Like many good stories, this one has a humble beginning and could have easily never happened at all. When Raleigh Charter High School asked each of its teachers to develop a Citizenship program around a passion of ours, I almost chose to teach students how to be good stewards of trout streams. Instead, I went with the blues and the Music Maker model. I haven't fished much since, but I've met the most amazing people through our success.
SOOTS was so named because it was catchy. We knew we would have to make a name for ourselves, literally and figuratively, if we were to raise money and awareness for area Piedmont blues musicians. So in 2006, 15 students and I developed Sustaining Roots Music (SOOTS) and memorable fundraising events on campus, including the "Fat Tuesday Film Feastival" — an excuse to taste our gumbo chops, and the "May Day Cake Bake" — an excuse to eat an excessive amount of icing, together. Our students learned how to organize, advertise and capitalize on an event. By 2007, we had enough in the bank to hire John Dee Holeman and Tim Duffy to play our first benefit concert. They brought the house down at the Long View Center with a five piece band that included Dom Flemmons sittin' in on harmonica. In the decade since, we've worked closely with a long list of wonderful musicians, including George Higgs, Boo Hanks, Lightnin' Wells, Harvey Dalton Arnold, Tad Walters, Bubba Norwood, Big Ron Hunter, Ironing Board Sam, Reed Turchi and Justin Robinson & the Mary Annettes. We also developed a homegrown ethos made manifest in our silkscreened merchandise and homemade culinary creations as if each event was a family reunion. Fortunately we have mutli-media records of these memories as we became dedicated to archiving our work for future generations as former generations had done so for us.
In 2014 we held our final Blues Revue Benefit concert, but SOOTS continues to raise money for Music Maker and to bring artists into our classroom. The year is now spent developing student —led lessons on regional culture, inspired by our connection to UNC's Center for the Study of the American South, promoting local events often organized by Pine Cone Piedmont Council, and maintaining other relationships we've nurtured with local artists. We are especially enamored with the inspirational work of photographers Josh Steadman and Jimmy Williams, as well as several artisan/social entrepreneurs who have helped us along the way, such as Fairway Printing, Lilly's Pizza, Harry's Guitar Shop, Larry's Beans and the chocolatiers at Escazu and Videri. With their help, we are ready, as the need/opportunity arises, to develop a small gig or another Medical Relief Grant, such as the three we sponsored for our dear friend the late George Higgs. SOOTS has grown into a way of working with our world.We are committed to spreading the wealth of the American South's experience from our collective soil to our universal soul. Thus, SOOTS continues to engage communities, preserve art and assist Music Maker. SOOTS continues to make a name for itself, standing on the shoulders of the giants who paved the way while remaining open to opportunities to blaze new trails for traditions and people we hold dear. While embracing what came before, we want to see where we can go next. You're invited to join us, however you may.