September 3, 2007
By JOHN FLOWERS
BRISTOL — Homelessness and disenfranchisement are recurring themes in the folk tunes of Anaïs Mitchell, a Weybridge native whose star is seeing a steady rise on the national music scene.
So it should come as no surprise that Mitchell would showcase her considerable talents for a special concert that will benefit the John Graham Emergency Shelter, based in Vergennes. Mitchell’s concert will take place on Friday, Sept. 7, at 8 p.m., in Bristol’s Holley Hall.
“I’m so excited to do it,” Mitchell, 26, said of the benefit concert. “It’s the least I can do.”
Indeed, a passion for social causes is not the only reason Mitchell has for doing the concert.
Her grandmother, Lorraine Warfield, is past chairwoman of the John Graham Emergency Shelter board. Her mom, Cheryl Mitchell, has been a longtime leader in human services at the state level (former deputy secretary of the Vermont Agency of Human Services) and at the local level (past director of the Parent-Child Center of Addison County).
Michael Chorney, a Bristol musician who will perform with Mitchell on Sept. 7, currently works part-time at the shelter.
And while growing up on the family’s sheep farm in Weybridge, Mitchell came to know a lot about the shelter and its mission.
“It just seemed like a natural,” shelter Executive Director Elizabeth Ready said of an Anaïs Mitchell fund-raising concert.
“Her art has a certain depth of viewing the world — the suffering and the beauty — and how the two might be right next to each other,” Ready said.
Mitchell is well known far beyond the borders of Vermont for her original lyrics and unique style. She has recorded three albums and tours nationally and in Europe. Her newest recording, titled “The Brightness,” was released on the Righteous Babe label.
She won the prestigious New Folk Award in 2003.
In 2008, her folk opera, Hadestown, will tour throughout Vermont. Based upon the myth of Orpheus, her characters include workers and homeless people who struggle with daily existence and systemic oppression.
Ready said all revenues from the Mitchell concert will be used to help shelter clients “get back on their feet.” For example, some of the money could be used to get a homeless client to a job interview or a medical appointment. Some of the dollars could also be used to help clients get basic school supplies and clothes for their children.
“Our biggest effort here is to transform the shelter from a place that is just for food and shelter, to a place they can come to start the next phase of their lives,” Ready said.
If this summer has been any indication, the shelter will need all the help it can get, according to Ready. She noted the demand for services for the homeless tends to lessen somewhat during the warmer months, when some are content to camp outdoors. But as of late last week, 15 of the shelter’s 17 available beds are occupied.
“Last week, there were several families and individuals that we couldn’t take,” Ready said of the busy past several weeks. “I think the winter may be a crisis, because of the number of people we are seeing this summer.”
Ready is hoping to fill Holley Hall on Friday. Tickets cost $25 and are available at Vergennes Wine in Vergennes, The Vermont Book Shop in Middlebury, Art on Main in Bristol and Pure Pop in Burlington.
“It means a great deal that Anaïs is singing to benefit the homeless and the shelter in Vergennes,” Ready said. “The John Graham Shelter depends upon community support to provide food, shelter and hope to families in need. By lending her voice to our work, she helps us both financially but also promotes a much needed awareness that there are a growing number of individuals in Vermont, including families with children, who have no place to call home.”