It’s a small world and we’re all connected, even standing six feet apart or hunkered down for safety in our homes. It’s one of the lessons learned from the COVID-19 virus.
So it’s no surprise a singer and songwriter in Memphis was moved to help fund a field hospital, some 5,000 miles away, built by volunteers in Bergamo, Italy — one of the hardest-hit parts of one of the hardest-hit countries of the global pandemic.
Roots rocker John Paul Keith contributed a song, “The Sun’s Gonna Shine Again,” to a fundraising compilation album released digitally by Bergamo’s Wild Honey Records. All proceeds support the field hospital in this Northern Italian city, the seat of Bergamo province, which had a death toll officially at more than 2,200 but is thought to be much higher. The New York Times called the Bergamo area “the bleak heart of the world’s deadliest coronavirus outbreak.”
Keith said he’s performed at least three times in Bergamo, and called it “a pretty unforgettable place,” with a medieval city, surrounded by 16th Century Venetian walls, in the hills above the modern city. “It’s just incredible. It’s just stunning,” he said, “the cathedrals and everything, the artistry of the Middle Ages.”
And the local venue where he’s played, Keith said, is more local gathering spot than club. “It’s almost like a community center, a coffee shop, café. A lot of students hang out there during the day. It’s a great thing, it’s not just a night club.”
More recently, though, the picturesque city at the foothills of the Orobie Alps was the very image of the pandemic’s toll and scope — a place where not just doctors, but undertakers, were overwhelmed.
“One night, army vehicles had to transport dead bodies out of the region as the city crematorium was struggling to keep pace,” Franz Barcella, owner of Wild Honey Records, wrote on the label’s Bandcamp page. “In these dark nights, I found myself sheltering inside and working on the label, and using the music to kill the constant sound of ambulance sirens.
“Then, suddenly, friends and bands from all over the world started reaching out. They sent love, hope, and even songs.”
Can songs save the world? Maybe not. But can they help the cause of healing in these unprecedented times? Absolutely.
And so “The Benefit of Things to Come” album is available for digital download. The 19 previously unreleased songs are from such artists as Langhorne Slim and The Rubinoos.
Keith’s contribution, the demo of a song from his upcoming album, evokes better days ahead, in its lyrics and title: “The Sun’s Gonna Shine Again.”
“That was the message I wanted to send,” said Keith, who also has been a friend to the hometown cause of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.
He contributed a song and played in the house band for the 2017 fundraising compilation album, “Red Hot: A Memphis Celebration of Sun Records,” which benefited St. Jude.
“The Red Hot thing, they came to me. When they told me it was for St. Jude, of course I jumped at it,” Keith said. “And then the same way when Franz approached me and said, ‘Hey, I want to do a compilation to raise funds to build a hospital.’
“I was like, absolutely, let’s do it. It’s more of like, who would turn it down?”