PENINSULA SPOTLIGHT: Musician Rivers celebrates 50th with Haitian benefit concert

PORT ANGELES — Landmark birthdays like turning 50 are often the nudge people need to return to their dreams.

Just ask musician Michael Rivers.

“There was a sense of reckoning,” he said. “I have a burning desire to do more with music in my life — I have a degree in it for pity’s sake.”

He earned a degree in music education from Valpraiso University and studied music at the prestigious Berklee School of Music in Boston.

Then life happened, and four children who took priority. Rivers worked in carpentry and owned a construction company until three years ago, when he began focusing on his music.

He turned 50 on Jan. 17, and tonight he’s hosting a benefit concert at Studio Bob, joined by several musical friends.

“The real impetus for this Haiti benefit at Studio Bob grew out of a simple and honest desire to celebrate life with music and friends,” he said.

Scheduled lineup

Performing at the event are Abby Mae and the Home School Boys, Larry Murante, Brad Warren and Scott and Hillary Burnett.

Rivers directs the Peninsula Men’s Gospel Singers and performs frequently in local venues, playing guitar and piano.

This summer he will tour the Midwest, with stops in Chicago, his hometown of Valpraiso, Ind., and others.

He has released two CDs, including “Iron Horse,” which was favorably reviewed by several publications, including The Seattle Times.

He said his music has a “songwriters’s bent.”

“I love words and putting them together beautifully. I like songs that get under your skin.”

He cites singer/songwriters James Taylor and Bruce Cockburn as influences.

A member of the Vineyard Olympic Christian Fellowship, Rivers said his music often has a spiritual message, but then, “for me all music is spiritual.”

The concert combines Rivers’ musical talents with his mission of charity and is a benefit for the national nonprofit group, Midwives for Haiti.

Rivers’ wife, Nancy, is an OB nurse at Olympic Medical Center and went to Haiti with the group several years ago. Three of their four children were delivered at home.

According to the group’s website, 76 percent of all deliveries in Haiti are done by non-qualified persons, and Haiti has the highest infant and maternal mortality rate in the Western hemisphere.

The World Health Organization has declared that professional midwives could change these statistics “drastically.”

While the benefit is not specifically for earthquake relief, as are most benefits for Haiti following the Jan. 12 devastating earthquake, there is a greater need now.

“Now more than ever, women and children need our help,” the Web site states.

Rivers has pulled together a group of musicians from Seattle and Port Angeles for the event.

Local group on fire

Abby Mae and the Home School Boys are a local group which has been getting quite a bit of employment on the local music scene, with its energetic combination of “ol’ timey” bluegrass, blues, gospel and Celtic influences.

They have been called “silly, sultry and heartbreaking,” as they play to packed houses such as Wine on the Waterfront in Port Angeles.

The band really does consist of two “boys” who were home-schooled, Joey Gish and David Rivers (Michael’s son) and one public school-educated girl, Abby Mae Latson.

Gish plays fiddle, Rivers plays guitar and banjo and Latson sings lead vocals.

Their next appearance will be at the Juan de Fuca Festival of the Arts next weekend.

The younger Rivers calls Larry Murante an inspiration, as he is making a career as a musician.

Murante is an award-winning singer/songwriter and has toured nationally, performing at folk festivals, concerts and coffeehouses.

He is known for his stories about everyday folk, such as “Paul’s Song,” about a veteran’s impassioned display of an American flag painted on his garage door.

He has released three CDs and won a stack of prizes, including the grand prize in 2009 in the folk category of the international John Lennon Songwriting Contest.

He is a favorite at the Juan de Fuca Festival, and will make an appearance at the festival this year.

Brad Warren is a prize-winning playwright turned songwriter, with a style described as “positive, romantic, subtle and smart.”

His first play won a national literary prize, but his penchant for writing musical interludes for his plays, and even entire musicals, revealed that songwriting was his true calling.

Scott Burnett is a musical composer, producer and artist whose career spans more than three decades.

He is the founder of Darkhorse Music Media Company, which recorded Rivers’ album “Iron Horse.”

He is currently a director of music and worship arts at University Presbyterian Church in Seattle.

For the benefit concert tonight he will team up with his wife, Hillary.

Rivers credits Danielle Robb for heading the event planning, saying, “she was in Running Start and she’s never stopped running.”

Michael’s Seafood and Steakhouse will provide “happy hour” food and beverages for the event.

The concert takes place at Studio Bob, 118 ½ E. Front St., at 7:30 p.m. Today.

Tickets are $15, available in Port Angeles at Port Book and News, 104 E. First St., Northwest Fudge, 110 W. First St. and The Itty Bitty Buzz, 110 E. First St. and in Sequim at The Dove’s Nest, 139 W. Washington St. and at the door.

The concert is for all ages and family friendly.

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