Young musician gathers A-list rockers for benefit concert, CD

Paul Liberatore

Singer/songwriter Sara Wasserman grew up in Mill Valley and is currently living in New York.

This summer, 28-year-old Sara Wasserman will have her first album out after working on it for six years. It won’t be your typical earnest indie debut by an unknown singer/songwriter hoping someone important will hear it.

More than a few A-List rock stars have not only heard it, they’re on it – namely Aaron Neville, Lou Reed, Traffic’s Jim Capaldi, Vernon Reid from Living Colour, the Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir, Stephen Perkins from Jane’s Addiction and the virtuoso young bassist Christian McBride.

Sara’s father is Grammy-winning bassist Rob Wasserman and her mother is music producer Clare Wasserman, who’s now married to Dan Hicks.

For Sara, who grew up in Mill Valley and now lives in New York, hanging with famous musicians is like visiting her relatives.

So, when she asked some of the musicians who’d known her as a child to guest on her record, she didn’t have to plead. They were more than happy to do it.

“These are very personal songs and she wanted to make sure that the people she chose for each song were right,” her mother says. “Everyone she asked said yes.”

Including Lou Reed. When she was a little girl, she would accompany her dad on the road when he toured with Reed, who’s like an uncle to her.

It’s hard to think of louche Lou as an avuncular figure, but the one-time Velvet Underground frontman is more family to her than famous rocker.

“Lou has been part of Sara’s life since she’s been a tiny girl,” her mom says. “He adores her.”

He adores her enough to put down his “Walk on the Wild Side,” hard-rock image long enough to play acoustic guitar – for the first time – on Sara’s upcoming album, a collection of original songs she describes as “acoustic soul.”

“He’s known me for so many years,” Sara says. “To me, he’s a sweetheart. He’s been incredibly supportive.”

Sara’s mom, Clare, tells a story about the lengths to which Uncle Lou was willing to go for her.

“When they went into the studio in New York, Sara said, ‘I really hear acoustic guitar on this,'” Clare recalls. “Lou said, ‘I don’t play acoustic guitar.’ And Sara said, ‘Well, Lou, I hear it on this.’ He looked at her, rolled his eyes, grabbed an acoustic guitar and said, ‘Oh, all right.’ And she was right. It’s fantastic.”

That same willingness to help came through when Sara and her mom asked prominent members of the Marin music community to perform with her at a benefit concert for Casa de Milagros (House of Miracles), an orphanage in Peru she heard about through her friends, actor Woody Harrelson and his wife, Laura Louie, who helped get the home started.

Casa de Milagros, near Machu Picchu in Peru’s Sacred Valley, takes in orphaned and abandoned children living in poverty on the streets of Cusco and surrounding towns.

The Marin benefit, at the 142 Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley, is set for 7 p.m. Sunday with Weir, Wasserman, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek, Maria Muldaur and poet Michael McClure, among others.

“I took it on faith that people would help,” Sara says. “The whole Marin music community has been incredible.”

Sara, who will contribute some of the proceeds from her album to the orphanage, visited Casa de Milagros in August and was deeply moved by its arts-oriented program for the 31 boys and girls in its care.

“It’s an amazing new model for orphanages based on healing through art and music and dance,” she explains. “The kids are taught about organic farming and nutrition and medicinal plants and ways of life they would otherwise never have the opportunity to experience.”

The orphanage is run by a youthful American mother and grandmother known as Mama Kia, who raised six children of her own before traveling to Peru in 1994, witnessing the appalling conditions for children there, and started Casa de Milagros.

She named the orphanage’s founding organization, the Chandler Sky Foundation, after a grandson who died a week after he was born and came to her in a vision, telling her to help ease the suffering of these children.

Mama Kia, who says “music is our No. 1 healing activity,” has traveled from Peru to speak at the benefit on Sunday and to show a film about the orphans she thinks of as her own sons and daughters.

“I’ve never met anyone like her,” Sara says. “She’s just this incredible healer. She’s dedicated her life to raising these kids.”

Since the orphanage is dependent on contributions from abroad for its support, Sara saw the benefit concert as something she could do for Casa de Milagros through her music and her friends in the music business.

“Sara came home and said, ‘Oh, god, Mom, we’ve got to help,'” her mother recalls. “She said, ‘We’ve got to raise some money for their expenses next year.'”

Sara joins celebrities like Ben Taylor, son of James Taylor; the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Curtis Martin of the New York Jets as a supporter of Mama Kia’s work.

“Sara wants to do something more with her music than put it out there in the normal commercial way,” her mom says. “She wants to participate on a higher level with it. That’s always been her goal. She’s always been socially conscious, and she’s always loved kids, so this is a natural evolution. And, as always, the Marin music community came together. It’s the very least we can do.”

IF YOU GO
– What: Benefit concert for Casa de Milagros, featuring Sara Wasserman, Bob Weir, Rob Wasserman and Jay Lane join the Band of Brotherz, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Ray Manzarek from the Doors, Maria Muldaur and poet Michael McClure
– Where: 142 Throckmorton Theatre, downtown Mill Valley
– When: 7 p.m. Nov. 30
– Tickets: $50
– Information: 383-9600, www.142throckmortontheatre.com

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