Since launching nearly 10 years ago with an acclaimed video of street musicians from around the world singing Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me,” Playing For Change will head into its second decade with We Are One, an Oct. 3 benefit concert at Los Angeles’ Mayan Theater.
The Doobie Bros., Little Feat’s Paul Barrere and Fred Tackett, Nahko, the Playing For Change band and other artists will perform at the event, which will also include the unveiling of Playing for Change’s newest video, set to the Doobies’ rock classic, “Listen To The Music.” The clip features the Doobie Bros., as well as 20 musicians from around the globe.
“This concert represents 10 years of traveling to over 50 countries, connecting the world through music,” Playing For Change co-founder Mark Johnson said in a statement.
Past Songs Around The World videos of such pop standards as Bob Marley’s “One Love” and “Get Up Stand Up,” and John Lennon’s “Imagine” performed by a collection of local artists have included appearances by Keith Richards, Bono, Jack Johnson, Jimmy Buffett and David Crosby and earned more than 450 million online views.
The Playing For Change Foundation was founded in 2007 to give back to the local musicians the videographers met while making the initial videos. The Foundation has developed 15 music programs in 11 countries, including South Africa, Rwanda, Argentina, Nepal and Thailand, that serve more than 1,200 children. All proceeds from We Are One will support free music education.
The Doobie Brothers co-founder Tom Johnston met Playing For Change’s Johnson when the Doobies were on tour in Australia in 2015. Johnson asked if Johnston would consider doing a Playing For Change video using “Listen To the Music.” Johnston forgot about it until Johnson sent him a version that already had bass, drums and a rhythm track recorded by musicians from around the world. Johnston went to a redwood forest in Mill Valley, Calif., to record his part and later recruited fellow Doobies Patrick Simmons and John McFee to appear. Johnston has nothing but praise for the other musicians on the video, including “a slide player from Italy, who was killer,” and “a great sitar player in India.”
Playing For Change’s mission resonates with Johnston. “Take a look around the world right now: Any place you can spread a little joy, but also give them a chance to learn an instrument they wouldn’t have been able to had Mark and company not done this, is a very positive thing,” he tells Billboard.
Johnston is also thrilled that “Listen To the Music,” which he wrote in 1972, still rings with such resonance. “There are songs that write themselves, those are the best ones,” he says. “You’re channeling something. The words just came to me with that one. I was sitting in a bedroom on 12th St. in San Jose, Calif. And I was writing about the leaders in the world and how they communicate and how much better it would be if they communicated with music instead of words.”
All these years later, when the band plays the song—they’ll do at least 90 shows this year—“everyone knows the words. It’s humbling and very gratifying,” Johnston says. “People will tell me how that song got them through a tough time or through a war, Vietnam or Afghanistan. I’ve also heard people say ‘Man, I partied my brains out to that song’ That’s good too.“