings from boston

screams, whispers and songs from planet earth

Category: Worthy Causes & Activism (Page 1 of 3)

Passion Pit’s Michael Angelakos introduces new album and becomes an advocate for mental health

Michael Angelakos of Passion Pit; photo by Jean Claude B

Michael Angelakos of Passion Pit; photo by Jean Claude B

It’s brave to write from the heart and let strangers learn about your inner thoughts and insecurities. It’s braver still to openly discuss your life honestly, in an effort to help others. Michael Angelakos has “come out” (so to speak), shedding his front man role in Passion Pit and his focus on being a commercial artist to become a highly visible advocate for those with mental health issues. To coincide with the release of Tremendous Sea of Love, he has founded The Wishart Group, an artist-driven organization focused on developing “programs and services that better serve and promote the mental, physical, financial, and creative well-being of artists.”

The group will be bringing together professionals from all disciplines, from researchers and scientists to lobbyists and advocates, to generate funding for mental health research, develop healthcare for artists, support new therapeutic treatments for mental illness and more. To introduce this campaign, he has been sharing his personal struggles with bipolar disorder, including this interview with NPR.

Angelakos is putting his money where his mouth is. Royalties from the sales of the new album are being donated to the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at Broad Institute of Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

From first creating Passion Pit in his Emerson College dorm room 10 years ago to realizing considerable success with their unique brand of romantically-tinged synth-pop (thanks in no small part to Angelakos’ dreamy falsetto), the band has come a long way, giving him a strong platform of support from which to champion mental health awareness. And that’s a very good thing indeed.

And the music? It’s classic Passion Pit, steeped in their distinctive sound that has won them an army of fans, from Boston to far beyond. It can be streamed via Apple Music and on Spotify, and is available on Amazon. This is the band’s fourth album.

web | facebook | the wishart group

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Poor Prognosis: The AHCA and America’s Mental Health Care

Prognosis_1000x473

[This article was originally published on The Depression Army blog. Thank you, Dr. R., for editing. Note – this was originally written May 29. Three and a half weeks later, the Senate has indeed written their own AHCA proposal, and their “discussion draft” can be seen here].

People who struggle day-to-day with a mental health issue don’t usually spend a lot of time following politics. When the world is closing in, it becomes necessary to shut out all that extraneous noise, push away the distractions and focus single-mindedly on one’s well-being. However, with a new administration comes proposed changes to the American health care system that may make it more difficult for the less wealthy among us to find adequate mental health support.

Difficult as it is to take in all the information, ignorance is not bliss. People who are struggling need to be informed about — and sometimes even stand up for — one’s basic right to decent mental health care.

Mental Health Coverage Under the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare)

On HealthCare.gov, the official site of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), there is a mental health and substance abuse coverage page that clearly states the legal requirements of all ACA Marketplace health care plans. This includes behavioral health treatment (for example, psychotherapy and counseling), mental and behavioral health inpatient services and substance abuse treatment. Specifics depend upon where you reside and your health plan, but the law states that all ACA plans prohibit spending limits and must cover pre-existing conditions, which includes any mental illness. The ACA also provides “parity protections” for mental health services. This means that it enjoys the same protections as any other kind of health coverage in terms of deductibles, co-payments, out-of-pocket limits, treatment limits and care management.

In fact, there’s an entire government website devoted to mental health, with clear information about how the ACA has improved access to mental health services for many people, regardless of where they live and what type of plan they have. This official source says, “As of 2014, most individual and small group health insurance plans, including plans sold on the Marketplace, are required to cover mental health and substance use disorder services. Medicaid Alternative Benefit Plans also must cover mental health and substance use disorder services. These plans must have coverage of essential health benefits, which include 10 categories of benefits as defined under the health care law. One of those categories is mental health and substance use disorder services.” In the ACA program, mental health care is seen as an essential health benefit.

Despite the improvements to mental health care since the ACA first went into effect in 2014, a study by researchers at NYU’s Langone Medical Center found that mental care access in the U.S. is still inadequate. Nearly one in 10 Americans who had mental health problems in 2014 didn’t have insurance that would allow them access to treatment. For approximately 10.5 percent of people, there were delays in receiving professional mental health treatment due to insufficient coverage, compared to 9.5 percent in 2006. In 2014, 9.5 percent of those suffering with mental health issues couldn’t afford to pay for psychiatric medications, up from 8.7 percent in 2006.

The AHCA – Just Passed by the House of Representatives

The American Health Care Act, passed by the House of Representatives on May 4, seeks to roll back federal guarantees of mental health coverage and substance abuse treatment, instead leaving it to the discretion of individual states. Under the new plan, states can also opt-out of requiring that insurers cover pre-existing conditions. Other Essential Health Benefits (EHBs) left to the states to provide or not provide include emergency services, hospitalization, maternity and newborn care, rehabilitative services, chronic disease management, pediatric services and prescription drugs. The AHCA, as currently written, allows insurers in states that have opted out of covering EHBs to charge people more for their health insurance if they have pre-existing conditions.

What Do We Stand to Lose?

The ACHA bill leaves critical mental health care treatment and prescription medication coverage for poorer people up in the air. Depending on where you live, there may be state-provided financial assistance for psychiatric evaluations, counseling and potentially life-changing psychiatric drugs — or not. Should this bill go into effect, coverage that you’re currently receiving from your insurer, whether it’s through your employer or through the federal ACA marketplace, might go away. In a worst-case scenario, those families who need certain medical coverage for pre-existing mental health conditions may have to consider moving to a state where insurers will cover them. Unable to get proper care in their community, people with a serious mental illness are increasingly ending up in local jails, a sad development that is straining law enforcement. Mental Health America states that 1.2 million people living with mental illness are in jails and prisons every year. The Sentencing Project study referred to in the article found that six out 10 of those states with the least access to mental health care (Southern states) also have the highest incarceration rates.

The New Health Care Proposal: Here’s What Happens Next

As the House’s AHCA bill moves to the Senate for approval, the Congressional Budget Office(CBO) has issued their findings on the House’s proposed bill. The CBO estimates that the AHCA will leave 23 million more people without insurance by 2026 than if the ACA were to stay in place. They also discuss the dangers of leaving coverage decisions to the states. A CBO breakdown confirms that a state opting out of covering mental health care and prescription medicines, as well as pre-existing conditions, could cause out-of-pocket expenses to significantly rise for that coverage, leaving many priced out of the healthcare marketplace. The good news is that the U.S. Senate is unlikely to approve the House bill and in fact, they’re writing their own version. The bad news is that there are senators who may not heed the warnings in the CBO report.

What Can You Do?

First, don’t despair! There are many people who are aggressively fighting these radical changes to a healthcare system that, although flawed and in need of fixing, many people rely on. However, if you’re someone who is especially sensitive to mental health issues, it is imperative that you add your own voice to the choir of discontent. Indivisible is a nationwide organization that encourages people to take local action to express their concerns and tell their personal stories. Town Hall Project has an interactive database of town hall meetings by members of congress that constituents can attend. Add yourself to the mailing list of upcoming events in your area. If you’re unable to attend a meeting in person, you can also contact your senators directly to tell them how important mental health care coverage is for you and your family. You can also contact your House Representatives. When your representatives aren’t legislating in Washington, they should be back in their states to meet with their constituents. You can view the senate schedule and house schedule for 2017.

Above all, keep yourself well-armed with information! Important decisions are being made right now that could impact your mental health care and essential support services. If you believe that healthcare is a basic right, and that those living with mental illness should have the same rights as anyone else who suffers from a crippling affliction, Speak Out and Speak Loudly!

Your voice matters, and the voices of millions of sufferers will be heard in the voting booths!

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Letter from a Jilted Lover

Letter from a Jilted Lover

Dear Beloved,

This is very difficult for me to write, but it’s extremely important that I do so. I have tried to be patient. I offered my gifts to you freely, as a lover does, and all I expected in return was that you would respect me and treat me well. But something sinister has come between us that threatens to rip us violently from our warm embrace. Read more >>

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Introducing Tunisian singer-songwriter and activist Emel

Emel Mathlouthi

Photo: Alex + Iggy

Tunisian musician Emel Mathlouthi, known as Emel, is a visceral artist who prefers that you connect with her music on a purely emotional level, rather than study it in depth. But it is nearly impossible not to want to translate and analyze her Arabic words, once you know her story. With her unique blend of traditional Tunisian acoustic music, electronic beats and fiercely independent lyrics, her work gained widespread recognition after she recorded “Kelmti Horra (My Word Is Free)” in 2007 and it became an anthem of the Arab Spring. She found herself being called “the voice of the Tunisian revolution” and was invited to perform at the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony.

On Ensen, her second album, she incorporates diverse musical styles, with influences such as Joan Baez, Massive Attack, Björk and Egyptian protest singer Sheikh Imam. The album, released in February on Little Human / Partisan Records, was recorded across seven countries on two continents with several producers. This included her primary collaborator, French/Tunisian producer Amine Metani and Valgeir Sigurðsson (Björk, Sigur Ros). The music has an expansive, cinematic feel that accompanies Emel’s powerful, heartfelt vocals.

Here is the official video for “Ensen Dhaif (Human, Helpless Human).”

Emel Mathlouthi now lives in New York, where she relocated after living for a while in Paris. In 2008 during the rule of Ben Ali, she was forced to move from Tunisia after her music was banned for her messages about personal freedom and government corruption. Her debut album Kelmti Horra was released on World Village in France in 2012. NPR covered her music in 2013, in a piece called “Emel Mathlouthi: Voice Of The Tunisian Revolution,” and fellow Tunisian singer and composer MC Rai said, “She has so much courage to sing that around that time. When the dictators in Tunisia, the old regime, were in the top of their power — and for her to even have the courage to sing that, when she was living still between France and Tunisia — I thought she really was a true artist, because that’s what the art is about.” Four years later, her music was once again at the center of a grassroots uprising, as she sang “Kelmti Horra” in the streets of Tunisia, hours before Ben Ali fled the country. Here are the lyrics, translated from Arabic.

You can learn much more about Emel Mathlouthi’s life, music and inspiration from an in-depth Pitchfork interview.

Emel is currently in Europe on tour, and she’ll be performing a string of dates across the U.S. beginning on May 3 in Washington, DC. See the list of shows below. Her new album can be purchased from Partisan Records (CD, vinyl or digital) or on iTunes.

5/03/2017 – Washington, DC – DC9
5/04/2017 – Philadelphia, PA – World Cafe Live
5/05/2017 – Boston, MA – Brighton Music Hall
5/06/2017 – New York, NY – (Le) Poisson Rouge
5/09/2017 – Evanston, IL – Evanston SPACE
5/10/2017 – Minneapolis, MN – Cedar Cultural Center
5/13/2017 – Seattle, WA – Seattle Meany Center
5/14/2017 – Vancouver, BC – The Rio Theatre
5/15/2017 – Portland, OR – Newmark Theatre
5/16/2017 – San Francisco, CA – Swedish American Hall
5/17/2017 – Los Angeles, CA – Echo

web | facebook | twitter | instagram | soundcloud | youtube

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Introducing… Nano Stern

Nano Stern

If this year has a “global theme,” then it most certainly has to be the issue of immigration. Nearly every day we hear of the struggles that so many people face when trying to flee war-torn regions or hopeless economic conditions for a better life for themselves and their families. The world’s artists who speak out against injustices and celebrate our planet’s diversity are providing an essential public service, especially in our troubling times of rising xenophobia and nationalism.

Nano Stern is one such artist who uses music to celebrate diversity and denounce intolerance. An internationally recognized Chilean human rights activist, poet and folk rock artist, Stern recently released “Festejo de Color” (“Festival of Color”), from his recent album Mil 500 Vueltas. In this beautiful and timely song, he addresses the subject of migration and speaks of the mixing of different cultures in a far more positive light than current news stories.

(see an English translation of the Spanish lyrics, courtesy of Google Translate)

The song was written as a tribute to his grandparents, who had to flee Eastern Europe during World War II. What began as a personal story became a recognition for the journey of all migrants, as they overcame challenges and celebrated their new lives in their adopted homes. Issues of intolerance and nationalism are pushed away in favor of the colorful mixing of races, cultures and ethnicities. Fastejo is both the Spanish word for “festival” and an Afro-Peruvian music and dance that the song is based on. In the song, you’ll also hear traditional rhythms from Eastern Europe and the Balkans.

In writing “Festejo de Color,” Stern used décima, which is improvised poetry from Spain and Portugal that dates back to the 17th century. This form of poetry was first introduced by Chilean singer/songwriter Violeta Parra, but Stern is one of very few artists who are using this ancient form. On the album version, he’s joined by Peruvian Festejo legend Susana Baca and celebrated Argentine and Columbian musicians Pedro Aznar and Marta Gomez. These three musical guests represent the most common origins for immigrants moving to Chile, so this song really “walks the talk” of bringing disparate cultures together to form a single voice.

In this KKUP interview, Stern discusses the personal meaning behind the song.

As the grandson of Jewish refugees who fled persecution to resettle in Chile, Stern’s upbringing is rooted in his own family’s musicial traditions and activism as well as the highly influential Nueva Canción movement, which was spearheaded by Chilean musical activists as a protest to Pinochet’s dictatorship. Those who suffered at the hands of this oppressive regime still inspires Stern’s artistic vision. At 15, he joined Chilean underground band Mattoral, which added the South American rock and punk tradition to the mix that included jazz and classical elements along with folk traditions. This results in a powerful stew of indigenous Chilean, European and African musical languages.

Stern’s many admirers includes Joan Baez, who said “[Nano] may be the best young Chilean songwriter of his generation. With his lyrics, melodies, message, delivery, humor and heart, he gets my vote.” And in fact, he was the only Latin artist to be invited to perform with her at the Beacon Theater in New York City for her 75th birthday celebration, which was aired nationally last year.

“In the measure that I’m able to vibrate strongly, other people will resonate. If that frequency is intense, other things around it will vibrate together with it. Music in the end is that. We can put aside words, and genre, and tradition. In the end, it is all about a movement of air that makes our bodies move. It’s the most mysterious thing.” – Nano Stern

web | facebook | twitter | instagram | soundcloud | youtube

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Holly Miranda and Friends Record Midnight Oil, for Standing Rock

Midnight Oil - for Standing Rock

This beautifully uplifting song, “Midnight Oil,” was originally written in 1978 by Cris Williamson, an American singer-songwriter and political activist. Fast-forward almost 40 years, and the song is stumbled upon by Detroit-born musician Holly Miranda at an upstate New York record store, just a few days after the Orlando, Florida nightclub shooting. Deeply moved by the song and its message of hope, she decides to record it.

“Don’t let the midnight oil burn low, no don’t let it burn out, let’s see how things turn out in the end.” – Midnight Oil

Miranda learns more about Williamson — that she was a teacher who became an underground folk legend, feminist and activist, founding Olivia Records, the first female-owned and female-focused record label. As the new version of the song came together, with accompanying musicians and The New Asylum Choir, the two women got together to find a worthy cause to dedicate this powerful anthem to. They chose Standing Rock, because of the ongoing need to stop the Dakota pipeline and the importance of safe drinking water, which is about as basic as it gets.

Holly Miranda and Cris Williamson ~ photo by Irene Young

Holly Miranda and Cris Williamson ~ photo by Irene Young

“Midnight Oil” can be purchased at CDBaby, with all proceeds going directly to Standing Rock and the North Dakota Sioux Tribe. A huge assortment of talented musicians volunteered their time and talents to show their support and make this song a reality. This includes Ani DiFranco, Saturday Night Live’s Sasheer Zamata, Jaime King, Kyp Malone (TV On The Radio) and actress Natalie Morales (Parks and Recreation, The Grinder).

Musicians:
Garrett Lewis – Piano
Josh Werner – Bass
Jared Samuel – Mellotron
Jon Ulman – Drums
Maria Eisen – Bari Sax
Ginger Dolden – Violin
Pete Lanctot – Violin
Holly Miranda – Vocal

The New Asylum Choir:
Jared Samuel
Garrett Lewis
Stevie Weinstein-foner
Sasheer Zamata
Ani Difranco
Kyp Malone
Jesse Smith
Nico Turner
Lizz Winstead
Natalie Morales
Laurel Sprenglemeyer
Joan Wasser
Ambrosia Parsley
Ximenia Sarinana
Sally Kohn
Gracie Coates
Rachel Ruggles
Sharon Sulami
Jenny Wade
Cyrina Fiallo
Marnie Herald
Simone van Seenus
Trish Bendix
Jen Rosenstien
Lacey Story
Meg Ghiroli
Jaime King
Libby King

As it stands now, the fight for indigenous peoples’ rights and the universal right to clean drinking water unfortunately seems to be far from over. Take a stand by supporting this important cause and enjoying some fine music at the same time.

Standing Rock: web | facebook | tumblr

Holly Miranda: web | facebook | twitter

PURCHASE “MIDNIGHT FOR OIL” TO BENEFIT STANDING ROCK

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For those ‘election blues’ – Hillary for Humanity by The Femmedy Trio

In this never-ending, reality TV show, continuous gruesome train wreck of an election season, a little levity is in order. For your viewing pleasure, it’s “Hillary for Humanity” from The Femmedy Trio. It’s a collaboration between Vacationeer Jeff Grace (writer/director of the video) and brand new musical comedy group, The Femmedy Trio (who wrote the music and lyrics).

The Femmedy Trio is Stacey Hardke, Gabi Van Horn and Dahlya Glick.

Jeff Grace: web | instagram | twitter

The Femmedy Trio: web | facebook | twitter | instagram |youtube

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Division Men (and other artists) Cover Eagles of Death Metal for Play It Forward Paris Benefit

This has been one seriously intense year. In our final band posting of 2015 (save for some commentary about the music biz – coming soon), we’re remembering the horrific attacks in Paris and letting everyone know about the Eagles of Death Metal’s Play It Forward campaign. They have asked musicians in all genres of music to cover their song “I Love You All The Time.” For every cover version that is sold, EODM have pledged to donate 100% of publishing royalties to the The Sweet Stuff Foundation. This organization, run by Queens of the Stone Age guitarist Josh Homme, has been donating funds to families affected by the Paris attacks. Artists taking part include Ed Harcourt, Jimmy Eat World, My Morning Jacket, Alain Johannes, Florence + the Machine (featuring the Maccabees), Kings of Leon, Imagine Dragons, Mini Mansions,The New Pacific, r00ms, Savages, Sinner Sinners and the Dean Ween Group. Another band that has recorded a version of the song for this great charity is Texan duo Division Men. The video was filmed in Paris on December 2nd while the band was on tour, and the song was recorded on December 19 in Austin, Texas. All proceeds from the song go directly to victims of the November 13 Paris attacks.

Covers are available from Prime Music, iTunes and Spotify, and you can also donate directly by visiting their Play It Forward campaign page.

“I made a plea to artists and business people alike to come together to use our solidarity as proof that we are stronger together, and that we can make a difference.”

– Josh Homme


play it forward charity | the sweet stuff foundation | division men
eagles of death metal: facebook | twitter | instagram

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Crowded House Release ‘Help Is Coming’ to Benefit Save The Children for the Refugee Crisis

The saddest thing about this song recently re-released by Crowded House to benefit Save The Children’s campaign for the refugee crisis is that I received notice of this back on September 11, and it’s even more relevant now, more than two months later. This is not a problem going away any time soon, but with efforts like this, we can help ease the pain for so many people. The song itself is a both a heartfelt plea and a promise — “Help Is Coming Soon.”


This beautiful song is available as a limited edition 7-inch single and download, and proceeds benefit Save The Children to help in their efforts to provide aid during this ongoing refugee crisis. You can read more about their campaign. For those wondering about the song itself, it is from their b-side album Afterglow, released in 2011. The video is by Mat Whitecross with an introduction by Benedict Cuberbatch.

Download the single to donate to Save The Children and show your support. All proceeds will go to help thousands of refugee children in need of food, safe water, medicine, shelter and psychological support. The 7″ single includes an exclusive previously unreleased b-side “Anthem” with new artwork by Crowded House’s bass player Nick Seymour. All entities (the band, Apple, Universal Music Group and producers) are donating their royalties and all proceeds to the cause.

DOWNLOAD SINGLE FROM iTUNES | ORDER LIMITED EDITION 7-INCH VINYL

DONATE FROM THE UK or INTERNATIONALLY | DONATE FROM THE U.S.
NOTE: Above links go directly to the Save The Children official site.

Additional background from the press release:
Like the rest of the nation, the broadcasters/writers Caitlin Moran and Pete Paphides were saddened and angered last week by the images of three-year-old Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi and his brother Galip.

Pete Paphides “I started imagining my family in a similar situation, and almost without me realising it, a song I hadn’t heard for several years started playing in my head. Help Is Coming was recorded by Crowded House over 20 years ago, but it evokes with uncanny empathy the howling uncertainty faced by thousands of families arriving in Europe for the first time. The following day, I contacted friends at The Vinyl Factory — a label that owns the old EMI pressing plant in Hayes — with a view to manufacturing a seven-inch single with all the proceeds going to Save The Children. They responded immediately, offering to waive all their manufacturing costs.”

Caitlin Moran “The day after the pictures of three-year-old Alan Kurdi went around the world — it was like a switch had been flicked. My social media timelines were full of people who just could not stay inactive any more; who were exasperated with the lack of governmental action. There were people posting up Amazon wish lists of tents, sleeping bags, clothes; people hiring vans to drive down to Calais; people organising libraries, and soup kitchens. People doing that brilliant, simple, ageless human thing: of wanting to help other people. Whilst committees convene and resolutions are published and squabbles break out between this government and that, normal people just become very practical: they roll up their sleeves, and say: “Right. if I’d just fled my country with my family, what would I need? Shelter, food, and clothing. maybe some books, for the kids. Let’s get started now.” So, Pete and I were just doing what everyone else was doing, really. He’d found the perfect song — Help Is Coming, about refugees on their way to Ellis Island, with “Empires crumbling” behind them — and I just went on Facebook and told everyone what we were doing. And everyone was desperate to help — everyone felt the same way.”

Neil Finn “I am continually amazed and grateful for the mysterious pathways that songs can travel. You never know where they are going to turn up and when they will reveal their true nature. First recorded in 1995, quietly released in 1999 Help Is Coming has had a long journey to find a good home. It was always a song about refugees even if at the time I was thinking about the immigrants setting off on ships from Europe to America, looking for a better life for their families in America. The words of the poem inscripted on the Statue of Liberty are an extraordinary statement of intent for the development of a great nation ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.’

There is such a huge scale and urgency to the current refugee crises that barely a day goes by without some crushing image or news account to confront us. We can’t be silent anymore. Like the diverse immigrants that made America great, these are good people that just want to find somewhere safe to create a better life for their families. I am grateful to Pete and Caitlin for imagining my song might resonate — and to Mat Whitecross for creating such a powerful film to accompany it. It’s an honour to be a part of a growing chorus of voices to create action and make it real… help is coming.”

HelpIsComing.org | Save The Children – Child Refugee Crisis Appeal | Neil Finn | Crowded House

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The Mix from Germany Gives Autism a Voice on Upcoming U.S. Tour

The Mix has a compelling and powerful classic rock sound. They have an even more powerful message. Based in Braunschweig, Germany, this 11-piece rock ensemble (guitar, bass, keyboard, drums and vocalists) is comprised mostly of people with autism and other disabilities, and their goal is to promote inclusion and equality while celebrating and showcasing each band member’s individual talents. Founder Peter Savic says that the group uses their musical gift “to develop a reputation as ambassadors for people with disabilities.”

The Mix will make their North America debut beginning with a show at Pianos in New York City on Sunday, September 14 (see dates below). Members of The Mix believe that writing and performing music offers those with disabilities a sense of creative expression which they are often deprived of. The rock music platform gives this unique band the chance to “liberate their souls.” Their motto is “Let me be the way I am.”

The Mix group shot

The Mix group shot

As you listen to their music, you’ll quickly realize that this is no mere novelty act, but rather professional and gifted musicians. They currently enjoy a solid fan base in Germany, England, Denmark and even Africa. There are plans for tours in France and Australia. But for now, they’re poised to conquer North America.

The Mix September Tour Dates

Sunday, Sept. 14th: Pianos (New York, NY)
Monday, Sept. 15th: The Fire (Philadelphia, PA)
Tuesday, Sept. 16th: The Electric Maid (Washington, DC)
Thursday, Sept. 18th: The Cave (Toronto, ON)
Friday Sept. 19th: Zaphod Beeblebrox (Ottawa, ON)
Sunday, Sept. 21st: The Middle East (matinee) (Cambridge, MA)

The Mix: web | facebook

Wo geht die Reise hin (Where Are We Headed?)

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