Of war, peacemaking…and music

Bob McPeek and Fagan Arouh performed at last year’s Winter Solstice Concert, sponsored by the Gainesville chapter of Veterans For Peace.

The war that changed their young lives forever has been over for half a century.

But, improbably, their anti-war activism would continue long after the guns fell silent in Vietnam.

Indeed, working for peace would become a lifelong passion for Vietnam vets like Scott Camil John Chambers, Bill Hutchinson and other members of the Gainesville chapter of Veterans For Peace.

“I thought we were going to change the world when we got home from Vietnam,” said Hutchinson, longtime Gainesville musician and activist. “But they have infinite resources to make bombs and make war, and so we have been fighting a holding action all this time, still trying to move forward in the cause of peace.”

To help support its peace-building activities, the chapter will hold it’s 36th annual Winter Solstice Celebration on Dec. 17 at 8 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship building at 4225 NW 34th street. Ticket and program information can be found on the VFP’s web page.

This year’s concert is dedicated to Bob McPeek, the celebrated Gainesville musician, composer and recording studio owner. McPeek passed away in October following an extended illness.

“He was one of our original Winter Solstice musicians,” Camil said. “He was an excellent musician, songwriter, singer and wordsmith and we owe a lot of our success to him.”

As many as 20 Gainesville musicians and bands will participate in the concert, including John Chambers, David Beede, Mick Morino, Quartermoon, The Ruckus and others.

The concert traditionally kicks off with performer Georg Suzuki’s interpretation of the Cherokee Peace Chant, followed by an ensemble acoustical performance called Drums of Peace.

“Over the last 36 years we’ve somehow created an orthodoxy,” says Hutchinson, producer of the annual concert. “When we don’t do Cherokee Peace Chant, people say ‘Hey!’ People have grown to expect the Drums of Peace. They expect us to do “Here Comes The Sun” and certain other things.”

The Winter Solstice concert is the main fundraising vehicle for Veterans For Peace. Last year’s proceeds enabled the organization to make donations to the Florida Coalition For Peace And Justice, the Civic Media Center, UF’s Samuel Proctor Oral History Project, The Iguana newspaper, Courage To Resist, About Face, the Veterans Health Institute and other organizations.

In addition, the group each year awards several $1,000 scholarships to local high school and community colleges students who are interested in pursuing peace-making careers.

“Over the years we have built a good relationship with the community,” Camil said. “Part of our mission is to support and mentor other peace and justice organizations that share our goals through donations of time, materials and funding.”

Hutchinson set the stage for the Winter Solstice concert nearly 40 years ago when he gave a performance at the Thomas Center and dedicated it to the Veterans for Peace. All these years later, he is “stunned” to realize that Winter Solstice has become such an enduring Gainesville tradition.

“The whole thing is just a wonderful night of community,” he said. “The people who show up are people who value peace and love. And you can hardly do better in than that in picking a group of people to hang out with.”

Over the years, he said, “we have all grown up and grown old together. Like all audiences we are graying. But at the same time it’s really great to know that we all still take the idea of peace and justice profoundly seriously. This is our concert for peace.”

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