May 26 concert to benefit recovery efforts in Puerto Rico

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MANCHESTER — Musical artists from across the globe will be taking the stage at the Southern Vermont Arts Center on May 26, when Latin jazz band Eric Hangen y La Ruta will perform to benefit solar energy projects in Puerto Rico.

The concert — featuring renowned Puerto Rican saxophonist Edmar Col n, among others — will support a collaborative effort undertaken by Grassroots Solar and Danby couple Eric Hangen and Heidie Vazquez-Garcia to provide solar power in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

"This is a community-run solar energy project in the village of San Salvador, which is located in Caguas Municipality along the central mountainous spine of the island," said Hangen. "This community was hit directly by the eye of hurricane Maria, experiencing winds of 187 mph, and the village of about 3,000 people was without any power until mid-April. Even now they continue to experience blackouts."

When SVAC's Elizabeth Paxton offered the space for a benefit concert, Hangen says, he jumped at the opportunity. Having studied piano at the Berklee College of Music, the Danby resident has played extensively in Puerto Rico — including with Latin Grammy winners Celia Cruz, Andy Monta ez and Jos "Cheo" Felician.

"Heidi and I actually met playing in a salsa band in the late '80s, and my musical career took me to Puerto Rico where I played on the professional salsa and Latin jazz circuit," Hangen added, noting that proceeds from his new album "Real You Real Me" will also benefit solar energy in Puerto Rico. "I'm very excited that Edmar will be joining us; he's an incredible talent, and I could say that about all of the others as well."

Col n is also an alumnus of the Berklee College of Music, having studied performance and classical composition, and also receiving a Masters Degree in global studies from Berklee, where he now teaches. Having toured and performed with Grammy award winners such as Dianne Reeves, Terri Lyne Carrington and Esperanza Spalding, Col n has found ways to use his talent to raise funds for Puerto Rico in the wake of the hurricanes.

"I really, truly believe that music is a tool for social change, and I hope that this concert will continue to raise awareness of what's happening in Puerto Rico," Col n said. "Music transcends in such a beautiful way, and if we can use the platform that we have as musicians to bring positive change I don't take that for granted."

Col n, hailing from Coamo, Puerto Rico, is currently collaborating with Wayne Shorter — who worked with Miles Davis for many years — and has also received a commission to compose a special piece for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. In the past, the musician has played at events like the Toronto Jazz Festival, the Monterey Jazz Festival and the Panama Jazz Festival.

Joining the two artists will be Israeli flutist Amir Milstein, a world music professor at New England Conservatory who has performed with latin music greats like six-time Grammy winner Tito Puente; German drummer Bertram Lehmann, a percussion professor at Berklee College of Music with more than 40 albums to his credit; Venezuelan percussionist Fran Vielma, an award-winning graduate of New England Conservatory and Berklee College of Music; and Australian bassist James Dale, who has studied at both the Sydney Conservatorium and Berklee College of Music and performed with some of the world's top jazz musicians including five-time Grammy winner Maria Schneider.

"The musicians coming here to play are amazing," Hangen remarked. "There's a lot of wonderful classical music, or bluegrass, or rock in this area, but there's less jazz. Something of this caliber is a rare treat."

Student musicians from Long Trail School and the Dorset School will also perform as crowds file in, and local artist Sue Westin has donated a painting to be auctioned off at the event. Home cooked Japanese cuisine will be available for purchase at SVAC's Cafe Sora during the concert, augmented by a bake sale and refreshments — all of which will raise funds for the solar energy project in San Salvador.

"This project has already received so much support from people in this community, and it's become something that the community owns as well," Hangen said. "People have provided their leadership, time and energy to this effort, and it's a testament to our own social energy."

"We're coming together as musicians to bring a message of hope, and remind people that Puerto Rico needs help," Col n said. "I expect to do that through this concert; to reach not only people's hearts, but their minds through music."


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