posted on Aug 20, 2015
I am in Prague, at my gate at the airport about to fly home from Europe after a couple extra days here and just wanted to say thank you.
Thank you Europe. Thank you every single person who came to every single show. Thank you to the promoters who took a risk booking us, to the drivers who gave their energy to keep us safe and arrive at the venues on time, to the tour bookers who took their time to create the experience, and to everyone involved with the tour in the bands and otherwise.
But mostly thank you to the people who came to the shows. Thank you, all of you, for supporting us (and for supporting your local scene).
I am thankful that there was never a night where no one showed up. To be half a world away from home and have anyone at all show up for an artistic event is a gift. And not just show up, but engage and connect in different ways. It is a great honor. I’ve been reflecting on connection and how people connected on this tour. Some nights had the sing along dancing craziness, and others had focused attention. Every night, during the song “Are These Our Lives?” I take time to try and make eye contact with every member of the audience that night. That’s when I can tell who is with us in the moment, and even on the “off” nights on this tour, the connection was always there. It might not look like the hardcore photos we all admire sometimes, but that is irrelevant. Life is not supposed to be a caricature of itself. It is supposed to be as it is, in moments.
No band or artist deserves anything. Not us, not anyone (not even Rush). No one HAS to come to a show. That they might WANT to is incredible. When I wrote the lyrics to the Trial album, my goal – and I wrote about this in my journal at the time – was to write lyrics that I would still believe in and fully stand behind even as a 95 year old and even if we never recorded anything else. It didn’t matter if time passed. It still doesn’t.
When writing the Trial LP I was writing for a lifetime, not for a record and certainly not for popularity. I still stand by that. If we wanted popularity the topics certainly wouldn’t have been the ones that ended up on the record. I stand by the lyrics as if I wrote them yesterday. As I said on this tour onstage at the show in London (in regards to refugees), even the topics in the lyrics themselves are unfortunately still relevant. The world’s issues and our personal psychology are ongoing. The sixteen years since we recorded the record is just a blip in time ultimately. It might be twenty generations in hardcore and feel like a lifetime. But hardcore isn’t life. Life is life. Hardcore is a means by which we interpret life. I am thankful for all those who came out to the shows to share in this artistic interpretation.
Ultimately the deepest point in any performer’s bow should come when the audience is leaving, not when they are arriving. I’ve been on stages for my entire life, as a speaker, as a singer, as an entertainer. And oftentimes performers think that the audience is there for the performer. They are not. The audience is there for their own experience. The performer/presenter’s duty and obligation is to serve them, whether there is one person in the audience or a hundred, and regardless of how they respond. If a small audience stands and stares instead of cheering, then that, quite simply, is that night’s dynamic. If a large audience shows less energy than a single person, that too is how the proverbial vegan cookie crumbles.
And we have options in the case of disconnectedness. We can complain about it (and sometimes I have though it’s immature and futile), we can do something about it (by engaging the audience more or playing far more passionately – and i have done both in various ways on stage) but ultimately every night is a unique experience never to be repeated and we have to embrace it as it is. I see this on my spoken word tours. The same story told in one night might bring laughs, and on another night, tears. My responsibility is to be present here and now in those moments with the audience regardless. The bow at the end of any performance is a “thank you” to them, not a recognition of applause. The performer’s bow is deeper depending on the depths of a willingness to thank their audience for their time, and also for their attention and receptiveness, however they might have expressed it. Deep and humble thanks.
I don’t need pile ons and sing-alongs. I only ever hope for connection. I’ve had more than my share of Burning Fight crazy sing-along hardcore moments. That is all icing on the (yes vegan) cake. For me the foundation is and always has been about the people and the connection. And this tour had that at every single show. Even the one or two shows that we didn’t “like” due to this or that reason, or due to how the audience seemed to not be engaged. That’s irrelevant. It’s ego. And would be short-sighted of me to ever think that an audience didn’t care. Even at those shows there were people who connected afterwards with words to share about what the night or the band had meant to them. I am deeply thankful for everyone who shared thoughts and emotions and everyone who took the risk to connect.
The conversations I was able to be a part of and the intricacies and intimacies that people shared meant the world to me. Hardcore to me is and always will be about connection first and foremost. I don’t care what band I am in or with, or without. Trial has had some incredible experiences and impact both on us and on people who have experienced us. But in the end the vocals and music are simply a vehicle for connection. That I have had a chance to listen to hundreds of people share their thoughts and emotions on this tour means so much to me.
When all is said and done, I tour for connection. Not for profit. Not for glory. Not for anything other than face to face contact with people around the world. That’s the mission always.
On this tour, even the nights I wanted to cancel I am thankful for. I for example pushed to cancel London. I was tired and acting like a privileged baby. So I didn’t get sleep. Who cares. So I didn’t get enough food. Again cry me a river. Tell the people of Haiti that the worst part of my day was that the clean water i was drinking was slightly warm, and that i was drinking it while being driven to a room to play a musical show in a vehicle without air conditioning. The ones without homes will ask, “what’s a room?” The ones with homes will ask “What do you mean someone drove YOU around? And in a car?” I am wealthy with experience and privilege.
I’m so glad we didn’t cancel any shows London or otherwise (other than the one where we were stranded in the side of the highways be couldn’t get to Leipzig Germany). But even then let’s be realistic. We broke down at a rest area with a restaurant that made us custom vegan meals, and had a hotel where we could afford if we chose to sleep comfortably. It was SO difficult. My god. I had to carry a bag from the van to my room before sleeping for nine hours without anyone trying to break in or murder me past the locked door and hot shower. It’s shocking that I survived! My tour journal makes it sound like it was a mess. But really it was the slightest inconvenience at worst. If only that day was the worst thing that will ever happen to me in life…
I apologize to anyone with whom I didn’t have enough time to speak one-on-one or to anyone to whom I might have said the wrong thing at times. And I apologize too if in a moment I didn’t remember meeting you before. Tour gets chaotic. There were many moments doing merch when I was very rushed. A guy offered me a granola bar at the merch table in London and i was so rushed to set up after we had arrived late that I didn’t thank him nearly enough. He had read online that the drive had been long and offered that food as a gesture of kindness as soon as we arrived. I hope you’re reading this, granola human. I appreciate you.
The most consistent criticism in my life is that I spread myself too thin and that sometimes individuals might feel as though I am not present with them in moments. For anyone who found that to be true, my apologies. My heart was with you even if my body or mind were failing me in the moment, which does happen from time to time on any tour.
And this tour, with some longer than normal drives to faraway places certainly had its share of challenging moments. No sleep, no air conditioning…in retrospect: whatever, who cares. It was all amazing. Someone asked me how hard the tour was. My answer to her then and my feeling now: we had food, shelter, companionship, no war, no terrorism, no death, no poverty. And that means our “hellish” tour as I have referred to it previously in posts was a privileged heaven compared to a vast majority of the world population’s experiences over the last three weeks. I was stoked out of my mind to play those faraway places and meet people I never would have otherwise had the honor to meet. Getting to and from Serbia for example brought us to the limit of our sanity but it was so worth it. I am so deeply thankful that we got to play there.
In the end, I can’t wait to go out again. Spoken word in 2016, hopefully Between Earth & Sky in 2017 after completing our LP, and also potentially with a new musical project in the works as well.
I am spending the rest of this year finally writing a number of projects, hardcore related and otherwise, and also working on One Hundred For Haiti. I will be thinking about this tour and its lessons about connection and how to bring those lessons to other situations worldwide. Ultimately – after two decades – shows still have me feeling humbled and deeply thankful every night and every tour, this one included.
Until next time, and there will be many more next times in whatever form they happen to take…
posted on Jun 26, 2015
On one of my early trips to Haiti, after the earthquake, I decided to start juggling for the people in the village of Madan Belizé.
Madan Belizé is so poor that when aid workers first arrived, many of the people did not even have clothes. There was no clean water source, no immediate local food source, and the lake nearby had been completely fished out. The people were living by subsistence however they could.
Yet in the midst of all that, it only took five rocks flying aloft to bring a smile to their faces. Epic performing win, where it mattered the most.
(Photo by Brandon Vedder).
posted on Jun 23, 2015
Life goal accomplished. This is Leonardo. He is 90 years old. For years, on random days, he has walked around Green Lake in Seattle wearing a homemade shirt that simply says “SPANISH LESSONS”. I first saw him over a decade ago. I stopped him then and asked about his lessons. He immediately started teaching me words in Spanish for things around me. He finally pointed at the lake and said in English, “This…is my classroom”. I looked for him again for years but never saw him until yesterday when there he was resting on a bench. I asked him if I could study with him even though I had no immediate need to study Spanish. He said he has no students anymore because everyone learns from computers now. Today was our first lesson. We walked very slowly around the lake for two hours and he pointed out details of things around us and translated each of them into Spanish and had me repeat each one. “Most people,” he said, “come here and see nothing. They don’t take the time to really look at anything. I teach you more than just Spanish.” Indeed.
How many of us would take the risk to walk around in public stating to the world “I offer something…you might not want it but I am offering it” the way Leonardo did? And even after his student base vanished? He just kept walking, waiting, hoping. Incredible tenacity, and courage, especially in an era of quick response and immediate validation.
He is a symbol for me of defining your OWN path through what matters most to you, rather than waiting for others to do it for you. He was out there walking, for years. We just didn’t run into one another until yesterday. Number of pupils: 1.
posted on Jun 03, 2015
NPR ran a story yesterday about the recent spike in cholera cases in Haiti. This was a follow up to their story last week about cholera being on the rise. Then today, a major story on ProPublica broke about the Red Cross wasting hundreds of millions of dollars in Haiti since the quake.
As I travel the world, the thing I hear most often is “I want to do something but I just don’t know what”. One Hundred For Haiti’s Rural Water Project saves lives. And we can only make that happen over the next five years with help from people, organizations, businesses, schools, bands, and so on who step up and spread the word and also donate. We are as DIY as can possibly be. All labor for the projects is Haitian. No one makes money from One Hundred For Haiti and no money is wasted. We do what we can, when we can, with the resources we have. We do not have million dollar donors like the Red Cross and other inflated organizations. Our budget is small and bare bones. But we make things happen while others waste time and money on bureaucracy.
In the next few weeks, in addition to the water project, we want to launch a major anti-rape initiative to educate people about child sexual assault in rural communities throughout the south of Haiti where child assaults are on the rise. We can only do these things when people step up and help. If you want to be involved, and make a real change in the world in a place most people have forgotten about, the time is now. Check out our website at: http://www.onehundredforhaiti.org. Be in touch with ideas, and more importantly action, anytime.
Yesterday’s story: http://tinyurl.com/npr-cholera1
Last week’s story: http://tinyurl.com/npr-cholera2
ProPublica exposé on Red Cross:
posted on Apr 18, 2015
CLICK THE IMAGE ABOVE TO READ THE INTERVIEW…or the link below!
The interview site said it best! Greg Bennick is an award-winning speaker, a writer, a curious world traveler, a film producer, the vocalist for the bands TRIAL and BETWEEN EARTH & SKY, a humanitarian activist, the founder of One Hundred For Haiti organization, The Legacy Project, co-founder of The World Leaders Project, a touring spoken word performer, and a guest keynote speaker for all kinds of conferences, companies, educational groups, and research institutes.
In other words, Greg is a dynamic human whose addictive performances, great charm, and thought-provoking angle on various subjects will not leave you indifferent. He’s a passionate and funny entertainer who proves his reputation of utilizing an extraordinary power of language to transform minds using words as weapons.
This interview features Greg talking about all the elements of his life that rarely if ever come up in his commercial work (but maybe they should more often?). A good read if you have some time…
posted on Mar 15, 2015
Read this next part out loud in your best movie blockbuster announcer voice:
“In a world gone mad…one speaker…determined to survive at any cost…makes his way through ice and snow and first class airfare…with no sleep, no food, no sanity…driven only by his sheer and unbreakable will…to get to a keynote on time.”
Never has spending thousands of dollars felt so worthwhile, even though in the midst of it, I wanted to fall into a hole and die.
Happy audience + happy client = happy Greg.
posted on Nov 17, 2014
Two nights ago I won the Toastmasters International, Humorous Speech Contest for District 2 with this 7 minute speech, “The Road to Love is Paved With Good Intentions”.
Toastmasters International contest speeches are between 5 and 7 minutes long and are judged on speech development, content, effectiveness, audience response, delivery, and vocal performance.
This one was a comedic account of my legacy as the last in a line of failed romantics. It was fun to write a special speech for the contest and I am glad it went as well as it did!
posted on Aug 04, 2014
I didn’t know what to think when Life Mastery Radio said they wanted to do an interview. Was I worthy of being called a “life master”? Would I fit their demographic: an interview that started out with centering and deep meditation breathing might not be in line with me?
But as is true of most preconceived notions, they often fall quickly once reality sets in…and I never expected that in the span of an hour we would cover heavy metal drummers, fear of death and how it affects our lives, nonhierarchical organizing, spoken word touring, One Hundred For Haiti and perspectives on international aid work, punk rock, the innate human drive towards creativity, why people might really consider quitting their day jobs, and how media and authority have inspired us to become mentally lazy and disempowered. This was a great hour and I am thankful I got to be a part of it.
posted on Jul 29, 2014
In 1995, I was just out of acting school – having attended in order to learn vocal technique to augment my stage presence as a speaker. Speaking and acting have some interesting similarities in terms of how a conversation is established between performer and audience, most often in live theatre. At the time I was in school, I was unlike my classmates in that I had little desire to be an actor, and no ambition whatsoever to do auditions, etc. I just wanted to be a better communicator. So as not to get swept up into the world of acting, I made an agreement with myself that any fame or fortune that would befall me in the acting world would come TO me, not happen as a result of me going to It. Right in line with that, just after graduation, I was approached by a local 17-year-old director named Gabriel Judet-Weinshel. Gabriel had written a film called “The Last Supper” about a man who learns that he is living his last day. The Person, as this man is called (a sort of Everyperson character) has to reconcile his entire life between sunrise and sundown. Quite a concept for a teenager to develop as much as Gabriel had. I played The Person, and we shot over five days in Seattle. Very few people saw the film, as it wasn’t widely released, but what was significant about it was that Gabe and I worked together brilliantly. He looked at me on the last shoot day and said, “I am going to make movies for the rest of my life. When I cast my first feature, I am going to cast you in it.”
Fast forward to 2011. Its a decade and a half later. I get a phone call. It was Gabriel, now age 30-something. He was in New York, having done exactly what he said he would have done: he had spent his life making movies. He was indeed casting his first feature and he asked me to co-star. My IMDB profile needs a little love, so that was just another reason to say yes to this project. I play, surprise surprise, an eccentric, out-of-work juggler….go figure…who helps a detective figure out a murder mystery and the reasons behind a bizarre set of circumstances in which he sees duplicates – twins – of himself around a city, not all of them benevolent. We shot the film over twenty-one days in New York, and just this past week after a few years had gone by, we reshot one of the scenes which was to have required a number of special effects to make it look the way Gabriel wanted.
The film will be finished later this fall, and if the gods of film have their way, it will be on the festival circuit next year. It was fascinating to be in front again of the camera and experience communication in a different way than I am used to with my keynotes and my spoken word appearances. You don’t get the non-verbal cues that you get from conversation or from an audience. You also don’t get the verbal cues either. You don’t get anything actually: its all generative in your imagination and in how accurately you play the moment. There are good lessons here for when we don’t get back what we hope for from the person to whom we are speaking. What happens in the moment? Do we let that crush us? Sure, we are all insecure fragile creatures but we can also – in moments of need – retreat to our imagination and put another of our abilities to the best possible use: our ability to imagine and envision.
If we envision a reality other than the one we are currently in (this is a uniquely human attribute…no other species in the animal kingdom does this) then we can live as if. As if we are getting the response we want. As if our point is well taken. As if the recipient is on board with us. Often in moments in front of audiences, especially for new speakers, being AS IF is a great method for getting through tight moments. Instead of reacting to the response we received, we can react to the response in a moment that we WANTED to have received. Is it out of integrity to do this? It doesn’t matter: it is performance. And performance as reality creation is an inherent part of any communication. We use our words and tone in specific ways to bring out responses. This is performance too.
If it gets you by to the next scene, I vote to use whatever takes, go for it, and make it happen. Use whatever technique works to make the overall speech or presentation a success. When acting, I am thinking about the fullness of the reality of the situation, even if the camera doesn’t respond in the way I want it to. I can make the result seem like it did.
posted on Dec 20, 2012
Sometimes, the reasons why I do what I do are perfectly clear. Gaining clarity in moments isn’t always easy, but helps when you have a friend who is a professional photographer to catch the moment on film.
In the last twenty years, I have appeared on stages in more countries than I could easily count, in front of literally hundreds of thousands of people in the widest variety of circumstances. I always try to have have every moment under control. It comes from a lifetime of experience as a professional communicator. Everything gets thought through, considered, prepared for, and that work and readiness is what leads to solid events. But at the core of it all, what matters most to me is creating real connection and real communication. If those elements aren’t there in a presentation then all I am doing, regardless of the intensity and specificity of the preparation for a particular event, is just going through the motions. And life is too short to waste anyone’s time like that, especially that of my generous audiences.
This brings me to my favorite presentation of the year. This has been a year that saw me onstage in front of three thousand people in Singapore talking about international connectedness, and then later in a huge theater packed full of real estate experts in Wisconsin talking about putting people before profits, and then in a club filled with hundreds of intensely connected listeners in St. Petersburg Russia, and on and on. The world is a criss-crossed dotted map of my travels. But one event last week stood out amongst them all.
My friend Sean’s mom hasn’t been feeling well recently. The specifics of her illness are her personal business, but suffice to say, a hospital stay that was supposed to be short was extended recently and I drove up to Canada to visit her in the hospital. She was hopeful that she’d be getting out in a few days and I told her that I would come back up and juggle for her and for her granddaughter when she finally was allowed to go home. It was just a simple gesture really, but it was what I had to offer. Now, I don’t think there is anyone who while in the hospital thinks to themselves with any sense of urgency, “This hospital experience is terrible…what I REALLY need right now is a keynote speaking juggler.” My offer served a dual purpose: first of all, I thought it might be fun (this is the prime motivator for almost all of my actions in life). I thought it might be especially fun for the little granddaughter. Secondly, it could give Sean’s mom something to look forward to. We all recognize that when we have meaning in our lives that the meaningful thing, whatever it might be (an unfulfilled dream, a relationship, a hope, a goal) can be fuel for us through our darkest days.
Fast forward a week. She got out of the hospital, and I drove the three hours north back up to Canada to visit her at home. With me I had five juggling beanbags. Nothing more. No microphone. No stage. None of the things I bring to my commercial speaking engagements. No expensive designer suit and tie. No comedy lines custom written for the event. Just five juggling beanbags, casual clothes, and of course a passport (they tend to not let you into the country without one when coming home).
Whereas all other times the lights are on, the stage is set, and every detail has been looked after and prepared to perfection, this was a night and a performance of a very different kind. The audience – Sean’s mom and granddaughter and three more family members out of frame – were sitting on chairs and a couch or on the floor in a living room exactly like yours. I too sat on the floor.
When everyone was ready, rather than launch into a professional presentation of some kind, all I did was launch those beanbags aloft. Five of them started in motion in what is called a cascade, the most basic of juggling patterns.
The little girl’s eyes went wide. She instantly lost her mind in the best way, laughing all the while. It was as if she couldn’t believe what she was seeing. “Has she ever seen juggling before,” I wondered? If she had, she wasn’t letting on by way of her three-year-old semi intelligible descriptions to everyone of what she was looking at, or by way of her laughter.
And her grandmother, Sean’s mom, had a priceless smile too. But her smile was from a few different sources: not only for her granddaughter’s joy, but also for herself for finally being out of the hospital and at home with her family, and in appreciation for all of us taking the time to share and connect. (Ok, maybe a bit in wonder too at what she was seeing before her…)
They were happy. So happy. And the juggling and interaction and playing with them with those beanbags, whether by way of me juggling or by them trying themselves, went on for over an hour.
Typical audiences need something new every few seconds or so. They are trained by culture and communication norms to need constant stimuli, channel to channel, website to website, topic to topic, what’s in it for me or I am moving on. And I feel that too when I am onstage. My pacing reflects that. Laugh, idea, repeat. Give them something new to think about, to hear, to see. But this night we all got back to basics. It was about sharing in the simplest of ways and enjoying it deeply.
In his classic theater book “The Empty Space”, author Peter Brook opened with the line “I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage”. He meant that all one needs for theatre to happen is beyond the professional details. You need only a living room. A few willing people to watch. Someone with something to offer from the heart. And all of them with love to offer back. This moment, one that my friend captured so well, was simple. It was about connection and sharing. It was one of those moments which you reflect on after the face and realize with a smile, “Wow…that was something real.”
Sean reflected on this moment later with me saying, “I’m trying to capture as many moments in my mom’s life as possible. Its great to see her smile. Its few and far between.”
After far more than half a lifetime communicating and sharing, I can say without a doubt that moments like that are what drive me – when there is a real need to connect, and then when sincerity and communication and willingness and wonder suddenly blend in a moment. To have a chance to help create moments like this is really why I do what I do.
(For more information on Sean’s brilliant professional photography, please visit him here.)