William Laramie Memorial Benefit Concert
June 17, 12-4 p.m., $15 suggested donation, East Hartford Cultural Center, 50 Chapman Place, East Hartford, williamlaramiememorialconcert.org.
When musicians are in mourning, they gather to chase away the blues with song. On Sunday, June 17, starting at noon at the East Hartford Cultural Center, a veritable army of musicians will rendezvous to mourn the loss of William "Will" Laramie, a much-loved percussionist and music teacher who was hit and killed by a drunk driver on September 1, 2011, while bicycling home from work in East Hartford.
"The idea for a musical event came up soon after Will was killed," said Linda Piotrowicz, Laramie's longtime partner. "He was a musician and his brother [bassist Bob Laramie] is a musician and musicians grieve by getting together to play. There was no public funeral for Will last year, never really a gathering of friends. His family and I talked about a benefit concert. We were getting our heads around the idea while also getting our heads around the fact that Will was gone. Then I saw the ghost bikes."
The "ghost bikes" are roadside markers made from bicycle bodies spray-painted white, chilling reminders of where a bicycling fatality has occurred. Three such "ghost bikes" appeared on Burnside Avenue in East Hartford, including one where Laramie was killed. They are the brainchild of Tony Cherolis and other members of Bike Walk Connecticut.
"I didn't know Will personally, but I knew he was one of the regular bike commuters," says Cherolis, an engineer at Pratt & Whitney in East Hartford. "His was one of three bicyclist deaths on Burnside in the last couple years, and each one got us really riled up."
Piotrowicz was moved by Laramie's "ghost bike" and contacted Cherolis. She met with him and others in the Hartford area bicycling community — many of whom contribute to the always-entertaining beatbikeblog.blogspot.com. When she told Cherolis about the music event she had in mind, he saw the potential for raising the profile of bicyclists in the Hartford area.
"Tony was immediately supportive of collaborating," she said. "We decided we'd split whatever money is raised evenly between music education and Bike Walk Connecticut. Once we were paired with East Hartford Public Schools, things went pretty smoothly. They allowed us to use the cultural center."
WNPR's Colin McEnroe, an old friend of Piotrowicz, offered to emcee the event, which will feature folk-rockers the Guinea Pigs; jazzers Phil Palonen, Jan Jungden Trio, and VLM Project; blues-rockers the Burt Teague Band and the Stingrays; and others. Will Laramie performed, at one time or another, with all of those who will perform.
Laramie grew up in Tolland, attended the Hartt School of Music on weekends during high school, then went on to earn degrees in percussion performance and music education at Johns Hopkins University's Peabody Conservatory.
"Will could play anything, and over the years he played with so many musicians and taught drumming privately at our house," says Piotrowicz, who met Laramie at a Mass-Conn Fusion gig. "Before I met him, he taught at Dynamic Percussion for years. He was highly respected and much loved, and really great with kids."
"From the reaction to this event that I have received, it is so obvious that a bunch of folks cared deeply about Will," says Cherolis, who is also spearheading a Bike to Work Day in East Hartford on July 19. "The energy for this is really bubbling now."
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