The Risen Music Ministry will hold a fundraiser at Crash Music after performing at the San Juan County Juvenile Detention Center

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FARMINGTON – Helping kids steer away from a life of substance abuse and crime is the goal of a New Mexico-based initiative called the Freedom in Music Project. The group of musicians that administer the project will be performing for kids at the San Juan County Juvenile Detention Center on Saturday, and later that evening at Crash Music for a fundraiser to support their efforts.

When not performing at detention centers, the Rio Rancho-based group calls itself The High Desert Blues Band. While traveling through the state to reach out to kids in detention centers, however, the group calls itself the Risen Music Ministry.

"We are a non-profit, 100 percent volunteer, five-piece rock and gospel blues band," said the group's leader, Phil Oliveira. "Most of us have had problems with alcohol and drugs in our life. We are faith-based, and want to reach out to kids who are incarcerated, because 99 percent of them are in there because of substance abuse."

The group will be visiting the San Juan County Juvenile Detention Center on Saturday to play music for the kids and to give their testimony about breaking free from substance abuse. They will also be presenting the kids with six acoustic guitars.

"I don't give cheap guitars – these are about $500 each, they're nice guitars," Oliveira said. "We've also gotten 300 sets of strings donated, so it's about $6.000 (worth of merchandise) we'll be presenting to them."

Oliveira said his group is motivated to reach out to kids in trouble because of the increasing number of young people getting involved in drugs and ending up behind bars. The statistics are sobering, he said.

"Too many kids are dying out here, and the leading cause is drug overdose," he said. "Ninety-five percent of these kids have no father, 85 percent have no family. Forty percent of these kids have no hope that it's ever going to change and have (tried to commit) suicide at least once. These are kids ages 11 to 21 years old, and many of them will be dead before they're 25, or will spend their lives in prison. The situation is horrific."

Olivieira said that when his group goes into a detention center, they play pieces the kids would recognize such as music by Stevie Ray Vaughan.

"But we change a lot of the lyrics to raise the kids up," he said. "The first song we sing, though, is Amazing Grace, because the kids have to learn that there's something better out there for them. Finally, we surprise them by giving them the guitars."

During Saturday night's fundraiser, which is free of charge, the group will perform some of their music, and local musicians are also encouraged to come play with the group.

"I've invited all of the local scene, and hope they'll come help out and meet each other and jam with the band," said Crash Music owner George Rowe. "St. Claire's will also be there selling beer, wine and sandwiches, and we'll have some items to raffle off from places like Main Street Music, Beer Belly's, and (the Aztec Main Street) Bistro."

The main item to be raffled off at Saturday's fundraiser will be a signed Gibson Les Paul guitar and a pickguard signed by the late Les Paul worth $7,000.

"We're also bringing another guitar by the Reverend Horton Heat that we'll be offering for auction," said Oliveira. "He plays rockabilly, and calls his up-street, blues-type music 'psychobilly.'"

Oliveira said this guitar will also have an original illustration on it, created by himself.

"The auction for that guitar will start at $300," he said. "We're hoping to be able to make a few thousand bucks from the auction to help our musicians, as they have to pay for their own rooms, food and gas (when they travel the state with their ministry). But it is really a labor of love — you can't put a price tag on human life."

Rowe said when he first heard about the music ministry, he felt motivated to find a way to bring the group to San Juan County to reach out to local kids, and wanted to also help by providing a venue for a fundraiser.

"Once I heard about them raffling off guitars and getting music to kids in detention centers, I knew we wanted to help spread the love," he said.

Leigh Black Irvin is the business editor for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4621. 

IF YOU GO

What: Freedom in Music Fundraiser

When: 7:30 p.m., Saturday

Where: Crash Music, 104 N. Main Avenue, Aztec

Info: Free of charge. For information on the fundraiser, call Crash Music at 505-427-6748. For information on the Freedom in Music Project, visit thefreedominmusicproject.com. 

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