Food For Thought: The Music Of Dispatch & State Radio

Posted on November 22, 2011


I ran a red light the other day… while on my bike. That just shouldn’t happen. It did, however, give me fodder for this blog, which I’ve been meaning to write since, well, this past summer’s road trip—like 7 months ago. My bad. But alas, the partner to my previous post: Road Trip 2011: Destination Dispatch. I’ll return to the reason for the illegal biking in one minute; to set the stage, I need to tell you about a random drive up I-15 to Helena.

One of the many wonderful things my grandmother passed down to me was this strange little emotional thread I have. There’s no telling when it will rear its head, but it’s there, hovering somewhere in the recesses of my brain’s synaptic activity.

Navigating the narrow canyons, I was listening to Dispatch on my stereo. The song Elias came on, just as it had hundreds of times before. This time, though it took on a different meaning.

I was on my way to Helena to photograph the Montana Independent Living Symposium (read my post about it here), which Cass had a big stake in organizing. The IL movement is one of the few situations of empowering people, giving hope and a motivation to people with disabilities that they will overcome discrimination our society imposes on them—it’s incredible to see this and be a part of it. It was with this mindset that I was driving.

Not long before this moment, I found myself in Berkeley, California at a Dispatch concert. I’ve listened to Dispatch probably since 2002. It’s one of those groups that you include on a mental list of bands you must see someday—unfortunately, they split in 2009(ish) and I thought I never would. Good news: they’re back and when I learned of this I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Not only do I truly feel their music, but more importantly, a large part of what Dispatch nation believes in is to stand for something: they organize and play fundraising events, they stayed an independent band believing their message would spread, and their songs had (have) depth—a quality not often heard over the radio waves. One of the first times I saw a picture of Chad, I noticed a sticker on his guitar reading “people over profits.” It tells you a bit about what they stand for; I’m down with that.

At their concert, they chatted between songs sharing their stories of hope and introducing songs. Then I recognized the story behind the song Elias. The story went something like this:

We’ve been playing this song all over the country and the world. It’s a testament to the power of relationships. While we were in Zimbabwe, we met and became good friends with an amazing person named Elias. It is likely he has no idea that thousands of people from all over the world has chanted his name; that he has become a symbol of unity and uniting people.

Click here to see our Elias video recorded at the Berkeley, CA show @ youtube!

The combination of these two events in my mind became too much and the frog in my throat became bigger as I thought of the power people possess to make this world a better place. It could be through something like advocating to build a house completely accessible to someone using a wheelchair or uniting people through song, or coming to understand a man and his family next to a campfire in the most HIV/AIDS ravaged country on earth. Good has many varieties.

My interest in Dispatch has led me to the band State Radio. This was, and continues to be Chad’s band formed when Dispatch was not together. It seems as though State Radio has not only adopted these messages and activism, and amped them up. From their website:

For generations of American bands, the music and the message have been inextricably linked. Word and deed are one in the same, and the only thing more moving than the rousing call to action is the song that transports the words like a shell casing. Following the hard travelin’ path of Woody Guthrie, these bands sing about ordinary people in extraordinary ways and can turn the world inside out with three chords and the truth. These are the tenets by which STATE RADIO’s Chicoree Stokes, Chuck Fay, and Mike “Mad Dog” Najarian are driven, and they once again flex that strength and sense of purpose…

The reason behind pedaling through that red light was the song Camilo on their album Us Against The Crown. The song tells the story of an American soldier, Camilo, who served in Iraq, but did not return for required duty after a short stint back home. He applied for conscientious objector status, basically someone who refuses military service because of values, conscience, religion, etc. (think Muhammad Ali- “I aint got no problem with them Viet Cong…”). Wikipedia states his claim was “that he left his post in order to avoid duties that could be considered war crimes: more specifically, the abuse and torture of prisoners.” In the end, he was convicted of desertion and spent a year in jail.

I didn’t know this at the time, it’s all a compilation of my interest in the story from this song. It was so well portrayed through my ear buds, that I had traveled a million miles away from my bike seat.

“Twenty days in a concrete fallout/ What life have I to take your own/ Oh my country, won’t you call out/ Doorbells are ringing with boxes of bones/ And from another land’s war torn corners/ To a prison cell in my own/ Punish me for not taking your orders/ But don’t lock me up for not leavin’ my home”

It was so absorbing a story that I rolled right through that red light in Uptown Butte. Some food for thought…


For more info on Elias, the song, and the Elias Fund, click here.

More on State Radio, click here.