There are certain musicians who affect our life philosophies; their witticisms end up tattooed to our arms and backs, and running motifs of lost love and winding roads shape our own reactions to relationships and meandering indecision. There are fewer musicians that actually restructure the ways in which we live our lives, gathering a crop of new priorities from their own passions and implementing them into our daily existences. For me, this musician was always Chadwick Stokes, from the indie-roots Vermont-based band, Dispatch.
With the help of Napster and a dedication to the grassroots publicity of the early 2000’s, Dispatch escalated from a small, rootsy band playing New-England colleges to a big, rootsy band selling out Madison Square Garden. Singer Chadwick Stokes infused their songs with his experiences in Zimbabwe, which led to a lifetime of humanitarian action. As of high school kid with no concept of what I wanted to do and no understanding of the world save for the fact that it seemed like a relatively unfair place (a philosophy at which I’ve seemed to stagnate, ten years later), Stokes’ music seemed a beacon a hope in an otherwise uncertain and privileged life. So I began listening religiously to the trembling acoustic tales of injustice, and advocating for a broad range of social change. For Stokes, the humanitarian spirit has always infiltrated his being- ever since he began discovering his own personal character in the beginning of his high school years. “I started wearing jeans with American flag patches in my subversive way and my dad’s old leather sandals and this wide-brimmed leather cowboy hat,” he says. “I remember thinking that too. I remember thinking ‘this is who I am,’ which is kind of laughable. But I guess the politicizing of the music didn’t come until I understood more what was going on in the world. It started slowly but going to Zimbabwe after high school- that was a major turn in understanding more of how the world works and what’s going on and the different inequities.”
There is an undying sense of admiration I have for people like Chadwick, who can incorporate their creative passions into an outpour of positive energy, affecting change not only within their own psyches but within the external world. In recent years, he and his wife have founded an organization called Calling All Crows, based on Syria and the refugees coming out of that crisis. “Music is such a great gateway to get people involved, so it’s been a really great experience to get people who might have not otherwise volunteered for this or that to get their feet wet under the musical umbrella,” he says.
Since Dispatch’s inception as one of the most popular indie-roots bands to take form during the beginning of the file-sharing era, Chadwick Stokes has continued to make his mark in the music scene, with the heavier, more melancholic sounds of the Boston-based group State Radio, and his own solo project that has developed over the last several years. His latest release, The Horse Camanche, is a more personal collection of songs that chronicle the calls to action within a family, not necessarily just within the world at large. As a solo artist, he has developed a mature and succinct voice, unveiling personal tales with the same penchant for poignant storytelling that existed during his time with Dispatch and State Radio. For Stoke, the album is almost a compendium of his new experience as a father. “I have a two and a three year old. So that makes you think- big picture thinking. It makes you think how lucky and how crazy it is that we’re all here alive and how fantastic it is and how it’s sad and happy and so many things and to kind of understand or appreciate that we even made it into this world, and try to just give good energy back into it.”