Tom Griesgraber and Bert Lams – house concert

marotta griesgraber, photo credit drummerworld mag

I met Tom Griesgraber through surfing Jerry Marotta’s page – he and Tom collaborate on music quite frequently and have formed a duo Marotta Griesgraber . Tom plays something called Chapman STick (seen in the photo to the left). A stick is like a guitar neck only wider, and has up to 12 strings and you use it two handed.. one hand plays the bass line, the other plays melody. You can plunk it like a guitar, tap it like a piano or twang it like a harp.. its one of the most versatile and coolest instruments I’ve ever listened to, and Tom is a phenominal player.

You can listen to them playing my favorite song, In a Step (live) in the video below:

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bert lams

Bert Lams – nightMair photography 06

So I met Tom through Myspace, and heard Tom was coming to Vancouver with a fellow named Bert Lams, a classically trained guitarist. Bert is 1/3 of the California Guitar Trio. Tom and Bert were coming up to play a concert in someone’s home. I was terribly intrigued, and Tom and I had already discussed the doll project somewhat, so of course I arranged to take a doll to the concert. I contacted Bert and asked if he’d be interested in participating as well, and he said yes, so we were set.

tom griesgraber

Tom Griesgraber – nightMair photography 06

The night of the concert was pretty unique. The show, as I said, was in someone’s home downtown Vancouver, and there were about 50 people in the audience which was mostly in the living room of this stunning old Victorian home, but spilled out to the staircase and into the hallway and kitchen as well. The two ladies that lived in the house had fresh baking for us, and coffee, tea, and juice, and Tom and Bert were set up in the bay window. Bert was amazing on the guitar, and he and Tom played as if they were of one mind – it was amazing. After the show, they wandered the room speaking to the guests and answering all sorts of questions, etc.. many of the listeners were old friends and musicians themselves.  Both Tom and Bert posed for doll photos and I had a great time that evening.

After shooting photos with Tom and Bert, we had enough photos for our second charity auction, and sent the proceeds this time to World Vision. The brainstorming began yet again – who would we try for next?

Video of Tom and Bert playing together:
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Massari, Caedmon’s Call, Third Day

After shooting photos of Jerry Marotta at the Commodore, we needed more photos for our second auction. Again, we had no idea who, or how, to even find someone. I’m always under the impression that things will come when they’re supposed to, and sure enough: I was watching T.V. one night and Entertainment Canada had a blurb about this Hip-Hop artist named Massari, who spoke about supporting World Vision. I was mesmerized – and right away Googled him. I found his website and instead of writing a letter, sent an email to his manager. I received a reply within days – yes, Massari would love to pose with a doll when he visited Vancouver for his current tour! We were ecstatic. It was so easy it seemed, and approaching the management and setting up appointments (rather than standing outside the stage door) seemed a much better idea 🙂

massari comfort doll project


September 4th arrived, and off I went with no idea what to expect. I’m not much for hip-hop music, and I had visions of gangsta rap etc, but I was in good hands. The one thing I didn’t know about the music industry at the time, which I do now, is that its very much a ‘hurry up and wait’ thing. Things are never done on time, there are always minor problems to sort out with sound and such, and that’s just the nature of the business. This night was no different, but Massari’s manager offered me a soda and the best seat in the house and I got to watch Massari do a few songs as if he were doing a private concert for just me. It was pretty cool actually.

Once he was done, we were introduced, and just as with Jerry Marotta in the photo session before this one, he allowed me as much time as I required to make sure I got a decent shot with adequate lighting etc. (Still shooting on ‘auto’ of course, and film)

I was quite struck by this young man – every inch the showman on stage; he ‘owned’ the stage at the tender age of only 23 or 24 – but once off the stage very polite, quite soft spoken, and an air of respect for people in general that was very apparent. I very much enjoyed working with him for the time I was there.

Caedmon’s Call and Third Day both came about through my Myspace foray. I have always liked both band’s music; Mac Powell has an incredible voice and ‘Mountain of God’ is one of my all time favorite Third Day songs. I contacted both bands through Myspace with the intention of sending Caedmon’s Call a doll and card in the mail with the intention of them mailing it back to us.

massari comfort doll project

Caedmon’s Call

Caedmon’s Call said yes, so off the doll went in the mail, and shortly thereafter, I got the photo via email. They also mailed the autographed card back, as well as two 8×10 glossy autographed promo pictures of the band, for inclusion in the auction. Very cool 🙂

mac-powell comfort doll project david-carr comfort doll project brad-avery- comfort doll project

tai-anderson comfort doll project mark-lee comfort doll project

I found out Third Day were going to play in Calgary, and as we were set to take our summer holidays traveling to Southern Alberta, I figured it would be perfect. Things never turn out the way you think though 🙂 The band said yes, they’d be very happy to help out, but our plans changed and it was suddenly impossible for me to do the photo myself. However, my friend Rene was going to see Third Day in her home town of Salt Lake City, Utah, so we set it up for her to do the photo there.

All things considered, Renee did a great job. Because the show was at an open air festival, there really was no ‘green room’ for her to meet the band in to do the photo, and so she met them in what basically was a hall closet 🙂 not even large enough to stand the entire band side by side – but it all worked out in the end, and we had two more great bands and an awesome musician help our project.

My NY friends: Jerry Marotta and Pete Levin

So, with one auction under our belts so to speak, we figured we could continue our project and do better with the next auction. We decided to meet for coffee once a month and compared notes. At this point in the project, we still were wanting to concentrate on actors and our own ‘Hollywood North’ seemed to be suddenly teeming with A-list stars. My partner had a few contacts in the ‘biz’ and got a few contact addresses, and we formulated a letter to send. Gary Fjellgaard and Valdy, Roger Hodgson and Alexander Siddig all gave us permission to use their names in those letters, which we hoped would convince participation.

We didn’t have any luck whatsoever with actors. Not one response back, not even a negative response. We were frustrated, so decided to try more musicians. A brand new band that had been on tour with U2 were coming to Vancouver to headline their own show and they supported Save the Children, so we sent off a request and received our first ‘no’ answer. We were crushed. Looking back on it, it makes sense though- their manager didn’t want the band to be affiliated with our charity, but affiliated with Save the Children. At the time it was a bitter one to accept though.

wanna-be drummer

Around this time, my friends all migrated from Livejournal to various other blogs including Facebook. I never could get the hang of Facebook, and ended up at Myspace. I didn’t know much about HTML but tried to put together a profile and all of a sudden I had bands ‘friend requesting’ me like crazy! At first, it was the unsigned bands who wanted me to ‘join their street teams’ or ‘vote for me in this crazy poll’, or ‘buy our merchandise’, and it was strange and a bit disconcerting until I began to find my way around and figure things out.

I started finding A-list bands but also realized: there were 10 ‘Bono’s’ and probably not one of them was the ‘real’ Bono. Same for many other bands – lots of Myspaces claiming to be the official band, but not really. I think it all started by me finding Tony Levin. He’s Peter Gabriel’s bass player when Pete goes on tour, and I’ve always thought he was an amazing musician. I ‘friended’ him when I realized the profile was indeed his, that he himself looked after it, and blogged about his touring (not blogged by an assistant.) I started looking at his friends list, and found his brother Pete Levin. Pete’s a jazz musician, not rock and roll, but he looked like a very nice man, and his profile had a really cool blurb on it:
It’s great making new friends here on MySpace and catching up with many old friends. Making the world smaller is what the Internet does best. But I’m not here to just “collect” friends. So here’s the deal:

I’m going to deny your add request if I don’t know you and …

your profile is blocked, or
you show only a screen name and hide your real name, or
there’s profanity on your page (posted by you or your Myspace ‘friends’), or
your page glorifies drugs, drinking, scantily clad babes, etc.

I’m not being judgmental about your page, but I need to be comfortable with it to post a comment there. If you need any of that qualified, we’re not going to be friends anyway, so save your energy. I’m just telling you.

Woodstock, NY January ’08
I love that blurb!  I thought ‘this man has a great sense of humor and I must know him’, so I sent him a friend request but forgot that I had written on my profile that I didn’t like jazz music at all. I got quite an interesting response back from Pete, but it was tongue in cheek and superbly funny, and he accepted, and I started listening to his jazz. (which I now absolutely love btw). From Tony and Pete, I found Jerry Marotta (drummer for Peter Gabriel as well as session drummer, producer, writer, and singer), and it just kept growing – but I’m getting ahead of myself 🙂

jerry-marotta comfort doll project

Jerry Marotta

I found that Jerry was coming to town to play with Todd Rundgren (along with Tony Levin) in August 2006, so I sent Jerry a message and he responded and said ‘yes, he’d love to do a photo.’ He was so unpretentious about the whole thing – told me what hotel he was at, gave me his cell phone number (I was shocked!), told me to call him when he got to town and we’d set up the meeting at the venue, etc… and it helped tremendously to have someone so down to earth and approachable for my first Myspace request/encounter.

The day I did the photo, I was able to watch him tune his drum kit and do a sound check, and I was like a kid in a candy store – I’m a closet wannabe drummer 😉

After his sound check, he posed with the doll in various locations in the club to ensure I had enough light to get the shot (I still didn’t know how to use the camera on anything but ‘Auto’ and I was still using a film camera). I took a few shots; by the tables, by the windows, sitting at his drum kit etc, and it was unhurried and un-stressful and I really appreciated it, and still do.

Working with Jerry enabled me to have hope this project could work and that most musicians were going to be very much just regular real people.

Welcome to Comfort Doll Project

So, where to begin? I suppose at the beginning! Grab a cup of coffee, tea or what-have-you, and take a load off. I’ll try to not ramble on, but sometimes I get excited about things so we’ll see 🙂

I met my friend ‘M’ online through U2’s website and it turned out we lived in the same city. Other than having an interest in U2, we both had been inspired by Bono’s TED Awards Speech (see video below)

We had both signed up for the ONE Campaign and wanted to ‘do’ something but just didn’t know what. We met for coffee and talked and came up with a wild idea! The idea was to use the Comfort Dolls I had been knitting for ICross and get celebrities to hold them. We’d then take a photo of them, and auction it off, sending the proceeds to an Africa supporting charity.

We had an idea, but no idea how to make it work! How to contact celebrities? And how to get a photo? Most actors are based out of Los Angeles and we’re in Canada – although at the time we did have a film studio here. And how to auction the photos? Who would actually want them? How would we find those who did want them? Despite all the unknowns, we decided to go ahead. We came up with ‘Comfort Doll Project’ name, thinking that we’d change it if we thought of something more catchy or clever (we never did haha ). And we planned our first photo. A friend of a friend was going to a Star Trek Convention in a few weeks so we decided to send a doll with her and see what she could do.

I knitted a larger version of the doll and sent it off, along with an index card I formulated on my home printer, and we waited. A week later, the lady came back with our first digital photo – actor Alexander Siddig from Star Trek Deep Space Nine.

alex siddig comfort doll projectWe had to decide, should we auction the photo by itself, or should we get a few more under our belt first? Both of us were so new to it all, my partner had some limited experience with eBay – I had none. I had experience with graphics and a digital camera, and she didnt – so between us we fumbled and were able to get a write-up on eBay. Thinking back on it, it’s amazing to me that we actually figured out what we were doing.

We decided to get a few more items before our first auction, so scoured the newspaper looking for ideas – The Black Crowes were coming to town in a month (May 2006), and my partner was a huge fan. She couldn’t afford to buy a ticket, but she knew about them; knew that often they’d come out before the show and sign autographs for the fans. We figured – let’s go down to the venue the day of the show, take a doll and card, and see what happens.

steve-gorman black crowes comfort doll projectThe day of the show, off we went. We waited for hours before anyone came out – but the consolation was that at least there were other fans waiting so we didn’t feel so weird. The first person out was the keyboard player, and we nervously approached him. He said “sure, but when I come back I’ll do it.. I’m off to the store.”  Sigh. Next came a roadie, who was an incredibly nice man, and who figured the drummer would be interested. Out comes the drummer, Steve Gorman, and we fumble nervously through our ‘speal’ and show him the doll. He lights up, says ‘sure thing’, and poses for a photo. By this time, the light was almost gone, and I had no idea how to change the settings on my film camera to compensate, so just tried my best.

After photographing Steve Gorman, the roadie came back out to talk to us, and we had a great conversation with him. I think his name was Dan. He really wanted to know about the dolls, about how Icross Canada used them, and about our fledgling project, and we stood and talked to him for about half an hour. At the end of that time, he had to go back into the venue as the concert was about to start, and my partner and I decided on the spot, with basically no discussion between us, to give ‘Dan’ the doll. He was tickled pink, and it tickled me pink to see his face when I gave it to him.

<—— me. self portrait taken in the grill of the Black Crowes tour semi-truck.



The keyboard player never did pose for us but we were happy enough to have Steve Gorman say yes – we really didnt think we could convince anyone to do this with us!

A month or so later, building on the confidence of that encounter, I contacted Canadian Folk icon Valdy and asked if he’d be willing to participate. He was going to be at the July 2006 Nakusp Music Fest (as I was), and I thought it would be a perfect opportunity. I also found that Roger Hodgson (Supertramp) was headlining that show, so sent an email to his manager and was shocked to actually get a response back from both of them – yes, we’d love to help out, contact us once you get there.

valdy comfort doll project gary-fjellgaard-comfort doll project

Valdy was so down to earth; after his show he invited ‘fans’ to come to the media tent and say ‘hi’, so I approached him over there, and he was pretty cool. At the same time, he suggested I ask his friend and co-performer, Gary Fjellgaard, so I got some practice explaining on the spot what our project was all about. Gary agreed to pose.

Later that afternoon, just as it was turning from daylight to dusk, I had a meeting with Roger Hodgson at his hotel (there’s really only two hotels in Nakusp haha ) His assistant was a wonderful lady, easy to talk to – put me at ease which was great – I was sooo nervous. Roger was a sweetheart. He wanted a really good shot so led me off the hotel balcony and out to the street where there was a white picket fence and trees in the churchyard (right beside the hotel). He was so patient with me; waiting for me to get the perfect shot, and posing in different ways. The shots all came out well, but I chose the one with the best facial expression – there’s just something about that shot, something kind in his eyes.

roger hodgson supertramp comfort doll projectBy August we figured it was time to take the bull by the horns and actually do something with the photos, so looked at learning how to use eBay.

Once we figured out the eBay thing, we added a few magazines to the auction, and had our first auction. When I think back on that first auction – it was so… amateur 🙂 But we raised some money, and we sent the first proceeds to Save the Children Fund Canada.

We felt great. We felt like we accomplished something more than just sitting and talking about the poverty issues, and so it was on to our next set of ‘celebs’ and our next auction!

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