The Healing Co-Operative in Middletown opened its doors in 2001 as a support center for women diagnosed with cancer and their families. Founder and breast cancer survivor, Linda Phelan, wanted to give women with cancer a place to go that dealt purely with spiritual and emotional healing. â€śI just got so sick of driving to the hospital,â€ť Phelan told me of her battle. The center offers specialized support groups; yoga, meditation, art therapy, outdoor missions, retreats, reflexology, and most importantly, love.
As a non-profit organization, the Co-op relies on donations, fundraisers, and grants. The latter of which it does not see much of because it has no medical affiliation. So, it was the perfect venue for Award winning Canadian Folk legend, Jon Brooks, to play a benefit concert last Saturday, June 9.
Friends and fans filled every cozy chair and couch in the house, as the final light of day illuminated eclectic artwork, and a mural in the southeast corner of the room came to life. Brooks began strumming his Taylor Jumbo 615 guitar, pouring layers of warm ringing tones over the eardrums of the crowd. He addressed the audience, thanked them all for being a part of special place and sang â€śBrother Can You Spare A Dimeâ€ť bringing to life himself a story of compassion and forgiveness. The crowd now fully relaxed listened intently as Brooks, with his capo clipped high, flung and flicked his thumb across trembling strings during his thoughtful, emotionally stirring songs â€śSmallâ€ť and â€śThere Is Only Love.â€ť
Jon buttered up the crowd stating, â€śAmerican audiences are a gift to play to.â€ť He proceeded to skirt the line, like he does so well, when he sang his song â€śCigarettes,â€ť an ode to his on again, off again struggle with the popular cancer source. Perhaps his next tune â€śMercyâ€ť was more of a plea to the audience, but Brooks kept plugging away, ringing out chords full of harmonic hammer-ons and pull-offs that had me feeling like I was in the middle of a melodic movie soundtrack.
Some of Brooksâ€™ tunes were impeccably insightful. Lyrics like, â€śif itâ€™s not love we canâ€™t take it when we go,â€ť sung sweetly with his smoky soothing voice, seemed to make all of lifeâ€™s problems small.
He trumped Pearl Jam with the longest song title I have ever heard. â€śIf We Keep Whatâ€™s Within Us, Whatâ€™s Within Us Will Kill Us, But If We Give Whatâ€™s Within Us, Whatâ€™s Within Us Will Save Usâ€ť also took home the award for most punctuation in a song title, but his message rang loud and clear as Jon sang, â€śwe are the artists sweeping up floors, we are the poets sending out the spam, weâ€™re the prophets doing all the dishes, we are the misemployed and weâ€™re working for the man.â€ť Brooks finished off his first set with a tip of his hat to â€śTeulonâ€ť a town in Canada, and â€śVisiting Dayâ€ť a dark story about an inmate who kept his mouth shut.
After a short break, Brooks returned to tell us about another Canadian town. â€śMimicoâ€ť sounded like a place just about anyone would want to run from, but in the end the artist looked back fondly on the indecision and dusty roads of growing up in a small town.
Jon was looking for a little audience participation in the form of whistles during â€śMadelineâ€ť a song about love, living, and friendship that had the feel of an old Celtic folk tune and reminded us that, â€śeven grief passes on.â€ť
Brooks busted out his harp for â€śGod Part IVâ€ť which highlighted his talent as a finger style player and his belief in, â€śwhat a lot a little more justice could bring.â€ť He spoke his feelings about Canada attempting to send back Vietnam draft dodgers that have since built a life in his home country during â€śWar Registerâ€ť also adding, â€śI canâ€™t imagine wanting to get rid of the neighbor who had such a strong moral belief that they uprooted their life for it.â€ť
We learned a bit of Canadian history during â€śHudson Girlâ€ť a song about how Jon and his wife met. Bill 101 put into law that all businesses operating in Quebec must speak and print, French only. Brooksâ€™ wife to be moved to Toronto with her family not long after that. As he put it, â€śbill 101 down the 401 brought me my Hudson girl.â€ť Brooks closed the night asking the big question we all face in tragedy, â€śWhy didnâ€™t God help, why didnâ€™t he even try?â€ť The answer was in the title â€śBecause weâ€™re Free.â€ť
Brooksâ€™ music is neither happy nor sad. His songs focus on humanity and reality. More than anything, he sheds light on subjects that all to often are overlooked with a gritty wit that is hard to resist.