By Dan Rankin
The Graham family in St. Marys knows a thing or two about egg farming. That’s why they’ve become involved with a project led by the non-profit group Heart For Africa that would bring egg farming to impoverished African children in Swaziland, providing employment and a boost to the economy where it is badly needed. Scott Graham, chairman of the Egg Farmers of Ontario, visited Swaziland about a year ago to get a sense of what’s happening there and what needs to be done. Since then, he’s also gotten his sons Kevin and Sean involved; their rock band Dress Rehearsal (which also includes St. Marys natives Ryan Watson and Josh Doherty) will be playing a benefit concert for Heart For Africa tomorrow night at the St. Marys Town Hall Theatre along with their friend Luke Michielsen and Doherty’s group Among Millions.
Though the band had been looking for an excuse to play together again after a two-year hiatus, Dress Rehearsal singer and guitarist Kevin Graham said the concert fundraiser was entirely his father Scott’s “brainchild.”
“He thought it would be something he could do to help raise awareness,” Kevin said.
Tickets for the show, which begins at 8:00 pm on Saturday, are $20. Tickets are available now from Harris Garage or O’Grady’s in St. Marys, as well as from Scott Graham or any of the musicians. A cash bar with wine and beer will be open.
The small, landlocked country of Swaziland in southern Africa is a peaceful, mainly Protestant nation, however an HIV/AIDS epidemic has had a serious effect on the Swazi people’s health and the nation’s economy. Coupled with high rates of tuberculosis infection, in recent years the life expectancy of an adult in Swaziland has hovered around the age of 50. According to HeartForAfrica.org, this has resulted in a high population of orphans who cannot afford education, thus continuing “the cycle of poverty and AIDS.”
The “Project Canaan Farm” initiative is one method Heart For Africa is using to help reverse those trends. Using multiple approaches to agriculture including greenhouse crop production, dairy farming, coffee production, raising goats and, of course, chickens, the farm will support orphans living on the site, providing them with a secure source of food and employment. Project Canaan’s Poultry House is currently being built thanks to support from the International Egg Foundation and the Canadian egg industry. To start, the barn will house 5,000 laying hens. It is scheduled to open in January, which will give contributors a chance to see their donations in action very soon, Kevin said. “A lot of the time with fundraisers they just take place so far in advance you don’t always see the benefits of the money you contribute right away,” Kevin said. “But, here they’re supposed to start operating in January, so it’s obviously coming up pretty quick.”
Dress Rehearsal was happy to play the show for a lot of reasons, Kevin said. “It’s a good cause, but it also comes down to supporting your family,” he said. “My dad really is a fan of our music and he thought it would be a good idea. This is also great because it’s like a five year anniversary of us going out East.”
In 2010, Dress Rehearsal and Michielsen got in an RV – which they nicknamed Guzz River for its tendency to guzzle up fuel – and drove out to the east coast, performing in bars and cafes and wherever else they could play.
“Near the end of the tour, we had played so many shows together we started learning each others’ songs,” he said. “For the last show, we said, let’s just all do each others’ songs together, along with a couple of covers we learned along the way. People were trading instruments and stuff like that. It was like a community of players as opposed to being separate bands.”
That’s a feeling they hope to bring to the show tomorrow night.
“We’re hoping to do a little of that on Saturday – combine our efforts on some of the songs we all know together,” Kevin said. “It should be a good time.” They’ve dubbed the group combo the “Guzz River Kids,” in honour of their old RV.