While recording artists often donate their time and money to charitable efforts, for every group they may put their weight behind, there are countless others who will be turned down. When a disaster hits close to home, however, that’s when you see whose hometown roots run deep.
So after Hurricane Florence hit North Carolina, especially the eastern part of the state, Parmalee didn’t just cut a check to an organization. To hear lead singer Matt Thomas tell it, little time was wasted between viewing footage of the devastation left upon the band’s old stomping grounds and stepping into the recording studio to do their part to help.
The band has roots in Parmele, a small town in Martin County affected by the storm.
The result is the song “Down Town (Hurricane Florence Relief Song).” The song is available on the band’s website, and proceeds of the recording will be donated to the storm’s victims through the Red Cross.
“Well, we thought about doing something for the hurricane victims as soon as we saw the damage,” Thomas said. “It wasn’t very long after I thought about doing it before we did it, probably a couple of days at most. I remember texting our manager and saying, ‘Whatever we can do, just let us know.’ Because I knew that there would be people calling us about (benefit) concerts and things like that. I figured we may as well start putting it all together.”
We talked to Thomas in a break in the band’s tour schedule. They’ll be home this weekend to perform in the Raleigh Christmas Parade.
As one of the true road warriors in country music, playing gigs all around the country throughout the year, the guys in Parmalee don’t take a lot of time off to discuss their personal lives. This interview manages to hit close to home for Thomas, though, as we discuss how those in his life are dealing with the aftermath of Florence, as well as how a band juggles donation requests.
Q: With so many charities out there asking for time, what was it about this event that nudged the band into action?
A: We knew it was directly hitting our home, and the people in these little communities that have helped us out. It was slated to go through Greenville and Robersonville, and all these other places where all of our parents live. We just knew it was as direct a hit on home as possible; it didn’t go through Parmele, but it came close.
Q: How bad were some of your family members hit?
A: I have a sister that lives in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and she was about the worst hit when it really came to my family members. We have friends that live in Lumberton and Wilmington, so it was definitely hitting all of our friends around the eastern side of the state. I know my buddy down in Lumberton was sending me videos of him helping out with his jon boat, getting people out of their houses after the area was flooded.
Q: Many musicians have North Carolina roots, so why do you suppose more of them didn’t come forward with help after the flooding?
A: I don’t know who has done what, personally. I know there have been talks about someone putting on a big charity show in January with North Carolina artists involved, and we’ve been asked to do it, so hopefully the people in charge can actually pull everything together to make that happen. I know there are some North Carolina artists who have thrown in (their support to post-flood efforts), but I’ve just had my head down in my own lane, so I haven’t really been able to pay attention to anything other than what we’re doing ourselves.
I think a lot of it has to do with having to pick and choose what you do when you’re a musical act, because you’re always being asked to do something. I know the offers started coming in for us to do charity things around the area as soon as the water began to fall back. I have friends that work at radio stations there that were asking me, “Hey, we’re doing this thing down in Myrtle Beach, can you help out?” For us, the song thing was the biggest way that we could help out, as well as having a couple of those shows lined up.
It’s tricky, because you want to help the ones that will have the most impact, and raise the most money to help people. You can’t do them all, and you only have so much time that you can volunteer, so you just try to help as many people as you can when you pitch in on things like this.
Q: Federal disaster aid has been slow in being given out to those whose lives were disrupted by the hurricane. Do you view the song as your way of helping out at more of a ground level, almost like a neighbor, more so than a charitable act from a performing artist?
A: It seems like when we finally visited North Carolina after the flooding, which felt like it was around a month later, a lot of the cleanup around the areas we visited had already been done. Past experience has shown me that most people in the areas I’m from get right down to (cleaning and repairing), if they can do it; if they wait around for other people to show up to do it, they may be waiting a while.
Q: You’re also set to perform during the downtown Raleigh Christmas Parade this Saturday. How excited are you for that?
A: It’s an honor to get to perform during this iconic North Carolina parade. “Down Town” is about the resilience and the community spirit that Eastern North Carolinians have — something we witnessed in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence — so we are thankful to be able to help raise awareness and funds for the ongoing recovery efforts through our appearance there. Also, we just look forward to coming home during the holiday season.
For more on the song, go to parmalee.com or parmalee.lnk.to/downtown. The band also will perform at WQDR’s Concert for Carolina Nov. 20 at the Lincoln Theatre. The concert benefits Hurricane Florence victims and thanks first responders. Other North Carolina shows are in Roanoke Rapids Dec. 8 and in Greensboro Dec. 9.