Luc Reynaud used his musical talents to aid Puerto Rico’s post-hurricane recovery
By Ann McCreary
Musician Luc Reynaud arrived in Puerto Rico last November, less than two months after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island. His goal was to share music and art, to help lift the spirits of Puerto Ricans whose lives were shattered by Maria.
Accompanied by an artist and two filmmakers, Reynaud planned to spend a week on the island. “Our goal was to help empower, heal and rejuvenate through art and music. We believe that creativity holds immense healing power,” Reynaud said.
He didn’t expect to become so completely swept up in the beauty and power of Puerto Rico and its people, and to find himself, months later, still deeply involved in helping the island. Through music — his forte — Reynaud is working to raise money to help restore power to Puerto Ricans who are still without electricity.
“I thought it was going to be a week and it turned into four months,” Reynaud said last week. “It’s one of the top things I’m proud to be a part of in my life so far.”
Born and raised in the Methow Valley, Reynaud helped create Luc and the Lovingtons, a band that has released two albums and toured widely. Three years ago, Reynaud and the band created the “Goodness Tour,” a nonprofit organization that brings free concerts and art to people struggling with adversity.
Past tours have included homeless shelters, tent cities and youth crisis centers in the United States, and a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan. “We engage with the people, inviting their own creativity to shine, to sing, to paint, to play an instrument — whatever their natural talent may be,” Reynaud said.
“In this way, the Goodness Tour seeks to spur creation amidst destruction. Because we know the power of creativity allows the human spirit to fly boundlessly, even while navigating difficult life circumstances,” he said.
Into the unknown
Hearing of the devastation and adversity facing Puerto Ricans after Hurricane Maria, Reynaud decided to take the Goodness Tour to the island. More than 70 percent of the island was still without power when he arrived on Nov. 7, seven weeks after Maria struck on Sept. 20.
He was accompanied by Benjamin Swatez, a painter who led school and community art projects, and filmmakers and photographers Glen Shackley and Jeremiah Alexis. “This was bare-bones. There was so much unknown it made sense to move as a small crew,” Reynaud said.
“After the hurricane, it looked like 1,000 pterodactyls had attacked. All the trees were bent and crooked … the telephone and electric lines were down. It looked like a disaster zone when we got there.”
Reynaud and his friends planned to bring music and art to some of the communities hit hardest by the hurricane, primarily in the mountainous areas. “We barely slept and worked nonstop for seven days,” he said.
During a visit to a rural school, something happened that planted a seed. While singing with students and community members, “a man from a mountain town began singing from his heart,” Reynaud said. He sang, “Puerto Rico se levanta,” which means “Puerto Rico is rising up.”
“The beginning of a song was born,” Reynaud said. “I heard, and I got the spark immediately.” At the end of the week, Reynaud and his companions returned to the United States, but not for long.
“I decided it would be worth it to drop everything and help the song be born. We went all the way back to L.A. and Seattle and said, ‘Let’s go back and be a midwife to the birth of this song,’” Reynaud said. “That adventure took us through three months of an unbelievable process.”
Back with a mission
Reynaud returned with filmmaker Shackley, with the goal of recording the still-unwritten song — although they weren’t sure how they were going to do it. “We were holding the intention to serve in our hearts and total trust that we’ve gotten the call to go there and do the work. It was 5 percent planned and 95 percent unplanned,” he said.
Fate stepped in to help them. On their second day back on the island, they became lost while driving in a rural area and encountered a Puerto Rican state legislator, José Che Pérez Cordero, who was delivering water and supplies to residents who were still struggling after the hurricane. They told Cordero of their plan to work with Puerto Ricans to create and record the song.
“He said, ‘You guys must have fallen from the sky because I was praying for this last night,’” Reynaud said. “He became a key player in helping us facilitate all of our work from then until now.” Cordero escorted Reynaud and Shackley to schools and communities all over the island and even wrote a few words of the song himself.
Reynaud acted as producer and facilitator for what became a song and video called “A Celebrar” — “Let’s Celebrate” — written and performed entirely by Puerto Rican singers and musicians. “It’s a song born from all walks of life, everyday people,” he said.
Among many others, it features Marcelo Medina Velazquez, the man “who sang from his heart the first lines of inspiration” at the school, Reynaud said.
Cordero helped guide Reynaud and Shackley to a 19-year-old man who wrote and sang the first verse of the song. The song also features a 15-year-old girl who wrote and sang the second verse; a family from a mountain town who wrote and sang the chorus; and a choir of senior citizens.
Astra Studios, a famous studio that has recorded many of the great Caribbean artists, “opened their door for free and let us bring artists from all across the island to come record and create the song ‘A Celebrar,’” Reynaud said. A Grammy Award-winning engineer with Astra Studios, Yamil Martinez, engineered and mixed the recording of the song.
Cordero put the finished music video up on monitors throughout the state Capitol building where it played for weeks, and he invited Reynaud and Shackley to a session of the House of Representatives, where he presented them with an award for their work. The song is being played on Puerto Rican radio stations and the story of its creation was reported on local television stations.
There was one more serendipitous event that helped guide the project’s future. In the laundry room of an apartment building where they were staying, Reynaud met a person who put him in touch with a local nonprofit, called Off Grid Relief, that was created after the hurricane to bring solar power to homes that still haven’t been reconnected to electric power.
That contact led to a partnership and gave the new song a mission — to help raise money to install solar power in Puerto Rican homes. “They are a heroic nonprofit. We teamed up with them and said, ‘Let’s collaborate for the greater good and sell this song, “A Celebrar,” and use it to raise money for your cause.’”
Each solar installation costs about $2,185 to provide power for basic needs, Reynaud said. He was able to travel with Off Grid Relief to the home of the 15-year-old girl who wrote a verse for the song and see solar panels installed at her house. “It was amazing. It was a piece of art she helped create … and it achieved enough success and attention to bring solar power to her family,” Reynaud said.
“It’s been like that, a blossom that keeps getting bigger. It keeps being more positive good that we continue to follow,” he said.
Reynaud was back in the United States last week. After a visit to the Methow Valley to see his family, he went to Los Angeles to make connections with people who might help him promote the song. Having performed around the country and toured with other musicians, including Jason Mraz, Reynaud was working to bring attention to “A Celebrar” and the Off Grid Relief partnership.
“I’m traveling to news stations, radio stations, in L.A., Seattle, maybe New York,” he said. “I’m gathering all the influencers I know of or have connections with … trying to create synergy around this campaign.”
The campaign is reaching out through a new website, thegoodnesstour.org, where people can watch the music video, learn more about the project, buy merchandise or make donations to Off Grid Relief.
“One of the goals of the song and video was to show the beauty and joy and strength that is existing right now in Puerto Rico after Maria,” Reynaud said. “This is a way for people who are inspired by this story to get involved to directly help families in Puerto Rico.”