Jacob George of A Ride Till the End (ARTTE) is the Afghanistan war veteran and Arkansas native who burst onto the scene when he and his supporters rode out of Fayetteville on May 1, 2010, vowing to ride bicycles across the byways of America until the Afghan War ended. So far, the ride has encompassed more than 8,000 miles in the United States, as well as a journey to Afghanistan with the anti-war group, Voices For Creative Nonviolence.
The trip to Afghanistan marked a turning point for Jacob in his own struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder, commonly referred to by its acronym PTSD. During the Civil War, the same condition was referred to as a soldier’s heart. Jacob related that his return to Afghanistan as a warrior for peace, rather than a soldier under military orders, was a catalyst for healing from the effects of his war experiences. This past winter, he used his newfound energy to write the nine potent songs found on his album “Soldier’s Heart.” He collaborated in the writing of four of these songs with musician Adam Cox of Cletus Got Shot. Jacob then knocked on the door of longtime anti-war activist and consummate musician Kelly Mulhollan of Still on the Hill to produce the CD. Kelly and Jacob labored side-by-side in Kelly’s Fayetteville studio, Termite Tracs, to produce this poignant work.
Recording nine songs in two sessions, Kelly said he found Jacob’s performance riveting and as real as anything he’d ever heard. “Real folk music is a reflection of the culture,” Kelly said. “Jacob’s songs fill a need in the same way that Woody Guthrie’s songs spoke for the working class during the great depression and the dust bowl.”
This remarkable CD plays as a journey, moving from stories about how a soldier comes to find himself enlisted, to being in the thick of war, to coming home and attempting reintegration into society. Attempting is the key word here because the heart of the songs center around the PTSD that so many soldiers grapple with on a daily basis. Jacob feels that this diagnosis gives only partial recognition to the internal wounds that occur from just being in the military.
Through the power of artful composition and instrumentation, “Soldier’s Heart” reveals the deep-seated personal pain of war. The entire CD, with Jacob’s raspy assertive vocals front and center, is a testimonial to how music can inform us as no other means can. Each song builds upon the previous one. The last three cuts, “Soldier’s Heart,” “They Call Me Hero,” “and “Warrior” are the crowning strengths of the CD. “Soldier’s Heart” and “They Call Me Hero” deliver the powerful story of disillusionment with one’s country, hatred for oneself, and the blood on the soldier’s hands and soul. The CD ends with the transformational song “Warrior,” where veterans return their medals to the military at the May 2012 NATO Summit in Chicago. You can watch a clip here: http://abclocal.go.com/wls/story?section=news/local&id=8669859. But listening to the song tells the heart of the story with more strength and authority than the page or news media can ever convey.
“A warrior is someone who takes his orders from the heart, not some outside force,” says Jacob. His orders now are to get back on his specially-adapted-to-haul-a-banjo bicycle and promote the CD. He hopes to raise enough money to take a group of Afghanistan veterans back to Afghanistan, where he experienced so much healing as a returning warrior for peace. The CD Release party at Teatro Scarpino kicks off this effort. The lineup includes Jacob, with Adam Cox on guitar, Kelly Mulhollan, Donna Sternja on vocals and other instruments, and Stevie Ragle on drums. The opening act is Ryan Harvey, an internationally-recognized folk artist involved in the U.S. G.I. resistance movement.
ARTTE and now the launching of the CD “Soldier’s Heart” have come together to form a perfect peace-making vessel. Fayettevillians have had the honor of being a part of this remarkable journey and we can continue to virtually “ride for peace” by showing up Wednesday. Music with a significant message can, when well done, make you want to get out of your chair and move. Listening to “Soldier’s Heart” CD does exactly that. Maybe it’s because we want to dance when we witness the triumph of the human spirit.
A fundraiser and CD release party for “Soldier’s Heart” will be held from 7-10 p.m. on Wednesday, May 1, at Teatro Scarpino, 329 W. Ave. in Fayetteville. A donation of $10 is suggested at the door and includes a copy of the CD. (For more information about this event and all things ARTTE, visit www.operationawareness.org.)