By Peter Vankevich
Gary Mitchell says he’s not a prolific songwriter, but one of his songs speaks to the times and has gotten more airplay since he made a music video of it.
His song “Can We Agree on Love?” joins the class of songs that appeal for peace and brotherhood, a message Mitchell wants to spread in these tumultuous times.
The video was aired this spring on local television station WITN and can be viewed on YouTube by searching for the title.
“I kind of have to have something that spurs me on,” he said about inspiration.
One of those spurs was the National Public Radio “Tiny Desk Song Contest” and a chance to perform a live concert by NPR Music at the desk of “All Songs Considered” hosted by Bob Boilen in Washington, D.C.
In 2017, he wrote the song “Can We Agree on Love?” and started thinking about entering it into the contest. “The rules required a video of your original song for the contest, so I just did a little video in my living room. And of course, I never won anything or heard anything back.”
To be fair, the popular Tiny Desk Concerts gets thousands of submissions every year.
Mitchell began performing the song with Molasses Creek, his long-time band that includes Fiddler Dave Tweedie and Kim France. One of the first performances was at the Ocrafolk Festival a few years ago.
George Wood, one of the festival’s professional photographers, was moved by it.
“He came up to me with tears in his eyes and told me that he thought that my music had some things to say that were really important right now,” Mitchell said. “It was a special moment for me. George said that looking out over the audience’s faces he saw the impact it was having on people.”
The lyrics are an attempt to find common ground.
The earth still spins around the sun,
there’s common ground for everyone.
And facts are there for all to see,
not just what I want them to be.
Can we agree? …Can we agree on love?
“Our country is so divided, particularly after the last presidential election, and it was getting worse,” he said. “I was trying to figure out, you know…we all really have a lot of things in common, so each verse adds to the message of love, ending with the hope for a better world.”
Some months later, after last year’s devastation of Hurricane Dorian, he started thinking about how the song was so well suited for our times and needed wider circulation, and the best way would be with a new arrangement and video.
He knew the song needed to be more dynamic than the acoustic rendition, so Gary started to look for talented musicians and producers outside of his usual connections. He realized that, through the internet, collaboration was possible with musicians anywhere in the world.
Keeping most of the original acoustic tracks, he then had islander Lou Castro add some electric guitar parts. With drummer Jubal Creech currently living in Thailand and unable to find a working studio, he contacted Chris Brush, a professional drummer in Nashville. With percussion added, Mitchell turned to Michael Ronstadt (nephew of Linda Ronstadt), who added some bowed cello.
For the final mix, he turned to highly regarded recording producer Tate Phillips in Asheboro. “Tate was very excited about the song,” Mitchell said. “I sent him all the tracks that I had. He added a couple more harmony vocal parts and redid the bass to give it more drive and character. He’s one of these guys that can play just about anything and is an exceptionally good engineer.”
Once the recording met his satisfaction, Mitchell turned to making a new video production.
“I didn’t want the video to be a Molasses Creek promo, but rather to be about the message of the song,” he said.
Initially, he wanted just images synced thematically with the lyrics. Later, in consultation with others, he decided some musical performances from the original video should be included.
As for producing the video, it became a family affair. His older brother Bill, from Hillsborough, selected the new images which were added to the photographs by George Wood and Ann Ehringhaus, as well as powerful photos from Gary’s father-in-law, Charles Martin, of protests in Pittsburgh after Martin Luther King was assassinated.
Gary’s nephew (and professional videographer), Matt Mitchell, Bill’s son, edited and assembled the final video.