San Francisco Musicians Unite to Fight Homelessness Crisis with New Album

Article Contributed by JP Cutler Media | Published on Monday, September 9, 2019

The dire lack of affordable housing and a sharply rising inequity gap are driving San Francisco's homeless population to numbers not seen for 15 years with more than 8,000 people living on the city streets. Statewide, California has 129,972 homeless people (2018), the largest street population of any state (source: Kevin Fagan, San Francisco Chronicle, May 16, 2019).

Joining the fight to help San Francisco's homelessness crisis are many of the city's foremost musicians banding together for the recording of a singular benefit album, Blanket The Homeless. The full-length studio album features 15 original songs (all of which have yet to be officially released by the artists; except Fantastic Negrito's "Working Poor") recorded by lauded Marin-based producer/songwriter Scott Mickelson. Blanket The Homeless includes new tracks by two-time GRAMMY Award-winning Fantastic Negrito; The Stone Foxes; Tim Bluhm (of The Mother Hips); Con Brio; Goodnight, Texas; The Brothers Comatose; Mickelson; Rainbow Girls; John Craigie; Marty O'Reilly & The Old Soul Orchestra; King Dream; The Coffis Brothers; Tobias The Owl; Ken Newman; and Whiskerman. A double LP release concert with performances by select artists on Blanket The Homeless including King Dream, Mickelson, Members of Goodnight, Texas, Ken Newman, and soon to be announced special guests will take place at The Independent (SF) on November 7, 2019 (8pm, Tickets: $15/$17).

Mickelson, a two-time GRAMMY balloted artist, finds himself in the producer's chair for another benefit recording project that's close to his heart. Blanket The Homeless follows his critically acclaimed 2017 After The Fire: Vol. 1 album that raised thousands of dollars for Creative Sonoma and Undocufund.org after the devastating Northern California wild fires. Mickelson teams up with entrepreneur Ken Newman for Blanket The Homeless -- Newman is a local musician and the co-founder of Blanket The Homeless, an organization now working in partnership with St. Vincent de Paul Society of San Francisco, a 501(c)(3) non-profit.

Blanket The Homeless -- Featured Compositions
Blanket The Homeless opens with the infamous San Francisco rock band The Stone Foxes laying down a raw rendition of the brand new track, "Million Dollar Shoes." Hunkered down in the studio for two sessions, Mickelson delved into a vibey production style dripping with ethereal vocals and rock guitar-laden riffs by brothers Shannon Koehler (vocals, drums) and Spence Koehler (guitar, bass). A potent narrative for Blanket The Homeless, Shannon notes, "I was devastated when I first moved to San Francisco and walked downtown to see the amount of people struggling. When asked to be a part of Blanket The Homeless, we were absolutely in and we had a song waiting for this specific project, 'Million Dollar Shoes.'"

The sole artist to record vocals and guitar both live was renowned songwriter Tim Bluhm of The Mother Hips. A solo version of The Mother Hips song "Clean Me Up," Bluhm strips it down as he sings about a drifter asking for some help to clean up as he hopes for better days ahead.

Blanket The Homeless continues with blues powerhouse Fantastic Negrito's "Working Poor," a depiction of the extreme challenges of living in an expensive city with a very low income. "Working Poor" is one of only two tracks not recorded with Mickelson at the production helm for Blanket The Homeless. It appears on Fantastic Negrito's album, The Last Days of Oakland, which took home a GRAMMY Award for "Best Contemporary Blues Album."

In the moments where Mickelson was not fully immersed in the production of Blanket The Homeless, he was churning out an original song pointing to the fact that homeless people each have their own personal stories that must be recognized. On "Odd Man Out," Mickelson sings of someone who's always on the sidelines of the normal stream of everyday folks. Whether it's by choice or bad luck, he's able to keep a sense of humor and self-assurance.

Oakland's rock outfit Whiskerman came into the studio to record an anthem of soaring guitars amid lead singer Graham Patzner’s wailing falsetto vocals on "U.S.M.E." ("United States of Mother Earth"). Whiskerman encourages us on "U.S.M.E." to live in a more unified world and the need we have for being together in our collective pursuit of happiness. Tobias The Owl out of Seattle contributes the track "Out of Place" on Blanket The Homeless. A true survivor of himself living on the streets as a teenager, Tobias lifted his life up to become a radiologist and then a renowned songwriter. On the song "We Should Do This Again," Ken Newman chronicles a conversation with a homeless person. Newman touches home with an intimate account of love, loss and hope on his harmony vocal and piano driven track.

"There are some great organizations working to benefit the homeless whether it be politically, socially, for better housing or other needed services," says Scott Mickelson. "What makes Blanket The Homeless unique is that while these efforts are happening, the people who are surviving on the streets on a daily basis may not be directly benefitting. So many incredible artists contributed their time and heart to this great record, and we now can have that money filter directly into care packages that will be handed out to the community. It feels like a good way to have a positive affect with our music."

About Blanket The Homeless
Established in 2016, Blanket The Homeless resulted after a succession of #BeRobin events celebrating the life of Robin Williams following his tragic 2014 death. Famous comedian Margaret Cho hit the streets of her hometown of San Francisco to raise funds for those in need in tribute to Williams. Newman joined Cho at Larkin Street Youth Services in the city's Tenderloin district on August 12, 2014. Bob Mould came through to perform that day and before long, more than 200 people were crowded outside the Larkin Street facility; most of them homeless queuing up for free meals, hair cuts, clothing and other services. Regional TV camera crews covered the pop-up fundraiser and local San Francisco filmmaker Kurt Weizmann filmed the event, which would eventually become the award-winning documentary, Be Robin -- The Movie.

While Margaret Cho left the Bay Area, Newman continued to produce #BeRobin events with his associate and promoter Donna Merlino to donate money to several local homeless organizations. When Newman's friend Bronica DiCarlo suggested the idea of giving away Mylar emergency blankets, the idea of "Blanket The Homeless" was born. Now in its third year of operation, Blanket The Homeless has recently partnered with St. Vincent de Paul Society of San Francisco (more information is available at https://svdp-sf.org). Together, they have given away more than 3,500 blankets to local homeless communities along with socks, hats, gloves, hygiene supplies, condoms, donated Clif bars, and a waterproof resource guide listing facilities in San Francisco offering free food, shelter, hygiene and other services. Additionally, all donations to Blanket The Homeless are now tax-deductible.

"Every bit as painful as hunger and cold is the feeling of becoming invisible," says Ken Newman. "This is what I've heard from people living on the streets. Many are people who have jobs and families they're trying to provide for. While we can't solve the homeless epidemic in San Francisco with Blanket The Homeless, we can offer a valuable service by distributing our care packages. The homeless deserve to be seen and heard, and I guarantee if you can get out of your comfort zone and interact with them by giving them one of these care packages, you will be moved by the experience."

Blanket The Homeless
(Release Date: November 8, 2019)

1. The Stone Foxes - "Million Dollar Shoes"
2. Tim Bluhm - "Clean Me Up"
3. Fantastic Negrito - "Working Poor"
4. Mickelson - "Odd Man Out"
5. Goodnight, Texas - "Someday, Somehow"
6. John Craigie - "Your Sailor"
7. The Brothers Comatose - "Angeline"
8. King Dream - "Many Moons Ago"
9. Whiskerman - "U.S.M.E."
10. Tobias The Owl - "Out Of Place"
11. Marty O'Reilly & The Old Soul Orchestra - "Mad Tom of Bedlam"
12. Rainbow Girls - "American Dream"
13. The Coffis Brothers - "I Ain't Living In Your World"
14. Ken Newman - "We Should Do This Again"
15. Con Brio - "Body Language" (Live in Amsterdam)