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Free concert aims to help Newtown victims move forward

1:34 PM, Feb 9, 2013   |    comments
(Photo: Don Emmert, AFP/Getty Images)
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NEWTOWN, Conn. - In a free concert to uplift this town scarred by a Dec. 14 shooting rampage, Francine and David Wheeler, whose son, Ben, was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, will perform Sunday with Peter Yarrow and other notable musicians.

The concert at the Ridgefield Playhouse in Ridgefield, Conn., will be attended by families who lost loved ones in the shootings, first responders and local residents.

Yarrow's daughter, Bethany, who is half of the group Bethany & Rufus, will perform, along with Dar Williams and Guy Davis.

The concert is about "restoring the heart and soul of a caring community," says Yarrow, who lives in Manhattan and formulated the idea for the concert with Newtown resident Rick Brodsky, a psychologist and a music producer. "The concert should give the community a sense of comfort and solidarity."

Newtown is still struggling to move forward nearly two months after gunman Adam Lanza killed his mother, Nancy Lanza, at their Sandy Hook home and 20 children and six adults at the school before committing suicide there.

Yarrow says the concert and the calls for societal change after the shootings are akin to civil rights marches in the 1960's, which he and his singing group, Peter, Paul & Mary, participated in.

"We don't want Newtown to be remembered as a place where tragedy occurred, but the place that is the genesis of real change in America," says Yarrow, who founded a nonprofit group called Operation Respect that promotes child development free of bullying, ridicule and violence.

Sunday's concert will be the first time since Dec. 14 that David and Francine Wheeler will be on stage entertaining an audience.

David, who provided moving testimony calling for gun-control and other reforms at a hearing last week before the Connecticut legislature, is an illustrator who spent much of his life as an actor and a comedian in New York.

Francine is a music teacher who was a singer, entertainer and voice-over artist.

The Wheelers and other Newtown musicians, actors and comedians have performed a music and comedy show called the Flagpole Radio Café that has entertained local residents since 2008.

Sunday's concert, which will also feature other Flagpole Radio Café performers, will be "a lovely thing - very powerful and healing," says David Wheeler. "Francine is a trained singer who reacts to life and the world through music."

Francine will sing with international recording artist Dar Williams.

"Francine is very excited about the concert," says David Wheeler. "Dar Williams has been an inspiration for her for over two decades."

On Sunday, Yarrow will introduce Guy Davis, whose parents, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, were actors, civil rights activists and close friends of Martin Luther King Jr.

Guy Davis is a blues musician dedicated to reviving the traditions of acoustic blues with original songs and stories, songs of former blues musicians and African-American stories.

"Having Guy appear at this concert is a closing of the circle," says Brodsky. "At the (civil rights) March on Washington in 1963, Peter, Paul and Mary were there on the Mall with Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee."

Yarrow says he will be at the concert "to help - not to lead."

He says the concert and many Americans' movement for change since the Dec. 14 tragedy "could be the ignition of the commitment to really look at ourselves and see we've become heartless and greedy.

"We have to reclaim our humanity, because that's what the nation desperately needs," the folk singer says.

Gary Stoller, USA TODAY

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