Karen Drucker and Friends shared an evening of music with the men at San Quentin.
For two hours, the singer-songwriter entertained more than 80 people who attended the performance on a Sunday evening in late September. Men of all races sprinkled the pews in the prison’s Catholic chapel, wearing state-issued blues stenciled with CDCR Prisoner on pant legs and shirt backs. They were young, old, Christian, Muslim and everything in between. But none of that mattered.
“When I write songs, I want to convey a message,” Drucker said to the audience after singing a song about gratitude. “All songs that I write are messages to myself.”
The men sang along with Drucker on some songs: “Gratitude above me, gratitude below me…” It was a spiritual hymn. Someone in the audience shouted it was a “happy song.”
“Now we have the main attraction,” Drucker said as she introduced Lisa Starbird.
“We are Bread & Roses and we enjoy bringing music to you,” said Starbird, who has worked with the organization for five years.
Starbird usually brings the entertainment into San Quentin and watches the performances, but on this evening, she sang. She said her singing debut came last year on Nov. 11, but this was the first time she sang so much.
“I need your help,” Starbird said to the men. Then she asked them to sing, “Let your big bright, brilliant beam of radiant light shine.” The men joined in on the chorus enjoyed clapping to the rhythm. “You men inspire me.”
The men were given a choice between the two songs: “Lean On Me,” by Bill Withers, and “Get Together,” by the Youngbloods. They chose the latter and sang along on the chorus. Drucker sang the first verse. Starbird sang the second verse, and then they both sang as a duet on the third verse. The song ended with everyone singing, “All we are saying is give peace a chance.”
Guitarist John Hoy and pianist Ross Gualco used their skills to move the crowd. Hoy’s solo technique offered a jazz feel to the ensemble before falling back into the rhythm.
Hoy said the evening had “good vibes.” It was his first time inside San Quentin.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “It’s a wonderful group of people. I’m really impressed.”
The songs’ suggested theme for the evening was about the unity of people.
“It’s all about love,” Drucker said. “You are my brothers.”
Norman White, 38, has been at San Quentin since January.
“This is the second (performance) I’ve seen and it really lifts people up,” he said. “God definitely blesses the chapel. I enjoyed it. I think people need this.”
“I really loved the jazz,” said Mark Kenny, 56. He’s been at San Quentin for three months. He said the music was “beautiful, motivational and inspirational.”
“Music is international,” said Carlos Drouaillet, 64, who transferred to San Quentin four months ago. “I really enjoyed the presentation.” Like many of the men who attended the show, he thanked Drucker after the performance.
Dwight Krizman, 63, usually operates the mixing console for performances in the Catholic chapel.
“It’s such a privilege for me to do these events for Bread & Roses,” he said.
“There is only love…, ” the men sang along with the performers. Even when the music stopped, the men continued to sing, “There is only love.”
The song “See Me” underscored Drucker’s message. It was a song about acknowledging each other and being kind to one another.
“If there’s one thing I’m passionate about is that we’re all seen and heard,” she said.