Invisible Children GMU welcomes up-and-coming musicians for benefit show

California-based band Branches performs at Invisible Children GMU's spring kick-off benefit show at George Mason University's The Ridge (Photo by Anthony Dao).
California-based band Branches performs at Invisible Children GMU's spring kick-off benefit show at George Mason University's The Ridge (Photo by Anthony Dao).

On Tuesday, Feb.12, George Mason University’s chapter of the non-profit Invisible Children hosted a free benefit show. The event showcased music by three up and coming performers including student artist, Miranda Lapides, the Great American Canyon Band and California-based band, Branches.

Having formed a little over a year ago, the Great American Canyon Band began the show immediately surpassing the audience’s expectations. Based in Baltimore, MD, the band is comprised of husband and wife, Paul and Crystal Masson. Masson described their musical inspirations and aspirations as being extremely wide ranging,

“We listen to everything from Patsy Cline to Frank Ocean,” Masson said.

The Great American Canyon Band captivates its audience with rich, indie-folk harmonies reminiscent of Beach House, Lost in the Trees and Gamble House.

WXPN’s The Key has described the pair as “a gorgeous collection of hypnotic songs that draws on a heady mix of dream pop, acousticana and psychedelia.”

With their album release in May of 2012, the Great American Canyon Band has had a lot of success with the spread of their music along the East Coast. The band was also recently recommended this past October by NPR World Café as a band to look out for.

Great American Canyon Band’s unique hybridization of sound inevitably captivates and hypnotizes their listeners.

They have recently released an additional single entitled “Young Lady” in September. Paul and Crystal plan to return to touring the West Coast in April following the release of their second album, projected for early March.

The Great American Canyon Band was invited to perform at Mason since they are under the same management company as the band Branches, which headlined the show.

Releasing their first EP “O, Light!” in 2010, Branches formed just like any any other band did: a group of friends wanting to make music together.

“I was an RA on campus and our hall was doing this Christmas event. I knew Natalie [Nicoles] sang in one of the chapel bands. I had always wanted to find an excuse to sing with her,” said Tyler Madsen. “So I told her we were doing this Christmas event and if she wanted to sing a song with me. So we did that and wanted to keep playing music together.”

Soon Madsen and Natalie Nicoles began to play with their friends at local art shows and later ended up recording their first EP together. The band’s songs are primarily written by Madsen and Jacob Montague, who plays banjo with the band and helps produce their albums.

After producing their first EP and  touring the West Coast, they got the attention of headquarters for the non-profit Invisible Children in San Diego, California.

George Mason University's chapter of the non-profit Invisible Children, hosted its third benefit show in The Ridge (photo by Anthony Dao).

The organization asked Branches to perform during a fundraising campaign on a livestream. Due to the overwhelming positive response, the band was asked to play for a small intimate show before the Invisible Children "roadies" went out across the country to do advocacy work.

“I think that was one of the most magical shows I think for us,” said Nicoles, the band’s harmonium, glockenspiel, songwriter and vocalist.

The band has continued to perform for various events with the organization and had proceeds from their Christmas tour go to support the work of Invisible Children.  The organization’s overwhelming kindness towards the band has encouraged Branches to continue touring and supporting the organization anyway they can.

As the band tours the East Coast, they have encountered numerous people connected with Invisible Children.

“Basically you get to play a concert for a bunch of cheerleaders,” Madsen said.

Branches’ stop at Mason  was a part of the bands first East Coast tour, a natural transition for the band that has primarily toured the West Coast.

“It’s been really humbling, encouraging and exciting,” Madsen said when asked about how the tour has gone so far. “It’s our first time out here, but it’s made us feel like ‘Oh good, we can come back.’ We don’t have to return with our heads hung in shame.”

The band hopes to continue touring and move towards becoming more independent in their music. That includes writing more songs and continuing their good luck with licensing their songs for television shows.

Branches was the main act for the third benefit show that Invisible Children’s chapter at Mason has held. They have raised funds for on the ground efforts to help former child soldiers. However, since the viral video KONY 2012, the focus of Invisible Children has shifted.

“The next two months are going to be more heavily dedicated to lobbying congressmen and pursuing policy,” said Elizabeth Anderson the Invisible Children GMU arts coordinator.

In the upcoming semester, ICGMU hopes to host a return of former folk fest performer Koji, and hold additional fundraisers.


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