From The Plastic Hallway

“The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side.” -Hunter S. Thompson

Guatever

"Everyone is the age of their heart.” ~Guatemalan proverb

February 7, 2012

It wasn’t until I met up with Tony and Rachel at the airport in Houston until it hit me.

Holy shit. I’m going to Guatemala. Why am I going to Guatemala?

The truth of the matter is, it was because I was invited there.

I had met Dustin and Jenny Reynolds on The Rock Boat a couple of years prior, as they were fans of a few of my management clients at the time. The Reynolds and I bonded instantly over a mutual passion for service – my management clients, back then, and still to this day, would visit hospitals and play for patients in tour markets during days off. The Reynolds, from Louisiana, had established a charitable organization in the wake of Hurricane Katrina – a charity that helped countless families find loved ones, work, and stability following one of the greatest natural disasters ever to hit the United States. Their foray into service led them into helping people in Central America, and Guatemala specifically.

So when the Reynolds invited me to Guatemala, I felt compelled to see what it was all about. For some reason, I was being called into service.

Nothing could have prepared me for the scene outside of the Guatemala City airport – hundreds of people waiting to greet traveling loved ones, all jockeying for position against humble metal barriers. It seems that when a Guatemalan returns from travel, the WHOLE family comes to greet them at the airport. Somehow we managed to find Dustin and Jenny in the melee, and quickly we were off, in a van to Lake Atitlan.

It was during that 4 hour ride, that I fell in love with the scenery and the history of Guatemala. The scenery spoke for itself through the windows of the van, and the history found its voice through a gentleman who I am now proud to call a dear friend – Erwin Rivas. Erwin is a slight Guatemalan man with a big heart and an even bigger vocabulary… in fact, if Erwin doesn’t know the word for something in English he will make up one that’s close enough for rock n roll. For example, “observative” - means something that you can see and contemplate. Anyway, Erwin spoke, at length, for the entire journey, educating Tony, Rachel and I on the fine points of Guatemalan culture, their lengthy civil war, and so much more.

In the days that followed, we collectively explored Lake Atitlan and met with a variety of people with the intention of finding a way to serve. We toured several local hospitals. We played an impromptu concert at the elementary school in Cerro de Oro. We connected with local officials and asked lots and lots of questions. We rode in the back of pick-up trucks. We hiked and wandered and explored.

Serendipitous timing – two days prior to our trip, Tony Lucca had performed on The Voice for the first time. We had spent the day prior coordinating media and promotion efforts. Then, we packed. Fun and interesting side note – I booked Tony’s appearance on The Today Show on the back of a pick-up truck after touring a reforestation and coffee processing facility. Tony’s return flight was initially booked to Detroit, and we re-routed him to NYC, wearing clothing purchased in a mall in Guatemala City, so that this could take place on Valentine’s Day: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XcIWKdh12KQ

When I landed in Guatemala I was wrestling with a number of personal demons following the death of my father, demons who seemed to quiet themselves when I simply chose to focus on giving. I gave of myself to people who I did not know, and who I did not want anything from. That giving me a tremendous sense of peace, and, all the while, I really liked who I felt I was becoming.

That concept is articulated by Ben Hoyer in his brilliant TEDx talk: https://youtu.be/iOEHU9doKtA

It was through giving that I came to understand my own purpose – in Guatemala specifically, and in the world generally. That understanding is a gift, and is why the MILE continues to operate today.

This weekend, together with my partners in the MILE, I will lead another group of people who are willing to answer the call, to Guatemala for a week of service and music. I am supremely grateful, for all of it.

Music is love.

- JLS

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