"During her recent tour of Vietnam, Mary McBride and her band provided spellbinding performances that left audiences in three different cities crying out for more. She also played heartwarming, personal performances for disabled and blind children, hospital patients, and other Vietnamese who would normally never have a chance to experience live music. As U.S. Consul General in Ho Chi Minh City, I can say that Mary’s commitment to playing for disadvantaged audiences helped to build the people-to-people ties that undergird our growing relationship. As a Vietnamese American, watching Mary collaborate on stage with Vietnamese artists made me very proud of our two great cultures."
- An T. Le, Consul General,
U.S. Consulate General Ho Chi Minh City
Between April 2 and 15, singer-songwriter and HDI spokesperson Mary McBride and her five-piece band brought their unique blend of American country, R&B and old-school rock ‘n roll to Lao PDR, Vietnam and Taiwan under the auspices of the U.S. Embassy in Vientiane, the U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City and the American Institute in Taiwan. The tour was sponsored, in part, by Eva Airlines, the Intercontinental Hotel (Ho Chi Minh City), Sofitel Saigon Plaza Hotel, Gibson Guitars, and ZT Amplifiers.
McBride’s program included performances, master classes, workshops and humanitarian outreach in Vientiane, Ho Chi Minh City, Hue, Quang Tri, Taoyuan, Koahsiung, Liugui, and Pingtung. With a focus on younger audiences and disenfranchised and disabled audiences, McBride brought American music to many audiences who ordinarily do not have the opportunity for cultural exchange.
The tour began on April 2 in Vientiane, where McBride performed at the COPE Center, a local not-for-profit organization that provides access to orthotic/prosthetic devices and rehabilitation services. There, McBride and her band toured COPE’s facilities and watched an extraordinary video about Mr. Bang, a young cluster ammunition survivor who tells his story of how COPE supported him to receive a prosthetic leg and rebuild his life. The band then performed a concert at COPE’s facility for approximately 100 children, many of whom are living with physical disabilities.
That evening, the band performed a live concert at the home U.S. Ambassador to Lao PDR Karen B. Stewart, who invited members of the diplomatic community and special guests of the Embassy. The band performed two sets with a short intermission, during which Ambassador Stewart invited guests to view the art in her home, which was all by women artists from Lao PDR.
The following evening, April 3, McBride performed an unprecedent to a crowd of hundreds as the sun set over the Mekong was really a special experience.
Ambassador Stewart continued, “I was also glad that the concert gave me an opportunity to showcase the humanitarian work that the Humpty Dumpty Institute does for school children in Laos. With support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, HDI has implemented a school meals program that gives 18,000 children a snack at school every day. The project works with villages to provide water, latrines, and new school buildings, and to clear any UXO prior to construction. All in all, it was a great show and a great experience, and I hope we can hold more concerts like it in the fed concert at Chao Anouyong Park on the bank of the Mekong River. Ambassador Stewart wrote: “This was something we had been hoping to do for a long time, and we finally got the permission to try. To make things even better, we were able to feature American singer-songwriter Mary McBride and her band, who have been performing all around the world on a tour sponsored by the U.S. State Department and the Humpty-Dumpty Institute. This was their first appearance in Laos, and they rocked the house! Watching Mary perform her unique mixture of country, blues, rock, and soul musicuture.”
The Vientiane Times wrote, “[Mary McBride] received a warm welcome from the enrapt audience as her powerful voice blended blues, soul, country, and rock music. The concert attracted people from the nearby night market and caused traffic jams along Fa Ngum Road as passers-by were drawn in by the show. The highlight of the concert was an ensemble performance with four Lao musicians who accompanied the singer on piano, violin, flute and drums.”
The band continued their tour in Ho Chi Minh City at the Ho Chi Minh City Conservatory of Music on April 6. The Conservatory, which provides music education in undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate level for the southern region of Vietnam, is one of three conservatories in the country. The band performed a short concert and also had the opportunity to hear several students perform before they concluded with a joint performance together at the end of the workshop.
That night, the band performed its most high-profile performance of the tour at the Lan Anh Club, a 4,000 person capacity stadium in Ho Chi Minh City. Tuoitrenews.vn wrote, “Thousands of residents and expats living in Ho Chi Minh City last night flocked to the show of American country band Mary McBride, who offered audiences a remarkable night with around 20 non-stop performances.The climax of the show was when the band sang the hit which has made their fame “No One’s Gonna Love You Like Me” - soundtrack of the Academy-award winning film Brokeback Mountain. The whole stadium waved their cell phones with the lights on along to the melodies, making the venue look like a beautiful starry night. Then, the most surprising part of the show is the performance of the southern folk song “Ly Chieu Chieu” in amazingly fluent Vietnamese though the band just arrived in the country 2 days ago.”
The following morning, the band traveled to Central Vietnam to the city of Hue, and joined Vietnamese singer Le Cat Trong Ly to perform for patients and doctors in the courtyard of the Central Hospital. This was the first time that the Festival organizers made a special effort to reach out to members of their community who would not be able to attend regularly scheduled Hue performances. Tran Anh Ty, a patient from Huong Tra District, said this was the first time he had enjoyed live music."Although I'm in pain, listening to the songs and music makes me feel happy," he said.
That afternoon, the band played a performance at the Center for Teenagers of Thua Thien Hue Province. The performance was organized by the Office of Genetic Counseling and Disabled Children, an NGO under the umbrella of the Hue University of Medicine and Pharmacy, and the audience included three participating organizations. These included Duc Son Pagoda orphanage; The Future Shelter, which provides special education for children with intellectual disabilities; and The Hope Shelter, which houses fifty disabled children. The event started with performances by the children, followed by a performance by Mary and the band at which all of the children ended up on the stage dancing.
The following morning, the band drove from Hue to Quang Tri, where McBride met up with HDI Country Director Jeanne Samuel and HDI advisory Chuck Searcy to visit Project Renew, one of HDI’s partners which is working to remove Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) in Quang Tri Province, the most heavily bombed and shelled area of Vietnam during the war. The band then visited Mushroom with a Mission Project, a new partnership between Project RENEW and the Humpty Dumpty Institute (HDI), intended to help UXO-affected families overcome the tragic circumstances of their injuries and disabilities, usually combined with severe poverty.
From there, they continued on to theLand Mine Action Visitor Center, where McBride gave a speech and welcomed the special guests, including HDI’s partners from the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in Hanoi, Vietnam, Mr. Borshow Chen and Mr. Fu Heng Chang. They then watched several young performers perform before they played for 45 minutes forthe crowd, which included political leaders, non-profit leaders, students and landmine victims, many of whom have benefited from the work of Project Renew and HDI.
On the morning of April 10, McBride and her band performed at the Hue Conservatory of Music, formed by merging music faculties at the Fine Arts College under the Hue University and the Thua Thien-Hue Cultural and Fine Art School, and a number of research, training establishments and art troupes in Thua Thien-Hue Province. The band had the great opportunity to hear student ensembles perform traditional music genres, including Hue’s court music and the Gong culture of the Central Highlands, which have both been recognized as oral and intangible heritage of humanity by UNESCO.
On April 11, the band drove to Huynh De Nhu Nghia Shelter, a shelter which houses 40 female students from 4 to 22 years old. All of the students are visually impaired, and many were extraordinary musicians. The band’s arrival was met with great enthusiasm, and they had the opportunity to hear the beautiful girls perform their traditional instruments before playing a short set for them. Mark Spencer, who played guitar and lap steel on the tour, wrote, “Today we went to a school/shelter to play for blind girls from all over Vietnam. They all came out in their school uniform dresses and crowded around us and sang to us and one little girl wandered toward me reaching out for a hand to hold, She had so much trust and such a direct sweetness of spirit, it just about stopped my heart right there. Then they played this traditional Vietnamese music on zithers and so forth, and the way they play them also had that same light soulfulness. Quite extraordinary.” While the shelter is used primarily for girls, they invited two young blind boys who played guitar and piano to sit in with the band.
On the night of April 12, Consul General An T. Le organized a special dinner at the White Palace in introduce McBride and her band to Vietnamese artists 5 Dong Ke band, singer Le Quyen, saxophonist Tran Manh Tuan, and Tuyet Loan, hailed as Vietnam’s ”jazz queen.” This was their final performance in Vietnam.
On April 14, Mary and the band performed at the Yi-De Long Term Care Center, where they were welcomed by staff, residents and volunteers when their bus pulled up to the front. The Center had decorated its common space for the party and a dozen residents opened the event with performance by the Ti-de Elders Percussion Group performed to the background of “We Will Rock You.” (link to video here). When Mary and the band took the stage, the volunteers and staff got many residents on their feet and helped other residents in wheelchairs dance in their chairs.
That evening, the band performed for the general public at the Taoyuan County Performing Arts Center. Officially opened in January, 2011, this state-of-the-art facility operates under the direction of the Cultural Affairs Bureau of Taoyuan County Government.
On April 15, the band boarded the bus to drive up to Liugui, a rural district of Kaohsiung City. There, they performed at the Liugui Orphanage for 30 orphans ranging in age from 3 to 18. They also had the opportunity to hear the award-winning choir from the Liugui District. They then drove to Pingtung, where they played a public performance that evening at National Pingtung University of Education, located in Pingtung, the county seat of the southernmost of Taiwan's 19 counties. The performance was hosted by the University’s music department and following the performance, Mary and the band did a Q&A with students and with audience members with special needs.
On April 16, the final day of the tour, the band started the day with a performance at a public care facility for seniors in Kaohsiung called Yien-Cao, which houses and provides services for seniors with no income or family. Mary and the band did a short performance for residents, staff and volunteers. They then performed their final show at the Kaohsiung American School for students and faculty.
at Joe.Merante@theHDI.org or at +1-212-944-7111