Aug. 30--Li'l Robert's Place has hosted regular open-mike nights each Wednesday for nearly four years, offering beginning musicians a place to share, learn and grow alongside seasoned performers.
Concord native Maggie Catherwood, an eighth-grader at Harris Road Middle School, is one of many musicians who perform there. As a way to give back, she and her grandfather, Jim Healy of Sanford, decided to partner with the downtown craft-beer bar and restaurant to help aspiring musicians find instruments.
Tentatively called Maggie's Music Mission, the effort's focus so far has been on giving away refurbished acoustic guitars. Younger people living in Concord will be given first dibs, but anyone can inquire.
"After a while of coming up here and watching and listening to everyone play for open mike night, (Maggie) finally decided to play, and then she became a regular ... ," said owner Robert Burrage. "Yes, we're a restaurant; yes, we're a bar; but we want young people and beginning musicians to come and try and play, or at least watch the experienced musicians and learn from them."
Maggie wants people to know that this is a huge opportunity for those who cannot afford to buy themselves an instrument.
"Guitars can be expensive, even if they are used," she said. "That is why my grandfather and I decided to do this. But this isn't just for guitars. We welcome the idea of bringing in all sorts of other instruments."
Burrage said the effort isn't strictly meant for those who can't afford instruments. The instruments could help a would-be street musician get started or give someone something to strive for.
Burrage will be in charge of distributing the instruments. He's also looking to work with school counselors to find suitable candidates.
"The guitars are for anybody, really," said Burrage. "Realistically, they're probably not worth a whole lot of money, because they have been broken and fixed to some playable level. Most of them are six-string guitars that you're not going to find at a music store. They're eclectic, like our place."
Maggie agrees that anyone with strong love for music should be eligible.
"Although we started it primarily for children who cannot afford instruments, it has grown into something for others as well," she said. "You can also trade in guitars, or even other instruments. I hope that if anyone benefits from this, they give back, and I hope these instruments do not go to someone who will play it for a week and then have it end up under their bed or in their closet, not to be played again."
For Maggie, music serves many purposes in the world, from something as simple as background noise to something as powerful as helping her get through a bad time.
"As alone as you might feel, one simple song can help you to look around and realize that there are so many people who understand you -- and if that's not beautiful, then I do not know what is," she said.
"Music can have amazing effects on everyone. It can change your thought process, your opinions and your mood. Music is used to bring people together, get people to dance, set a mood, calm you down or get you pumped."
Maggie said none of this would have been possible without Li'l Robert's Place.
"I have been going there for almost three years, and in that time I have gained the confidence to step out of my shell and play music in public," she said. "I finally have found a place to meet other musicians and artists; and, without them, I would have never felt comfortable playing music in front of others. I have made so many friends, met so many people like me, and I can honestly say that going there as often as I do has been one of my best decisions."
Healy, Maggie's grandfather, doesn't describe himself as a musician and said his guitar-playing ability is very rudimentary. He thinks the instruments also could serve as a type of therapy.
"I have found emotional release and comfort in music from the time I was a lovesick teenager," he said. "I believe music can provide that same comfort to anyone. I think music -- listening to it, dancing to it, singing it, playing it, crying to it, laughing with it and doing anything else one may want with it -- enriches our lives."
His granddaughter agreed: "Music has been an important emotional release for me throughout my life. I only hope that some of the people who receive these guitars find peace and contentment through music."
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