Let’s address the thing that helped and/or hurt almost every musician that exists today – the elephant in the room, the emperor’s new clothes, and in other words: the global pandemic. Although it is important to acknowledge the ways in which global lockdowns have affected the music industry as a whole, smaller music projects have been disproportionately affected by the unfortunate circumstances of COVID-19.
It’s been almost two years since the pandemic began; it has taken a massive toll on bands that have worked to make their way in and out of the local scene – especially in a place like San Luis Obispo where local live music is a huge part of the culture. We’ve witnessed bands break up, move away, and emerge with totally new lineups. Musicians everywhere have had time to sit and think about what’s really important and what they want to continue to pursue as individuals. A San Luis Obispo favorite, The Charities, are of many bands that have been rearranged.
Background – My Relationship with The Charities
I started managing The Charities (a local funk/soul band, according to our Facebook bio) about three years ago when I was only 19 years old. I agreed to manage them because I was incredibly passionate about their music – not to mention how convincing and charismatic Brock was. Since April of 2018, change has been the only constant with The Charities. Within a year of forming, all six boys moved from a duplex in Manhattan Beach to a ranch in the boonies of Creston, California where they could pursue their loud musical endeavors all through the late night. Abruptly after relocating, the band started touring more often, releasing chunks of self-recorded music, and quickly became a brotherhood of funk and soul. We really were like brothers – I guess I was the sister who would come to visit once a week when I could make the drive down the winding Highway 41. For a while, the boys really lived together like a family. Over time, we made things work and The Charities became a well-oiled machine that played over 100 shows in 2019.
When “Do It Ourselves Presents” – the first music festival we ever booked – was canceled, we realized that COVID-19 might have a bigger effect on our lives than we could have imagined. I remember the phone call quite well. We felt heartbroken and could only hope that everyone still believed that the show must go on, but, after this first phone call, my resilience to this kind of heartbreak grew stronger and stronger. Lead singer Brock VanPelt expressed,
“At first I don’t think that anyone was scared that The Charities weren’t going to exist post-COVID because we were such a tight group… almost like a family all living together.”
This isn’t to say that 2020 was a bust; we still released 5 singles, an album, and a music video. The time we had in between those moments to sit and reflect was the most beneficial to the entire band; those were the moments that redefined The Charities and determined how we were going to move out of the Dark Ages of a pandemic and into the Renaissance of a newly revived music scene.
So, what the hell happened?
We lost a few members… and that hurt. It was hard for all of us to stay motivated and to keep believing that the show must go on when a single show hadn’t gone on in the past year.
It was a frightening time for smaller, DIY projects like us; friends of ours had bands that broke up within a few months of the pandemic. As bassist Derek Doszkocs describes,
“We watched a lot of bands dissolve because of COVID, specifically two really close bands to us. That was the hardest thing to watch. Not only because it was sad that they broke up, but because it felt like it was happening to us right before our eyes.”
No one was safe. People were over it. Without the shows to remind us of the pulsating energy and crazy dance moves we enjoyed within crowded rooms, it was easy to question why the hell we were trying so hard to make the show continue. It felt like feeding quarters to a broken vending machine that was out of candy bars – some members eventually ran out of coins. We were all individually faced with a choice; we came to our own conclusions at different times, but, luckily, a few of us still had a pocket full of change to donate to The Charities. We just had to figure out how to get some new style and energy in the room, in the van, and onstage. It was time to acquire new musicians for the band. Yet, how do we convince new musicians that this band is worth the time commitment? How were we to convince new people that, one day, this band will be able to create a sustainable financial situation? Can we convince new people to move to the sticks of Creston?
And Onward we went…
The offer to join the band was more appealing than we’d initially thought. The following we had garnered pre-COVID combined with excitement surrounding a revival of live music helped us enlist three wonderful new members with a great new energy: Jack McChesney from Pawlet Vermont, Mike Butler from Springfield, Illinois, and Sage Provins – a childhood friend of Shane and Derek – from Carlsbad, California. The musical gaps that had temporarily formed quickly started filling up with different styles and new motivation. The new wave of The Charities is officially in its beginning.
Keyboardist Jack McChesney moved out to the ranch from Vermont after playing for STIG, our close friend’s band; unfortunately, STIG was one of the bands that fell victim to the COVID dissolve. Derek succeeded in convincing him to move out to the west coast and to give The Charities a shot.
“I joined The Charities because I love to play music. I’m primarily a drummer but I wanted to be in a touring band so bad that I decided I would hop in on the keys,” Jack explains.
After attending Berklee School of Music and devoting his time to STIG for almost 5 years, he decided he was ready to take a leap of faith and move out to California.
Guitarist Mike Butler has been living in the SLO area for a while now after growing up in Springfield Illinois.
“For me, joining was a no-brainer – these guys have been making the best original music on the Central Coast since I got here a year ago,” says Mike.
After playing in various projects around the Central Coast, Mike has made a name for himself locally and is eager to come on the next few tours with the band as a unit.
Sage Provins has been a childhood friend of Derek and Shane for a long time. Growing up in Carlsbad altogether, the three members have been playing music together for years. Primarily a bassist, Sage has spent endless hours practicing guitar to prepare for his new role as guitarist for The Charities.
“The Charities have always been somewhat of a ragtag bunch of people coming together to play music. We’ve had new members in and out since the day that the band began and I think that this is a comforting concept to new members because we’re a very welcoming project,” explains Brock.
As the band is somewhat of a brotherhood, the group is not only about the musicianship – it has always relied heavily on the dynamic of the members within it.
“I’d say the main thing that’s changed is the way we come up with solutions and how we discuss things. There’s a different dynamic. I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily better, but it’s definitely not worse.” says Derek.
With change being the only constant, different can only be considered different for so long.
So who and what are The Charities?
The Charities represent the people who want to be a part of something bigger than themselves, not just for the people in the band, but for the college kids at Cal Poly who spent countless weekends seeing the band play in backyards, Stage 9, and the Warehouse on Mars. For many, a show with The Charities was their first concert experience.
As Mark MacDermott stated in the Easy Reader back in 2019, “Van Pelt wants to give music back to everyone. And he’s got a gift: The Charities shows tend to end up with a lot of audience singing…”
This is one of the reasons the core of the band remains strong. The Charities as an entity has never just been about who is on stage anyway – it’s about the eclectic community of people that our music helps gather. It’s about the crowd surfers, the people who push to the front to dance, the ones that stand in the back to watch, and the shared moments we have when we all sit on the floor together during the last song. As we push forward into the Renaissance from the Dark Ages, I couldn’t be more thankful for what obstacles we’ve overcome in the past that have granted us our footing for the future.
To Alec, Matt, Joe, and Hunter: we love you and are forever grateful for your time and commitment to The Charities family.
Jo Anna Edmison is the Media Director for .WAV. She wrote the article and took the photos.