- - Monday, June 16, 2014

News alert: Your favorite country musicians will hit you up to support their favorite charities when you attend one of their big money, blockbuster concerts.

And although big-name country stars have transitioned from Coal Miner’s Daughter poor to the very 1 percent (private planes and top-of-the-line Stetsons anyone?) some rail against, they may contribute little more than their image and spoken support to their causes of choice.

Surprised? Of course not. There is plenty of press about entertainers’ charities and even some well-documented cases of charity fraud. And play for pay. One household name musician I spoke with at a much-photographed A-list event told me privately he had “no idea what it’s about. I was told to show up.” You can bet he received a fee for his appearance.

It’s easy to focus on the negative or feel pushed into supporting charities that don’t have any real effect. Don’t. There are musicians who truly work to empower others to better their own lives. You just have to look for them. Aaron Lewis of Staind (education), Jon Bon Jovi (housing, nutrition), Kathy Mattea (multiple, including mine safety), and George Strait (several, including wounded veterans) are among those who often don’t receive or seek the spotlight for their good work.

Consider Mr. Lewis, a solo country performer and front man for the rock band Staind. You likely recall he was the ultimate “get” for journalists a few weeks ago after he scolded concertgoers who had groped a young woman who was crowd-surfing as he fronted Staind at Kansas City’s Rockfest on May 31.

Yet the reports focused on the viral video of his rage and rarely mentioned his anti-violence stance (even Rolling Stone skipped it, although the magazine originally reported on it in 2001) or the charity he founded in 2010 with his wife, Vanessa Lewis.

The Lewises formed the It Takes a Community foundation when Massachusetts eliminated funding for the R.H. Conwell Community Education Center in Worthington. The school, which is a well-known institution in that area, has remained open as a private community school, thanks in large part to the funding raised by the foundation and the Lewises’ personal support.

It Takes a Community isn’t about handouts. Parents pay $1,500 for tuition, with a $3,500 cap per family. Volunteerism and parental participation are essential. And the foundation also works to revive rural communities throughout New England.

Although Mr. Lewis, 42, is anxious to return to his country music, he is working on the follow-up to his 2012 album “The Road,” which went to No. 7 on the Billboard Top Country Album charts. He and Staind will play benefits to support It Takes a Community.

Staind will go back into hiatus after the benefit, and Mr. Lewis will head into the studio. He’s in the early stages of planning his next album, and says it will be traditional country as was “The Road” and his solo 2011 EP “Town Line,” which debuted No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Country Album chart and included the single “Country Boy” featuring the late George Jones and Charlie Daniels. The single went gold.

Mr. Lewis said his move to country is natural. He spent his Vermont childhood listening to Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, George Jones, Hank Williams Sr. and other country icons favored by his grandfather, who also helped instill traditional values in the young man.

“It makes me sad and concerns me a little bit, where we are as a society,” Mr. Lewis told Country Times. “When somebody does the right thing and it is sensationalized in the media, well, that’s not right You have to try to make a difference with what is handed to you in life. I have been very blessed and lucky to have my craziest and most outlandish dreams come true. It just wouldn’t be right not to help others.”

See? You just need to know where to look.

Find out more about It Takes a Community and the upcoming benefit concerts, including Aaron Lewis & Friends on June 27 at The Pines, Florence, Massachusetts, on Mr. Lewis‘ website.