No one was seriously injured last Saturday night, after a tornado touched down in the rural Western Massachusetts towns of Goshen and Conway. But buildings and personal belongings were destroyed. Friends — and strangers — have jumped in to help out.
At one fundraiser this week, someone anonymously dropped a cashier’s check for $50,000 into a collection can. Another notable donation was made, just by chance. It started with a phone call to a reporter.
“Hi Jill! This is John ‘Klondike’ Koehler, calling from Greenfield. I heard your report this morning about the band in Conway,” and he said he wanted to help. He had some equipment he could give them.
Koehler, who has spent a lifetime in the wings, running sound systems for clients like the New Orleans Jazz Festival and A Prairie Home Companion, has a history of helping out musicians.
When he heard the band Carinae couldn’t live in their house, that their studio and some gear was crushed, he said, “The story really reached me in a place that brought me back to 2005.”
In response to so much loss after Hurricane Katrina, Koehler and a few friends started the Katrina Piano Fund and raised enough money to get instruments to hundreds of musicians.
This week, he said, it was an easy decision to reach out to a band in Western Massachusetts, his own neck of the woods.
On Tuesday night, Mardi Gras, Koehler and five band members stood in a dark lot of an industrial park, talking about what they would need to get on the road for their scheduled tour.
Gabe Camarano, who lost his drum set, said he was home during the tornado, when a tree fell on the house. His mom was visiting from Mississippi.
“I was in the room, maybe a minute prior, and I got a really strange feeling,” he said.
Camarano said he grabbed his mother’s hand and they ran downstairs.
The studio, which doubled as Camarano ‘s bedroom, was demolished. Other instruments were also smashed and gear was water-logged from the storm. The house is unsafe to live in, for now.
Nina Kent, who plays bass, said it’s been a rough few days.
“Saturday night I kind of felt like, ‘Oh, wow. This one room, where we can all come together and make something happen, is destroyed,'” Kent said. But every day since, the situation seems to be getting better. “Today,” she said, “I’m like, ‘Oh, it is not all lost.'”
Koehler himself is a veteran of equipment mishaps, even with his own band. He described how one of the members dropped a mixer off the edge of a dock, and how once it was retrieved, they took it apart and brought it back to life. Using a blow-dryer.
He stood at the back of a storage trailer, next to a pair of giant speakers and a mix board — circa 1980s, Koehler said. He described its capabilities in detail, using the language of hardcore electronics expert. The decades-younger, digitally-raised musicians were impressed. And grateful.
Then Koehler offered to “fire up” the speakers. “Singasong,” the 1970s hit from Earth, Wind & Fire, blared into the night.
The band members lit up, spun off like tops and laughed into the darkness, coming back as Koehler brought down the fader.
He said he has one condition with these gifts. If possible, he told the band, as they packed up the car and got ready to leave (the tour to Maine, then Georgia was possible after all) they should eventually re-gift the equipment. And, he added, make sure to use it well.
“Remember — there’s a fine line between touring musicians and musical tourists,” Koehler said. “Keep working. Keep playing. Don’t just hang out all the time!”
They quickly agreed, and then they left, shouting goodbyes out the window, as if they had known Koehler for more than just an hour.