Women in Music 2019

Musack's Annual Rock and Roll Carnival Returns With The English Beat, Billy Bragg & More

Noam Galai/Getty Images for Nantucket Film Festival
Donick Cary during the 2017 Nantucket Film Festival on June 24, 2017 in Nantucket, Mass.

The English Beat, Billy Bragg, Wayne Kramer, Tim Armstrong, Mike Doughty and many more are all on the bill.

In his day job, Donick Cary is an Emmy award-winning writer and producer who has worked on everything from the Late Show with David Letterman to The Simpsons, New Girl, and Silicon Valley. But when he’s not on a Hollywood set, the television mogul’s true passion lies in running Musack, an organization that raises funds to provide music teachers with instruments as a means of enhancing the lives of at risk kids.

The Los Angeles-based charity is currently gearing up for their annual Rock and Roll Circus, which, for the past 7 years, has taken place in the backyard of Cary’s Los Angeles home. This year’s festivities will be held on Oct. 7 and will feature a lineup as diverse as always.

The English Beat is going to join us, which is super fun,” say Cary. “They were one of the bands that was that lightning bolt for me in high school/middle school of, ‘Oh, you can mix pop and politics and still write love songs and long for girls and dance and still feel like a punk rocker.’ They summed it all up.”

Another headliner is Billy Bragg. “In a year where politics is on all of our minds, this is a guy you want to hear when he’s learning as he travels the highways and byways of the world. He’s amazing,” adds Cary.

Wayne Kramer is planning to perform a set of MC5 tunes, while Mike Doughty of Soul Coughing is also on the bill.

Another Musack staple is Tim Armstrong of Rancid who, for the past several years, has perched in a giant fallen tree while treating the crowd to an acoustic set. Patton Oswalt will MC and bring some comedic flair to the day, while multi-instrumentalist Jordan Katz is putting together the Musack Carnival All Star House Band, which will perform The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in its entirety to celebrate its 50th Anniversary, and a star-studded salute to Star Wars, featuring an array of special guests. “It’s going to be mind-blowing,” Cary says.

Additional performers include James Fearnley of The Pogues, The Slants, Morrissey/The Smith’s tribute band Sweet and Tender Hooligans, DJ sets by Shepard Fairey, Lol Tolhurst of The Cure, Lance Rock of Yo Gabba Gabba and more. There is also a Celebrity autobiography reading series where in the past, people like "Weird Al" Yankovic and Fred Willard have read funny excerpts from famous autobiographies. This year’s topic will be “The White House Edition” and will feature excerpts from books by Ivanka Trump and beyond.

Famed graffiti artist Brian Butler will be on hand to paint rock and roll portraits for attendees, there will be a silent auction and a plethora of food carts.

“We always have a lot of surprise drop ins,” says Cary, who tells Billboard that in addition to the artists committed to the bill, he has asks in with the likes of Ringo Starr and Tyler, the Creator. “You just never know who is going to turn up,” he says. “And that’s what makes the day so exciting.”

Musack kicked off in 2008, when Cary was celebrating his birthday with a group of friends in his hometown of Nantucket. “At the time, there was a pretty big wrath of student suicides going on at the high school there. It’s a very small community and it was just devastating,” he tells Billboard. Upon discussing the issue with his childhood pals, the famed TV writer realized how much of a difference music had made in the lives of him and his peers. “We started talking how did we get through the winters out here where you are really isolated literally on an island? And we kept coming back to music.”

While in town, Cary popped by his former high school where he found out that the music teacher was in dire need of instruments for the program. “He said, 'Well I have 10 kids that want to play guitar and I got no guitars,’” Cary explains. From there on out, the writer/producer was committed to doing his part to help provide kids with access to music as a means of coping with life’s hardships. “Not that it solves suicide but music does give you a voice, it gives you something to lean into when you feel desperate and nothing else,” says Cary.

Since its inception, Musack has helped to support music programs for over 1,000 students in 18 locations around the world including the United States, Cuba, Aboriginal Australia and Haiti.

“We set up a drumline lab in Compton. We have a fiddle lab in Appalachia. We have a bunch of kids playing keyboards in Haiti," says Cary. "This year, we started this guitar missionary program where we give friends guitars and they can bring them to kids in Cuba at this school that’s been there since 1902. We’ve been bringing guitars to them all year.”

In addition to putting instruments in the hands of children, the organization has started college scholarships, provided after school programs and helped to fund music theater programs like Cyrus Peirce Middle School’s rendition of Lion King Jr.

In past years, the annual Rock and Roll Carnival has raised upwards of $40,000 to sponsor Musack’s various initiatives. This year, the event’s host is projecting to bring in $60,000 to $80,000.

“We are always on the lookout for kids who have a need and then a teacher who we just think is the shit and gets it and wants to teach music the way that we understand music should be taught and takes their cue from the kids,” says Cary. "Woody Guthrie had “this machine kills fascists” written on his guitar. And so we came up with the phrase ‘Musack -- we make music happen.’ That’s our mission. We just want to give kids a voice with music."

Musack’s annual Rock and Roll Carnival will be held Oct. 7 from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. For tickets and more info visit www.musack.org.


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