Bluegrass Against Domestic Violence
by Susan Marquez
It’s hard for those in a happily committed relationship to understand or imagine the horrors of domestic abuse. Sadly, however, one in four women and one in seven men will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. The COVID-19 pandemic has enormously impacted those numbers. Since the pandemic, statistics reveal three times as many requests for services, “and the needs keep growing,” says Melody Hetzler-Dascanio, a licensed therapist working full time for Domestic Violence Services of Southwestern Pennsylvania. “I work with survivors of domestic violence daily.”
When she is not working with victims of domestic violence, Melody is a bluegrass musician.
“I have been a part of the bluegrass family for years,” she explains. “My family has our own local bluegrass band called Keep Off the Grass. In fact, my parents met because of music, and when she was pregnant, my mom was performing in a bluegrass band. They love music so much; they named me Melody!”
Melody has a degree in music from Westminster College. “I planned to teach,” says Melody. But when she graduated, it was summer, and school was out, so there were no teaching jobs. “I got a job teaching horseback riding at a mental health treatment facility for children who have suffered trauma.” That summer job was life-changing for Melody, who went back to school and got her master’s in counseling.
Polk, Pennsylvania is a big bluegrass town, and Jimmy Miller, a member of The Pine Valley Boys who owns the Main Street Market, hosts weekly bluegrass jamborees where Melody’s family’s band often plays. “Over the years, Jimmy has gotten bigger name acts,” says Melody. We heard Nu-Blu last year, and we were all blown away. When I heard their song All the Way, about domestic violence, I was amazed because it told the real story. I’ve played the song countless times to my clients because I want them to know they are not alone. The issue of domestic violence is big enough that people are talking about it and writing songs about it.”
Like many agencies, The Domestic Violence Services of Southwestern Pennsylvania relies on fundraising events to help supplement their budget. “COVID-19 has made that difficult,” Melody says. “We usually have a walk as our major annual fundraiser.” Using her contacts to help boost the event, Melody reached out via Facebook Messenger to Daniel and Carolyn Routh, known professionally as Nu-Blu. “I wanted to see if they’d share a link for our walk on their Facebook page. Without hesitating, Daniel responded that it should be a big event to raise more money and that Nu-Blu would be happy to headline it!”
After quickly talking with her Board of Directors, Melody says the event came together quickly. The Bluegrass Bands Together Against Domestic Violence event is on October 15 to honor Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
“It is an honor for us to be involved in this,” says Daniel. “Any time, as musicians, we can come together for positive change, we are happy to do it. You hear about an organization that takes one of your songs to help so many people in need; that’s next level.” The song “All the Way” was co-written by Carl Jackson. “He is a phenomenal songwriter. I don’t think any of us realized the impact the song would have on so many.” Daniel recalls having played in the show in Polk. “It’s a great town, and they are doing wonderful work on the domestic violence front there. They have a full-scale outreach program for domestic violence. Too often, there is no support, and the cycle continues. We like to show how bluegrass is relevant today, and that bluegrass musicians can make a living doing this. As a band, we have always made it our mission, through our fans and friends, to give back.”
Melody says the event came together quickly and easily, and she hopes it can be an annual event. “Even better, we’d love to see it replicated around the country. [The event] is a perfect example of how bluegrass plugs back in and goes full circle to give back.”
The event is Friday, October 15, at the Green County Fairgrounds in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania. The charity concert will feature Nu Blu, along with Melody’s family’s band, Keep Off the Grass, and The Pine Valley Boys. For more information, go to peacefromdv.org. A 24/ hotline number is available at 800-791-4000.