Hits for the Homeless
New benefit CD provides some shelterfrom the storm
If you want to see David Holland droning out a live performance of his song "Rebel Without a Dime," it'll only cost you about enough to fend off his next hunger pangs.
Such was not always the case for the versatile, homeless musician, who plays guitar, piano, drums and bass with equal intensity and skill. In his heyday, Holland opened for Tom Waits at Huntington Beach's famed Golden Bear and played alongside Sonny Terry, the late, blind, blues-harp master. But for the past six years, Holland's venue has been the dirty sidewalks of Laguna Beach.
He can usually be found sandwiched among Laguna's claustrophobic tourist throngs and pricey art galleries, playing to impromptu audiences whose reactions run the gamut from disgust to delight. During one of his sidewalk serenades (Holland belts out everything from blues he picked up in Chicago to country he came across in Alaska), he caught the ear of Laguna Beach resident and author Scott Hays, who was captivated by Holland's lyrics and impressed that this destitute street musician crooned messages of redemption and hope rather than dark ballads of hopeless self-pity.
Hays had a brainstorm. Taking a cue from the 2007 CD Give Us Your Poor, which featured homeless musicians, he set out to record the aural offerings of Holland, another homeless performer named Jelani Diaz and other local musicians.
"I decided to tap into songwriters as a source for inspiration about the issue of homelessness," says Hays. "I tried to secure the best local songwriters I could find—some of whom are actually homeless."
Ivan Spiers, another Laguna resident who owns MZB studios in Tustin, helped turn Hays' vision of homeless harmonies into reality when he offered to record the tracks for free. Thus was born the Shelter Me benefit CD, a 13-track disc produced with the goal of helping to end homelessness in OC. Proceeds from sales of Shelter Me will go to the residents of Friendship Shelter, a Laguna Beach haven for the homeless that has aided more than 5,000 people during its 20-year operation.
"This is truly a compilation by and for the homeless," says Hays. "It's about faith in the abilities of homeless individuals to move their lives forward, faith in the charity of the men and women who contributed to this project, and faith in God that we all have a purpose in life other than just driving a new Mercedes."
That's what sets the CD apart from other anthologies—the musicians featured on it give listeners an idea of what it's like to be living on the streets and sleeping beneath underpasses. You can't listen to Alec Bridges' song "Refuge," which tells of a homeless man being wet and cold on a rainy night, without wanting to improve his situation. The passive approach isn't for singer/songwriter Michael Ubaldini, though. He goes for the jugular of big government with "Badge of Freedom," a moving plea for the president to quell greed and corruption and to "see them sad-eyed children digging the food out of a trash can."
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Producing the collection of poignant melodies was one thing, but getting them into the ears (and hands) of the public was quite another. The solution: Find Laguna Beach shop owners who were willing to display the CD in their stores—ones that were in close proximity to the streets the musicians call home. The same Laguna businesses that serve as tourist stopovers have stocked their shelves with Shelter Me CDs, including Sound Spectrum, Laguna Beach Books and Hobie Laguna Beach.
The Laguna Regency Theater is also helping the cause, screening a Shelter Me documentary prior to its marquee features. The short, produced by Orange Coast College film students, features Holland's ballad "Ain't It Just a Wonderful Life" and Diaz's confidence-asserting "Beautiful You."
Holland's plans for the future are both hopeful and humble. "I'd like to open for somebody big at Carnegie Hall," he says. "But I'll always come back and play on the streets. It keeps me grounded."
For more information about Friendship Shelter, visit www.friendshipshelter.org.