WAYNESBORO — A group of nine trombonists hope to blow away the remnants of Hurricane Maria — or at least some of the suffering it has caused — and lift the spirits of residents in storm-ravaged Puerto Rico.
But the group, Trombonists for Puerto Rico, still needs some help with funding to get them there in November.
Robert Mott, of Harrisonburg, was inspired to create the trip after learning about the slow-paced recovery from the 2017 storm. Mott said he read about would-be vacationers and other visitors canceling their reservations, which left many people with no income. Recovery has been slow in the U.S. territory, with blackouts and intermittent running water and other utilities still common.
“The only thing I could think of to do to help was to decide to spend my travel dollars to go to Puerto Rico and stay in locally-owned hotels and eat at locally-owned restaurants as much as possible,” he said. “By inviting other trombonists to join me, our contribution would be multiplied and it afforded the option of performing free concerts at every city we visited. This is grassroots assistance in action — cutting through bureaucracy to directly serve the people who need help.”
In addition to concerts and supporting the local economy, the group plans to offer a free daylong workshop for island trombonists and students, and to buy plastic trombones, t-shirts and more to leave at the schools and community centers they visit
With Mott, eight other trombonists plan to make the trip: Becca Bauer, Christopher Bill, Jay Crone, Tom McKenzie, Steven Metzler, Robert Mott, Andy Lankford, Brett Harrington and Mike Mueller. Some of the musicians live between Charlottesville and Harrisonburg, while others are from New York and Alabama.
Christopher Bill, of New York, was one of the first to commit to the trip with Mott. Bill is well known for his YouTube videos. He said music helps him break the ice and meet people in communities he’s new to.
“We can make a difference in somebody's day with a beautiful concert of both mainland and native musicians,” Bill said. “We can make a difference in people's lives by using that as a way to get to know them and understand their stories. It's all about building relationships so none of us feel like ‘them’ and instead a more collective ‘us.’”
The group will meet up with local trombonists for the concerts in Puerto Rico. Gilberto ‘Bam Bam” Rodriguez was born and raised in Puerto Rico. He ended up in Virginia after being in the Army and decided to move back to Puerto Rico last year.
“We arrived here two months before the hurricanes hit; it was a terrifying experience,” he said. “The devastation was very extensive and we were without power and water for many weeks. We didn’t have any communication with anyone, here or in the states, because all the towers were destroyed. However, the people came together and helped each other in many ways, from clearing roads with only machetes to sharing food and bottled water.”
Rodriguez said there are still people who don’t have power in their homes, but the Puerto Rican people are resilient.
“It means a lot that our fellow trombonists have taken this initiative to come and share their music and show their support to the Puerto Rican people, especially the musicians, and at the same time help the economy by staying in the local hotels and dining in local restaurants,” he said. “This visit will be very much appreciated and remembered for a long time.”
The fundraising goal is $14,000. They have raised about $4,500 with their GoFundMe page so far. The page address is gofundme.com/trombonists-for- puerto - rico .
The nine trombonists rehearsed in Staunton on Saturday at Allen Chapel A.M.E Church. Some will be returning on Sept. 23 to play at the 11 a.m. service. The public is invited to attend.
Along with the GoFundMe, people can follow the group’s progress on their Facebook page, Trombonists for Puerto Rico. The trip will be Nov. 7-12.