BRATTLEBORO >> As the old song goes, there's sugar in the morning, sugar in the evening and sugar at suppertime. And now here's a jazzy new trio that actually calls itself Sweet As Sugar. The group is fronted by well-known area musician Bill Shontz, and it's putting on a benefit show this Friday that opens with a tasting of gourmet chocolates by master chocolatier Kerstin Roos. How much sweeter can you get?
The show is on Friday at 7 p.m. at 118 Elliot, 118 Elliot St. Brattleboro. Tickets are $15 at the door.
Proceeds of the concert benefit the 10th annual Gathering in Gratitude, a Mahalo Art Center cultural exchange program that connects people from the Brattleboro area with at-risk teens at the Oglala Lakota Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The center is raising money for a two-week trip West to join indigenous people from Easter Island, Mexico, Australia and other nations in a gathering called Spiritual Unity of Tribes – Gathering of Eagles.
"About 17 people – young children, adults and seniors – from Brattleboro are going to South Dakota for two weeks to work with the Lakota and other indigenous people who are having a suicide epidemic," said Mahalo founder Luz Elena Morey. "We have raised $27,000 and we have to raise $23,000 more in the next week and a half."
Shontz, an entertainer and songwriter, is fondly remembered as one half of the nationally acclaimed children's group RosenShontz, which performed for 20 years. He has an Emmy nomination, has performed at The White House, Disneyland and Fenway Park (for the Red Sox), has released 10 award-winning albums and three videos and is currently a member of the still-touring 60's group Orpheus.
Sweet As Sugar is Shontz's newest project. It is a jazz-oriented pop group consisting of Shontz on wind instruments, singer Kate Nicolaou and master guitarist Zack Danziger.
"We like to take jazz and pop tunes and kind of mash them together," Shontz said. "For example, 'Pennies From Heaven' with "When You're Smiling.' We also do originals. The three-part harmonies are amazing. I love playing with musicians who get it, who know how to play together, exchange melodies, make the music jump and swing. That's what this band does! I love playing with these guys!"
This will be the "break-out" concert for the group, which has only performed together in public a few times.
"So far, every time we perform we get more work," Shontz said. "We've already done three shows and we've worked out all the kinks."
The Native Americans on Pine Ridge and other reservations are one of Shontz's chief concerns because, he said, they have one of the highest suicide rates in the country. When a group of these teens came to Brattleboro, Shontz recalled meeting a young woman whose mother and grandmother had both committed suicide. The situation for these teens is dire, Shontz said.
"They have nothing," Shontz said. "They have no hope. They've grown up in poverty. Coming here opened their eyes. They got a glimmer of what could happen."
Shontz will be the musical director for the trip, which will end in a show created by the participants. He'll be bringing with him musical instruments, including many recorders, donated by the Brattleboro Music Center.
Joyce Marcel is a freelance writer who resides in Dummerston.