- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Oscar- and Grammy-winning recording artist Melissa Etheridge will bring down the house

at the Hard Rock Cafe in Penn Quarter on Sept. 30 with a special concert performance, but the audience won’t be there solely to hear Miss Etheridge’s gift of song. They also will be celebrating her fighting spirit as a breast cancer survivor.

Miss Etheridge will be the guest of Hard Rock International, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and Change-Makers: Live from D.C., a production of the Holster Project, a new locally based nonprofit. Created by 30-year-old financier and recording label owner Justin Fishkin, the Holster Project is designed to fuse his two passions: music and helping others.

In addition to the concert, attendees at the Hard Rock Cafe next week can participate in a Breast Cancer Research Foundation symposium called Breast Cancer and Creativity that will include breast cancer researchers, experts and survivors.

Mr. Fishkin, a D.C. native and former Goldman Sachs analyst in investment banking, says the objective of the Holster Project is to have similar events where artists committed to a cause, like Miss Etheridge, can perform for a group of interested Washingtonians and inspire them to act.

“The idea is not to sell out a stadium, but to bring people, primarily young people, who are directly involved in working toward solutions for each event’s focus issue,” Mr. Fishkin says. “The role of the artist is to mediate a constructive forum discussion and perform cause-relevant material that will support the cause in perpetuity, as well as empower young people to get more involved.”

Mr. Fishkin likes to describe his concert series as “MTV’s ‘Unplugged’ meets the United Nations’ General Assembly.”

Benj Gershman, bassist for the band O.A.R. and one of Mr. Fishkin’s partners, explains via e-mail, “It is a collaboration that aims to facilitate dialogue and positive change through creative action, specifically by aligning influential advocates and artists with a cause that needs constructive dialogue and real action.”

O.A.R. is scheduled to perform at the Hard Rock Cafe in November for the Holster Project/Hard Rock International event, “Imagine There’s No Hunger,” which will benefit World Hunger Year, an organization that fights childhood poverty. Yoko Ono has agreed to allow John Lennon’s likeness and words to be used for the event, and she has been invited to attend the performance.

Another of Mr. Fishkin’s high-profile advisers is Ronnie Cho, the 20-something field organizer on President Obama’s campaign. He is helping bring administration policymakers and public officials to Holster Project events to help artists get their message to the highest echelons in government.

“I got involved with the Holster Project because immediately after the presidential election I was eager to help keep up this momentum for change,” Mr. Cho says. “The election was only the beginning of what I hope is an enduring and collaborative movement to creatively impact lives in a positive way.”

On Sept. 10, the Holster Project hosted one of its first concerts at XM-Sirius Radio. The African Children’s Choir performed to draw attention to the AIDS epidemic sweeping Africa.

“I was fortunate enough to be asked by the Holster Project to collaborate on a song with the African Children’s Choir,” says Evan Bliss, a local musician and Holster Project partner. “The choral director and I decided to perform a song that I originally wrote as a tribute to my brother about his time in the Peace Corps in South Africa working with HIV/AIDS-infected persons. The African Children’s Choir happens to have a school in that same location.

“Our performance lasted about three and a half minutes, but the experience will be with me for the rest of my life.”

Mr. Fishkin says the song performed by Mr. Bliss, “Pula Aena,” which means “Rain, Let It” will be a part of the Holster Project’s “altruistic media content.” He says most artists are donating the recording of live, cause-relevant work from each event. Each song will support the cause for which it was created or performed each time the song is purchased via the Internet or licensed for commercial use.

Building on the success of this experience, the Holster Project is collaborating with other groups to plan a performance by the Cross Border Irish Children’s Orchestra in late October. The orchestra travels the globe to promote peace between Protestants and Catholics in Ireland and throughout the world.

Mr. Fishkin explains that events like this are at the heart of his new group’s mission: “We want to bring disparate perspectives together to communicate beyond differences through the power of music.”

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