My name is Steve Robertson. Since early childhood I’ve had a profound fascination with how music had the ability to give me goose bumps and on occasion, bring tears to my eyes. Here is my story and twenty-four year journey of bringing Project-Peace on Earth into reality.
My love for music, as I’ve prior mentioned, began as a child. Riding in the car with my parents, I would occasionally hear a song on the radio that would really catch my attention, give me goose bumps and make me feel so happy. When this occurred it felt like the power of music would just take me over. Back then, in the early 60′s, there weren’t individual cassette tape players or CDs to listen to music, so if really loved a song you heard on the radio you were at the mercy of the radio DJ playing it again on another day to catch the great feeling again.
Living then, in a small city called Friendswood, Texas, neighbor friends had a record player and some of the early Beatles music. We would gather in their game room and listen intensely to the music and lyrical vision of the melodies. I played music in the school band, never learned to read music, however I somehow had the ability to be able to play music by ear. At that time, however, my full twenty-four seven day a week attention was on playing football.
One day at recess, at age 8, I was playing football. I was running with the ball and no one could tackle me. As I crossed our the goal line all sound and time stopped, I saw everything 360 degrees above and below. I wasn’t afraid or perplexed by the experience which seemed to go away instantly. I never told anyone about it. I didn’t have the words to describe it, didn’t know what I would tell my parents about it, and it felt like, what I would now call, a Divine message just for me. I didn’t think a thing about the experience again. I’ll leave it at this and say …it ultimately relates to the concert.
On our street my neighbor friends got a mini bike and I quickly turned my attention toward the dream of having a motorcycle and riding in the woods around our home. Finally at age 11, after sweeping lots of barber shop floors, mowing lots of yards, learning to save the money I made and getting good grades on my report card my Father bought me my first off-road motorcycle, a Suzuki 50cc bike. I was in heaven, I put 500 miles on it during the first week riding around our home’s acre yard and drove my mother nuts.
Not long thereafter we moved to Florida following a promotion my father had gotten as aerospace engineer to run TRW in Cape Canaveral. Dad found a property and began the process of building a home. In the meanwhile we moved into an apartment complex. My next door neighbor friend had a real 100cc Yamaha motocross bike. He and his father took me to the races with them for the first time. I was immediately hooked by the sound, the smell, excitement and competition. I knew I was going to race and that I would one day turn pro. On the weekend my father would drive me to a huge open park, leave me with a can of gas, water and food and I would ride until it was dark. I rode the wheels off of my Suzuki bike and literally wore the engine out on the motorcycle. My father bought me a replacement motorcycle, a 125cc Yamaha full motocross bike. I eventually convinced him to let me race. At my first race I placed 3rd and got a trophy. We were hooked. From that day on my father and I would go to the races every weekend. Rock Music was the backdrop and anthem to racing experience.
We moved to Virginia, again, following the promotions of my father’s career. I quickly made friends with fellow racers at the high school I was going to in Fairfax. Every weekend we would travel to the races. Tracks were often a several hours round trip journey and my buddies and I prided ourselves on knowing every piece of rock music that had been released and was about to be released…all of this would soon change.
In my junior high school class, now living Virginia, I really had my focus on racing. Going to school was boring. Of all my classes, the one I liked the least was English. I really disliked reading because I considered myself a slow reader, and with writing, I disliked this even more. However, I was extremely fortunate in having a very cool English teacher who had us reading books by Tolken, C.S. Lewis and Robert Heinlein. Still, with each day of school, I felt a dread when ever I had to go to English class until…
One day our English teacher came in and announced that in essence we would not be having our normal class, instead we would be listening to music. She stated that she would be turning the lights out in the room, playing some music and that our assignment was to just listen to the music and see where our imagination took us. All that we would have to do is put our head down on our desk and listen to the music. My thought of “Cool” and being happy about taking a nap was quickly followed by a thought of dread “Oh No, I hope she doesn’t play classical music, I hate classical music.”
In seconds, I decided to suffer through whatever uncool music she was going to play. As she turned out the lights, I put my head down on the desk’s table, readied for a nap and then she dropped the record player needle onto music I had never heard before, Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.” With each note and song my mind immediately lit up like a personally synchronized fireworks display. With every second of every song my mind was being blown and I was being taken on a visual roller coaster down, what seemed like, a sort of cosmic rabbit hole. It was unlike anything I could have ever imagined. I was in utter awe. I had no idea of how powerfully deep music could touch me, move me and excite my imagination.
After class, my racing buddies who were in the class with me, all looked at each other with the same sense of silent and reverent awe. We just couldn’t speak, it was too powerful and sacred of a moment to describe in words. We immediately went out and bought the album and would listen to it over, over and over again. This musical experience planted a very deep seed of awareness within me, one that I would not fully realize and appreciate until later in life. Flash forward.
At the age 29 I had a huge spiritual breakdown (1986). Within a 24 hour period, the woman I was engaged to ended our relationship and I lost my job. The unbearable depression that resulted from this experience ultimately lead me to read a book, written in 1924, by Florence Shinn entitled “The Game of Life and How to Play It”. There, in this masterfully written book I found two questions that would change the course of my life. One, she asked, “If you could do anything in the world and there were no limitations (and she specified that there weren’t) what would you do? The second question, “What do you love the most?” Upon reading these two questions I said to myself, this is it, the questions I’ve looked for all of my life…in essence…why Am I here and what is my purpose in life? The two most important questions, I thought to myself, that I or anyone could ever ask of themselves.
I remembered the quote from the bible “knock and the door will open, seek and ye shall find.” Feeling and sensing the truth of this quote I also remembered a wisdom that came through me one day at age 18 when I was pondering life “Limitations are bound by the mind, the mind is bound only by our perceptions of those limitations.” I committed from this moment to literally knock on the door of heaven’s heart until my knuckles, if need be, were bloody. I was going to know the answer to these important questions. Given at the time, I had no girlfriend and no job, I had plenty of time to knock.
I began meditating as best I knew how, persistently asking these questions within, determined to hear the answer. Finally, one day I hear the answer. A voice spoke loudly within me. It also seemed to fill the room as though spoken from some outside source. The answer, “Music.” As a teen I had grown up on a constant diet of rock music…the Who, Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Yes, Pink Floyd, The Moody Blues, Jeff Beck, etc. Later in college, I became a DJ and the school’s radio promotion manager. I had also become an expert on what would soon become known as ”Ambient” and “New Age” music.
To be honest, after hearing that my purpose was “Music”, I felt even more confused than before. What on earth, I though to myself, was I supposed to do with or about “Music”? I was not a musician at the time, nor did I have any interest in becoming one. I grew up playing football and then later I raced motorcycle motocross turning pro at the age of 18. How was I going to find my purpose through “Music”? Then I remembered the second question that Florence had asked in the book…”What do you love to do the most?” The answer to this question came almost instantly…What I loved to do was share beautiful, spiritually uplifting and inspiring music with my friends and anyone I met who appreciated great music.
Naturally I asked “If sharing beautiful music with people is my life purpose, how do I make a living out of this?” So I came up with the idea of creating a company like Muzak. One that would play beautiful New Age music in hotels and restaurants rather than the sterile and soulless music that was currently being played in these places. I did all of the research on the various delivery systems, radio, tapes, etc…and catalogued thousands of songs by time, temp, duration, and the emotions I felt from each piece of music. At the same time I was reading every book on metaphysics that I could find.
Shortly thereafter, while living in Houston (1986), I was introduced to a woman from from Monaco named Elizabeth as it turned out, she had been friends with King Hussein for twenty years and had been the interior designer for all of his palaces. She had an idea in mind to do a concert to promote “Goodness” as a means of facilitating peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis, a cause which I felt was very important. King Hussein had given her permission to use a piece of land in Jordan for the event and she was in the process of lining up performers to participate…artists like Elton John, Dire Straits, Pavarotti, and various other rock groups…but, I immediately recognized that missing from the roster were musicians that were about facilitating inner peace through their music.
So in my first meeting with her I told her exactly that “Unless you have the music at the concert that is about promoting inner peace you won’t be able to facilitate the outer experience of peace you are hoping to accomplish through the concert.” She agreed and I immediately offered to contact the artists who I felt performed this peace inspiring music, artists such as: Kitaro, Yanni, Enya, Vangelis, Yes, and others on behalf of the concert and to enroll them to perform at the event.
Now, having just offered to do outreach to these performers, a thought came to my mind “I had absolutely zero idea about how to go about doing this nor did I have contacts to facilitate my offer.” However, what I did know was this, that if my inner voice had instructed me to offer this service it would also show me how to accomplish it. My job was to have faith and to act with unwavering courage based on my inner guidance. With this belief, I pledged to God that I would do whatever I was told and do whatever it took to accomplish the mission of bringing the power of this spiritually transformational music to mainstream public awareness.
Almost immediately thereafter, while living in Houston, a DJ friend of mine who had a popular New Age music radio show invited me to travel with him to Dallas to see and interview Kitaro who was performing in his first American tour called “Light of the Spirit”. Kitaro, at that time spoke very little English and required a translator. By his side was Eiichi, who is still, to the present day, his manager. I remember his words when asked why he didn’t have lyrics sung to his music…”Words” he said “Limit the imagination.” Back stage I also met the renowned violinist Steve Kindler. I talked to everyone about the Jordan concert and collected telephone numbers to follow-up.
Shortly after Kitaro’s concert, I was offered a job and moved to Dallas to work for Johnson Controls Company selling industrial process control computers. I had become the youngest sales executive in their corporation’s history, as I was later told by the head of HR. Not long after moving to Dallas the artist Yanni was doing a record signing at a local record store for the release of his album “Out of Silence”. Tried as I may, I could not facilitate a connection with him. My intuition instructed me to just go to the store and try to contact him there. It seemed like an odd suggestion and I was more than a little uncomfortable about what to say to him once I got there. But I did exactly what I was told, went to the store and stood in a long line of people wanting his autograph.
When I got to him, finally at the front of the line, I explained briefly that I wanted him to participate in the big peace concert in Jordan. He politely dismissed me to speak to a person standing to the side, who as it turned out was a fellow by the name of Jeff who was the VP of Private Music, the label Yanni was on. I repeated in a more detail to Jeff about the concert and explained why I felt it was important for Yanni to perform. With little more said Jeff then invited me out to have dinner with them after the autograph signing session… which I agreed to immediately.
Shortly thereafter, I connected with Suzanne Ciani who was doing a concert in Dallas. This encounter opened door after door after door with musicians until one day I received a call from Elizabeth, who informed me that the concert was off… major geopolitical problems in the middle east, money, greedy people, egos, etc…as you can imagine, I was heart broken.
To heal, I poured myself into my new job. However, the idea of this concert, my mission of getting this inspirationally healing music out into the mainstream never left me. Then one day the Word said “Why not”…Why not a concert of the music you love the most?” I thought to myself “Why not indeed!”. I have the contacts with these artists, so “Why not?” So with this inspiration I started mapping out on a paper napkin at lunch time what a concert like this would look like. From that day on I spent my lunch hours, evenings, and every spare moment I had to create the concept for the concert, which I originally called “The World Music Festival.” Simultaneously, I was looking for ways to scientifically describe what made this New Age/spiritually inspirational music so unique.
Through friends of mine in Dallas who where going to Parker Chiropractic College, I was introduced to Dr. Bernie Siegel’s book “Love, Medicine, and Miracles”. After reading the book it became clear to me that Bernie was not talking about healing from cancer as much as he was communicating the importance of learning unconditional love for oneself. A prerequisite for facilitating the essence of what Hippocrates meant when he said “Physician heal thyself.” That’s when the light bulb came on for me. “That’s it” I said. This is what is so important about this special type of spiritually inspirational music, the music that had always given me goose bumps, brought me to tears, and create euphoria for me…what is coming through this music is the essence of unconditional love.
Soon thereafter, I was guided to connect with Bernie through his ECaP (Exceptional Cancer Patient organization), and we became friends. Later, through my relationship with Bernie, I arranged for him to speak to the students at Parker. A short time passed before, I connected and became friends with Dr. Larry Dossey, who was living in Dallas at the time. Larry was the Chief of Staff of one of the major hospitals in Dallas and had recently written a book entitled “Time, Space, and Medicine.”
Through reading these books and numerous other similar books, it was becoming very apparent that the through-line of these books dealt with emerging medical research that exacted a relationship between negative emotional (psycho-spiritual) states and resulting diseases, or dis-ease, as it was being newly phrased. While reading these books I found myself deeply and continually perplexed. Why had none of these major holistic doctors considered music as a plausible means of affecting even correcting the negative emotional states responsible for the dis-ease that they said could be healed by the self.
It was becoming clear to me that I was seeing something that others weren’t. In order to further clarify for myself and those that I was talking to about the importance of a concert with the sort of inspirational/New Age music that I loved, began to write a position paper. This paper became the foundation from which I finally understood myself and the reason why certain types of music had so deeply moved me, and most of all, why producing this concert was so very important.
Music of the Spheres
Pythagoras, the father of mathematics, believed that the philosophical principles of love, peace, wisdom, compassion, forgiveness, and joy were embodied in the harmonics of what he termed “Music of the Spheres”. This music, he believed, was heard and recreated in proportion to the composer’s level of spiritual evolution and most importantly their intent to create compositions from that devotional mind set. This state of spiritual intention, according to history’s great mystics, is accessed through a devotional and contemplative listening to the small still voice within that guides the self into union with Divine Will. “Be still and know that I am God” says the Bible. Paramahansa Yogananda, author Autobiography of a Yogi stated: “The Veda’s, India’s most ancient scriptures, was divinely revealed to the rishis, or ‘seers.’ It was a revelation by sound, directly heard.”
Aldous Huxley said: “After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.” Kahlil Gibran, author of The Prophet said: “My soul counseled me and charged me to listen for voices that rise neither from the tongue nor the throat. Before that day I heard but dully, and naught save clamor and loud cries came to my ears; but now I have learned to listen to silence, to hear its choirs singing the song of ages, chanting the hymns of space, and disclosing the secrets of eternity.”
Great composers like J.S. Bach wrote at the head of their compositions “A.M.D.G.”, the Latin initials for “To the Greater Glory of God.” Similarly, when musicians create and perform from a devotional and self-realized state, this intent, at the level of quantum physics, formats their music into an energetic formula that expresses the enlightened perspective of love or what Pythagoras called ‘Music of the Spheres’, a series of frequencies and harmonics that would be analogous to what Abraham Maslow would have described as a state of Self-Actualization, or what Yogananda would have called Self-Realization …thoughts of love, compassion, forgiveness, empathy, etc…all of the higher orders of thinking that move us from the linear and dualistic view of the world …right/wrong …good/bad …connected/separate…into more of a holographic understanding of the Divine inner connectedness of all things.
My belief is that the soul already operates on this same frequency, that of the “Music of the Spheres” or Om, Aum, Love, Christ, Buddha, Krishna Consciousness (all the same thing), and when we experience Sacred music that reflects these same harmonics, physiologically through the ears, and intuitively through the psyche, it is like two computers talking the same protocol, The Law of Sympathetic Vibration dictates that the mind will resonate correspondingly. Therefore, the process of listening to spiritually-inspired or Sacred music, establishes the protocol whereby the mind stills and the body relaxes.
In this state, the mind is moved into a present time reality where the sacred vibration of harmony (OM, Aum, Amen, or Cosmic Vibration) is least distorted and the mind is quiet enough to both witness and remember the Song of the Self, or the mystical principle of the “I AM”, the Divinity within. Here, the mind is moved from passive hearing to an active listening of the “Word” or “Primary Harmony”. In other words, the process of listening to Sacred music empowers the mind to perceive and release illusions of fear, pain and suffering so that it experiences and remembers the reality of the love it already is. Thus, atonement and the integration of Divine Will, is made possible.
Back in Dallas, I had been downsized and let go from my job as a sales engineer at Johnson Controls. Fortunately, this happened about the same time I decided to work more full time on the concert. However, having made this decision over the next several years I found that I was in for a very rough financial ride… Eventually, I had to move from my luxury apartment and sleep on friend’s couches, I ate what was given, I had no car, had no phone, and spent my last dime over and over again paying for stamps to send letters about the concert to people who I thought would help. I know what it is like to have just enough money in your pocket to buy a cup of coffee and then eat free bread, butter and jam at a cafe…I wore my power suits to important meetings…often riding the bus or walking to the meetings…I lived on the ragged edge of poverty all the while working every waking moment on the concert. My father, who was a very successful physicist who ran the space program for TRW thought I had lost my mind. For years he couldn’t bring himself to speak to me. At times I thought he might be right. It was a very lonely journey. Eventually, I managed to get on my feet financially and I moved into my own apartment.
Then one day, I read a cover story article in Newsweek magazine on the emerging Self-esteem movement launched by a California Assemblyman in Silicon Valley by the name of John Vasconcellos. As I would later find out he was also Chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, responsible for balancing the state’s some 60 billion dollar annual budget. After getting about half way through a letter I had begun writing to introduce myself to him and tell him about the concert (originally called “The World Music Festival”) my inner voice spoke very loudly again:
“Pick up the phone and call him now”
I hesitated for a moment and the message repeated itself. I immediately picked up the phone and called his office. I got right through to his personal secretary and left her brief message with my name, phone number, and the reason why I was calling.
About five minutes later the phone rang and on the other end I heard “Hi, this is John Vasconcellos returning Steve Robertson’s call.” We spoke about his Self-esteem work and about the concert I was producing. Over the next several months I was in constant contact with John’s Self-Esteem staff, waiting for the right moment to invite John to join the Board of Trustees for the concert. After about seven months of contact I was finally told the timing was right to talk to John about this and so I did. He agreed and at the same time he told me “Use my name…but don’t expect much of my time because I’m overwhelmed with balancing the state’s budget.”
I hung up the phone and faxed the Board invitation to John. He signed it and not more than about five minutes later John’s secretary called saying that he was doing an overnight in Dallas in route to Florida to do a speech and asked if I could have dinner with him.” “Sure”, I said. About a week later I picked John up at the airport and we stayed out until about 3 o’clock in the morning talking about world politics and spirituality.
I drove him back to his hotel and then woke up early in the morning to have breakfast with him and see him off. Over the course of the next year, John would travel to meet with me in Dallas and I to meet with him Santa Clara. We became best friends. About a year afterwards, John invited me to move to Santa Clara to work on the concert and live with him in his spare room. He had always said that California was the place to do the concert. So, in 1990 I sold everything I owed, piled it into an old Cadillac I purchased for $400 and drove out to California on may-pop tires and moved into John’s place.
I was with John, side by side and day in and day out. He graciously introduced me to everyone on Capitol Hill, I was his shadow. He had become my best friend, my mentor, and a father figure. After moving to California I worked to strengthen the Board of the concert.
In time, I moved to Los Angeles to run the Whole Life Expo, as I continued working on the concert. Eventually, I had the idea of producing a promotional video for the concert. The consulting fees that I had gotten from running the Expo were running out. Through dear friends named John and Mark I was introduced to a wonderful man named Peter who ran a non-profit organization and had office space that he offered to share with me on Avenue of the Stars near Beverly Hills.
Once I settled into my new office I began writing the script for the promotional video that I had envisioned. Mark, a film director, introduced me to another young film maker named Shandor who had his own camera equipment and was pioneering a new film look that used 35mm film cut into 8mm strips on a fancy French 8mm camera. He was willing to help shoot the promotional piece if I could acquire the film stock. Determined to do this I attended a film screening for ECO, an entertainment industry organization that produced beautifully inspiring environmental film trailers. There, I met an executive from Eastman Kodak who I told about the promotional DVD I wanted to produce and shortly thereafter he arranged to donated can of 35mm film. I was on cloud nine. Now I had the film, and someone to shoot it but, no money for a production budget.
Through my friend John Vasconcellos I was introduced to Gary, the President of the California Wellness Foundation. I submitted a proposal and they provided $3000 to produce the film. From that date forward I drove around the state with Shandor filming the people in the promotional trailer. With this video I secured the donation of the LA Coliseum, DDB Needham to do the ad campaigns, the stage, lighting, and sound were donated, a billboard was donated, Casey Kasem provided money to print the Billboard banner, board member Marc Brickman who was the lighting and stage designer for Pink Floyd, Genesis, offered to design the show; I also enrolled the original LIVE AID team – Mike Mitchell (Executive Producer), Howard Zuckerman (Executive in Charge of Production), and Jim Tuverson (recently deceased) and Vince Darago (who both coordinated the global telecast for Live Aid). The event, slated for June of 1995….was just a little ahead of its time and the biggest act we had was YES. The event lacked the necessary marquee performers such as Bono, Madonna, Peter Gabriel, Elton John, Sting, Phil Collins, etc. Big name acts that were required to sell the event. At the time much of the popular music lacked spiritual depth that I felt was vital to feature in the broadcast.
From this experience of getting so close to producing the concert I learned many valuable lessons. Firstly, the Cause that the event benefits is less relevant than the names of the marquee value of the musicians who are headlining. Artists like Yanni hadn’t made it big…he hadn’t done the PBS special “Live at the Acropolis” yet…which became their biggest fundraiser to date raising $75 million in three airings, and later the number one selling concert DVD. I had met with the President of HBO, to talk about a production partnership only to find out that he didn’t even know who ENYA was. I was astonished, given recent trade publications that stated that she had sold over 25 million albums worldwide. Despite that, she had never performed live which in and of itself presented a huge logistical problem.
The most important lesson that I learned was this – without the money you do not get the big marquee artists to commit (and even artists like: Vangelis, Yanni, Enya, and Kitaro were not and still are not considered headliner “A-list”) and without the A-List talent, you will not get the A-List fortune 500 sponsors. It is the classic Hollywood chicken and egg story. So in June of 1995, two weeks before the concert, with not enough tickets sold, and lovingly caring call from Jon Anderson, I made the decision to pull the plug on the event. I was exhausted. Painfully, I called everyone involved one by one to tell them of the decision and expressed my disappointment in letting them down. To my surprise, each and every one of them compassionately understood and promised to be there if and when I was able to pull it together at some future point.
Friend and Board Member, Gary Zukav, aware of my exhaustion, graciously and generously paid to have me stay at a retreat in Maui for a couple weeks to relax and heal. I called my father, who had recently softened. He sent me some money along with an airline ticket. I returned to LA somewhat rested, and healed, but with little money and no place to stay. The very small 7×12 ft. trailer I had graciously been given to live in over the year leading up to the Concert in June was on a property that had now been sold. I resolved myself to work and heal Steve financially before attempting the project again. I came back from Maui and started painting houses. I produced a major fundraiser for Big Sisters. I took a full time job selling engine management and Data Acquisitions systems for Indy Cars, and then eventually started my own business in the insurance industry.
From June of 1995 through 2008 I did really well financially, especially once I started my insurance business. Around the end of 2008 I began noticing that I was working twice as hard for a forth the money. Newly elected President Obama was promising an important health coverage plan for all, one as far as I was concerned was way overdue. The company I was working was being challenged to deliver new coverage plans that they were promising myself and other agents. Our company was merging with another company I had concerns about. We were recently purchased and our stock was at an all time high. I began to read the signs. I was taking the money I was earning and investing it back into the concert. I was turning my continuing frustrations with my insurance business towards a more positive and financially solid future with the concert. So around this time I decided to cash out all of my company stock and fully invest my time in concert.
In the months that followed I reached out to artist after artist, new Steering Committee and Advisory Board members. I partnered with the drink company Cell-nique promotional bus tour I put together called “Peace Has Begun” which placed two broadcast journalists on a cool double-decker peace bus that traveled the country examining the lives of people make a difference and bringing about peace.
During the early part of 2009 I was introduced to a new friend Tyler Norris. He would open the door for me to connect into Palestine and the holy site of Manger Square Bethlehem. Through his contact Hani Masri and Hani’s assistant Nell I was introduced to Sami Khoury of ABS Marketing. Sami really got the concept of the concert and the importance of it relative bringing a lasting peace to the Middle East region. About this same time I met famed TV/Internet director Marc Scarpa. In June, after extensive ground work and meeting scheduling coordinated by Sami, Marc and I traveled to Palestine to begin production scouting the venue and determining production resources. Marc and I were looking to produce the concert on September 21st during the UN International Day of Peace. Everyone wanted to support the effort however time was against us and there was no prior precedence of a large scale concert like this taking place in Palestine. We missed our September date.
I traveled to NY city and the UN with new Steering Committee member Simon Mainwaring to meet with the heads of UNRWA. Simon was famed as one of the world’s top Advertising and Branding creative directors. The UNRWA program wanted to support our efforts. The head of the program connected me with Fritz Froehlich, the local Middle East representative. After long philosophical talks it was apparent we were on the same page. We began working together with Sami. We again set another target date for September 2009. It was coming apparent that we just were not going to be able to pull together the necessary sponsorship funding for the concert. I was however determined to deliver the Medical Mission to the Palestinian Government and people as we had planned for the post PPOE concert (September 25th, 2010) activities.
On Friday, September 24th, following months of late-late nights and early morning production planning, we made our first official journey. PPOE team members Steve Robertson, Colin Mangham, and Michael Garcia traveled with Dr. Paul Dougherty and his two surgical assistants, Alexis and Marshall Jacobe, all flew from Los Angeles’ LAX airport to Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv Israel. From the airport we traveled via United Nations transport through Jerusalem, into Bethlehem, on to Hebron and back to Jerusalem.
As we had been in production planning for months leading up to our original concert target date of September 25, 2010 we had also looked to produce a medical conference and deliver cataract surgical procedures to the elderly and other underprivileged people including UNRWA refugees in Palestine. We began working with St. John Eye Hospital in Jerusalem to coordinate the cataract surgical gifts being offered by our PPOE colleague, Dr. Paul Dougherty, widely considered to be one of the world’s leading eye surgeons.
Around the first of September in 2009, which notably marked the reinstatement of internationally sanctioned peace accord dialogue between Palestine and Israel, PPOE was informed by USAID that funds previously allocated for the concert were being diverted to more immediate and critical needs in the Gaza Strip, chiefly to help mitigate heightening political issues between Hamas and Fatah. As an unfortunate result, without these funds the Concert would have to be rescheduled.
With plans for the cataract procedures already in place, and patients’ expectations now depending on this PPOE medical mission, Paul and Alexis jumped into action to source the necessary medical supplies. At the same time Sami Khouri at ABS Marketing in Ramallah and Fritz Froehlich of UNRWA set out to procure the necessary funds to transport the medical and production teams, locate hotels and ground transportation, and also help get all of the medical supplies secured to fulfill the promise of gifting vision back to 40 deserving Palestinian people.
Dr. Jeanne Garth at St John Eye Hospital in Jerusalem worked closely with me, Paul and Alexis to do the preparatory background eye examinations and evaluations. Alexis worked tirelessly – seriously, in the truest definition of the word – to secure donations of all of the medical supplies, lenses, and disposables required for the procedures from suppliers and manufacturers. Colin worked what seemed like day and night to help finalize the budget and marketing materials. Michael continued to think through logistics and support me any way he could. And Sami, Fritz, and I worked the phones and blasted out emails looking for the funding to cover the transportation, accommodations and other hard costs.
With about a week left before the scheduled dates, and with the whole mission hanging in the balance, Fritz called to inform me that he had received a funding commitment from his friend Dalell Mohmed at KinderUSA to help with the trip costs. A few days later on September 16, only eight days from our planned departure date on the 24th, Alexis called brimming with excitement to inform me that she had gotten the last and final required donation of disposable surgical packages.
We now had to come up with the rest of the money to put the team on a plane and find a way to ship all of the supplies. The final weekend was heavy upon us. We had less than a week to go and still not nearly enough money. I drove from Los Angeles 90 miles to the home I owned out of town and where I had a real estate agent inventorying the house to sell all the furniture so it could be leased.
Candidly, my back-up plan was to use this money to in part or total to fund the airline tickets. The furniture sale as it turned out generated less than $4,000 – not even close to enough to purchase the airline tickets, and on top of this I was still were looking at an additional $2,000 to overnight ship all of the medical supplies (which, by the way, we managed to transport in four very large and conspicuous bags through some of the toughest airport security in the world – this is for another story).
After days and days of phone calls, often ending at 4am, trying to sell all of my furniture, I must say I was both physically, emotionally exhausted. That Saturday night of September 18th, just six day before our medical team was to get on a plane to Tel Aviv, I decided just to surrender, I had no other choice. I had done everything and all I could possibly do. With this decision there came a sense of calm and serenity. I knew that I and everyone on our team had done all that could have possibly been done. I didn’t know how things were going to be taken care of … however I had a strong sense that it would. All I could do was detach and turn it over into God’s hands, where it was already.
The following morning I awoke relaxed, at peace and feeling assured that everything was going to work out one way or another. I did my regular mediation and completed my prosperity affirmation. I decided to drive to the nearby Starbucks, get a cup of coffee and check for emails. As I sat and started to sip my coffee and sort through emails looking hopefully for a reply of support, at precisely 9:53 am, my cell phone rang. It was Sami … “Some good news, Steve.”
I thought to myself, I could sure use some Good News. He continued, “Hashim Shawa, the President of the Bank of Palestine, has committed $20,000 to cover all of the airline tickets, and Sami (Abu-Dayyeh) at the Ambassador Hotel will cover all of the rooms and put on a thank you function for the team.” Tears poured from my eyes. I was overwhelmed with a soulful gratitude and thanks that, even now, is so humbling to describe. I thanked Sami over and over again through my tears and quivering voice. The trip was now on.
Our adventures in finding a way to transport all of our medical supplies to St. John’s, all of the amazing people we met, the eye opening perspectives of the scope of Israeli settlements in Palestine, the in-depth interviews on the conflict and the perspective of people who were given new vision will all be the subject of a documentary film called “Visions of Peace,” being directed by Michael and produced by Colin and myself. The team was filming almost the whole time and captured some amazing footage. More to come soon, but for now, in this moment…
To each generous person who donated funds, accommodations, services, medical supplies and even music; who helped to advise us; who serves on our PPOE Steering and/or Advisory team …
To Paul Dougherty, Colin Mangham and Michael Garcia who took time out of their typically wall-to-wall weekly schedules to fully embrace this mission now accomplished …
To Todd Brown and Kenny Fields at West Post Digital, who have supported PPOE with office space, technical expertise, post-production services, big hearts and much more …
To our own PPOE colleagues Gregory Markel and Marc Scarpa, and Paul’s team Alexis and Marshall Jacobe …
To each organization and person listed in the video credits, including Dr. Khuloud Daibes (Palestinian Tourism Minister), Hashim Shawa (Bank of Palestine), Sami Abu-Dayyeh (NET Tours), Sami Khoury (ABS), Fritz Froehlich (UNRWA), Dr. Jeanne Garth, Dr. Abdul Malek Jaber, Dr. Riyadh, Dallel Mohmed (KinderUSA), Said Murad (Sabreen), and Dr. Kayed Kalayka …
And to everyone, every kind person who offered to help, made a small contribution, offered a kind word of encouragement…a prayer for success…
I thank you from my heart.
In fact, we all thank you from our hearts. We did this all together. We collectively made a difference in the lives of 40 very deserving and grateful people. We’ve helped show the world that we can each make a difference in bringing love and healing to one another…a step toward, yes indeed, peace on earth.
Moving towards our November 11, 2011 (11.11.11) projected concert date we did a fundraiser in October just a month prior to the date. The event, though well produced was not well attended. We just had to short of time to promote it. In the end it raised little money. We were however fortunate enough, at that time and during that night, to have received and announced from the Minister of Tourism a formal confirmation from the Palestinian Govt. that they would be covering some $500K of the total production.
We now appeared to have the funding for our concert or so it would ultimately seem. We moved into high gear around this funding commitment, again with the Prayer Cycle album as the overall centerpiece of the concert. Shortly here after, following the heals of Pres. Abbas’s speech at the UN (end of Sept), Palestine was bidding to join the UN and took as an interim step a bid to become a UNESCO world heritage site. This resolution was passed and was immediately met by the US proclaiming to withhold funding to UNESCO and the Israeli Govt. withholding of some $100M in levied tax revenues from Palestinian businesses due to be returned to the Palestinian Authority to run their government.
During this same time we were attempting to get on formal letterhead and seal of approval the commitment of funding from the Minister. I went to bed for days on end grinding my teeth in frustration event though I was meditating. She was traveling abroad around the UNESCO adoption process, and unlike how things work here, no one on her staff could stamp and sign for her. We were loosing valuable time everyday and could not formally reach out to other sponsors without this official confirmation.
This $100M in funding was what the Palestinian Government operated on, and as a result, the employees of the Government, schools, hospitals, etc. went without pay from about the middle of Oct. through Dec. The $500K in promised funding from the Minister of Tourism and the Government now basically had no liquidity backing it. We were forced to turn more specifically to the Palestinian Private sector for funding. A tough turnaround given the time frame we now had to work with and how their sponsorship funding cycles normally work (12 months prior planning).
Our team members in Palestine, Fritz from UNRWA and the Swiss Govt. and Sami from ABS marketing, both based in Jerusalem, were meeting with all NGO’s executives and private sectors executives around the clock. Funding from the US Consulate that we had previously been promised went away due to the new position of the US in opposition to UNESCO adopting Palestine as a world heritage site. Tor, the Ambassador from Norway, who had promised funding was being transferred to Egypt as their new Ambassador and subsequently before leaving allocated some 60 million in funding to a East Jerusalem Palestinian Hospital to keep it from going under. We were rapidly edging towards our internal production cut off date to be able to pull off the concert in November and determined that we should look at a fallback date and potentially reset the date to December 25th, a date we had prior discussed with the Minister.
Simultaneously, I was desperately attempting to find an orchestra to perform with for the Prayer Cycle. Tor, had thought that the Norwegian orchestra would be able to perform. We could never secure a firm answer and there we just little to no other options. Time was slipping away and we had passed a point of being able to pull off the Nov. 11th date production wise so were forced reset the concert to our fallback date of December 25th.
I had to now go back, with hat in hand, to all of the talent and ask them if this new December date would work. All I asked agreed. The Minister was on board with this new date however her travel arrangements and the political game board that was now in full play around UNESCO was again slowing our ability to reconfirm this new date in writing and on official letterhead. No one could believe that we confirmed Christmas Day in Bethlehem and we had to have this document to confirm to sponsors it was real. As a result, I, we couldn’t pitch to corporate sponsors.
In an attempt to still pull something off in November relative to our originally promised concert, and now promoting toward our new December date, I arranged and produced through my long friend John Quigley (famed Aerial artist), Fritz, Sami and UNRWA to have some 1000 Palestinian refugee children under the Mount of Temptation in Jericho form the Picasso Peace Dove and spell out the words “Love All”. The aerial image and press was to serve as a promotional campaign for the new December 25th concert date and help generate corporate sponsorship interest for the event.
Sami and Fritz raised the $10K to produce the campaign and produced it as planned on November 25th. Fritz courageously fronted the costs on his own person credit card. As a result of this aerial art image formed by UNRWA Palestinian refugee children the photo and video went around the world. This is one of the first times in history Palestine generated positive publicity for itself and its people. The Palestinian Government and its private sector were now paying attention to us and the message of hope we could send to the world.
Over the course of several weeks: Fritz, Sami and I were also able to confirm the hotel, ground and accommodations for the musicians and production team however, we were scrambling everyday to come up with the funding to cover the hard cost of airline tickets. About $90K worth. We were closing in on next go or no go production milestone for the December 25th date. Still no funding for airline tickets…I had literally called and/or emailed everyone I knew including Richard Branson. Within this same time frame Jonathan Elias’s musical director came back with a $20K budget to ready for the orchestration of the Prayer Cycle and we still scrambling around to find the funding to fly the musicians there and locate an orchestra. Obviously as we’re nearing this go or no go date we’re looking at fall back plans as to ensure a minimum concert that we could produce.
Our team had all agreed that we could not afford to postpone one more time without the clear reality of losing all credibility with the Palestinian Government and private sector we were and had been negotiating with. And, as we were nearing this cut off date, and no funding to cover the airline tickets we short listed musicians who we knew really wanted to go and could work with a house band. Eventually, after getting the Prayer Cycle budget (which we did not have the funds to cover) and not being able to confirm an orchestra we had to abandon the performance of the Prayer Cycle album.
I had no option other than to scale everything back on the scope of the concert in order to meet with the funding that Fritz thought he could bring in. He succeeded. On December 14th he secured a $25K commitment from the Swiss Government to cover the airline tickets (coach only) for our scaled down musical team, myself and broadcast team to fly to Palestine. He found an travel agency close enough to him that trusted in the commitment of the Swiss Government to make good on their written promise of funding. They graciously fronted the money and purchased all of the tickets.
I left for Palestine on early Sunday morning of the 18th and landed mid afternoon on the 19th. The artists landed on the 22nd and 23rd minus Alex Ebert, who misplaced his passport and now couldn’t come. We had a day of rehearsals with a local house backup band, each artist had 1 hour, on Thursday the 24th.
With all the musical acts now in Jerusalem, our local producer whom we’ve done weeks of prior prep with, who was intimately aware of the Palestinian Government funding problems, now decides to play hardball with us and demand payment of some $15K up front before he engages his production team. We were basically sunk without his help. We had just barely funded the artists airline tickets and now this. I spoke with Sami the owner of the Ambassador Hotel and our ground and accommodations sponsor for the event. He was intimately familiar with our efforts and of all of the hard work that both Fritz, Sami and I were undergoing. He ultimately came to the rescue and resolved this particular funding requirement.
On Thursday, Peter Joseph of Zeitgeist delivers the two videos for the broadcast to us. This same day Rutger Hauer delivers his promised video. After reviewing all of the content on Thursday from 11PM to Friday 6:30Am I rewrote and completed the show script. The artists had Friday to relax, tour around and recover from the trip. I worked through my exhaustion, fueled by the goal of the concert finally being realized.
I traveled to the concert venue, the Bethlehem Convention Palace, that day to insure preparations and meet with the local production and broadcast teams and prepare for the mini concert song of “Imagine” to be performed by the group on Christmas eve morning – Saturday at 11Am in Manger Square in front of the Church of Nativity.
Early Saturday morning everyone loaded into the Tour Bus and we arrive to a packed Bethlehem and Manger Square. The stage set-up was not organized. We were facing gail-force winds that threatened to strip the makeshift roof off of the stage. Mic and music stands had no sand bags on them and were blowing over. They didn’t have sand bags so I desperately called to Sami to bring twelve water ottles to me so that I could tape them together and fabricate some weigh-downs for all of the stands. I hussled to help get the balance of the instruments in place including the key board. We quickly brought all of the musicans onto stage and literally just pulled off them singing and the filming of them performing the song “Imagine” – 30 seconds after they completed the song the Muslim Mosque chant occurred.
Marc Scarpa, our broadcast director and his assistant Victor…finished the last show on the X-Factor on Thursday evening late and on Friday morning they were on a plane which landed in Tel Aviv on Saturday afternoon. This was just in time to connect back at the Bethlehem Convention Palace with the video taping team from Manger Square so that the images of the “Imagine” song could be cut into the live broadcast the following day. Marc and Victor both attended the Saturday night midnight mass at the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem capturing additional images for the broadcast got back to the hotel in Jerusalem at 3am. They had a local editing team work through Saturday night through Sunday morning the editing on the video broadcast inserts.
The following day, Sunday, all of the artists loaded into the bus and we headed for the Convention Palace for an 11Am arrival. Marc and Victor were there ahead of us waiting for our Israeli Broadcast truck. It arrived 5 hours late at 3:30PM leaving Marc no time to block the camera shots. The theater projector had blown a card and we scrambled to find another projector to replace this one directly above the stage. Scaffolding had to be constructed to get to the projector and replace it…blocking our ability to do rehearsals on stage.
The broadcast truck operator, after arriving late, was uncooperative in allowing Marc and Victor to install necessary equipment to make the broadcast happen… eventually did allow this to occur. The show host, that we located only at the day before, who had been driven in from Jordan show day morning and while crossing the bridge in Amman was now being held at an Israeli check point, as we found out, only hours away from the concert go live, she was being held up in a silent security quarantine – been there for hours – no one was talking to her. Fritz used UN security connections to have her released. She got the the Palace somewhat frazzled.
I frantically worked to tweak the script and show run down. There was no time for a full run through. Still issues in getting the newly installed projector to work…moments away from the live show… The Palestinian Government now wanted the show to be spoken in Arabic as well. Our show host is freaked out about this. She’s never worked on camera before and having to translate the script on the fly was too much to ask. I make the call to do it in English only and have another team set up a translator back stage to do the Arabic. The projector is finally fixed. I have to replace the stage manager a the very last moment. We’re ready we go live without at run through or any real rehearsal. We go live…
Fortunately, it all worked well and I’m pleased with the show. Joanne showed up to perform with Gary Nicholson with a dead mic and couldn’t hear herself (happens even at the Grammy’s as we just saw) but other than that, the show turned out real well.
Randy Copus of the musical group 2002, one of our PPOE Musical Ambassadors is currently help us to re-edit all the show elements in post. We will have an amazing final product that will further help us share the universal message of love and peace on our planet.
As most do not know, I left for Palestine having spent everything I owed to produce the event. I/we fulfilled on our commitment to taking care of all of the artists, Marc, Victor and we had just enough to do this, not a penny more. I returned exhausted on every possible level. In the days that followed my return I learned that my Father was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. He was given 3-6 months. He’s presently undergoing a new type of chemo therapy and is completing the final treatments. The PET scan will tell us the results at the first of next month. I’ve been taking some time just to rest as best possible with the stress of restarting financial streams and dealing with my Father’s illness. My Dad’s treatments seem to be helping.
Our December 25, 2011 concert in Palestine was an important step that has now moved us past the proof of concept phase for PPOE. Most importantly, we did it. It was a 25 year journey for me. Sami and Fritz were courageous and amazing on everly level. This could have never been accomplished without them.
Fortunately, we had a positive practice run that puts us in a stronger position to produce a much larger show, one that we want to feature the Prayer Cycle albums. Fortunately, the Convention Palace is now a turn key facility and there will be no future need for outside broadcast trucks. The Bethlehem Convention Palace is owned by Consolidated Construction Company, the world’s largest construction company. They have plans to create a large concert amphitheater 25,000 plus person plus outside of the Solomon Pools area that are part of this 50 acre complex. The owner of the Convention Palace is a weatlhy and kind Palestinian man who has committed a large sum of money towards the promotion of Bethlehem.
For twenty-five years I’ve never lost sight of the vision of producing the Concert. A vision that we brought into reality on 12.25.11, Christmas Day, in Bethlehem.
My heart felt thanks to each and every person along the way that helped to support me and the vision of the concert in anyway.
With blessings and peace,