Elijah and Kaya Barntsen, the brother and sister co-founders of Sonoma County nonprofit Live Music Lantern, were looking for a way to repay those who had helped them through a personal crisis.
In 2007, their mother, a childcare professional whom they describe as a loving and selfless person, was diagnosed with bipolar I disorder and schizophrenia.
As they navigated the waters of caring for their mother, they found that the dedicated professionals who worked in the public health and mental health sectors were often overworked, underappreciated and sometimes burned out.
“Without them, their support, guidance and education, we wouldn’t have made it out of this crisis,” Elijah Barntsen says. “We really wanted to do something for them.”
Live Music Lantern was born out of this idea and, since 2014, the nonprofit has been doing its part to bring self-care to local educators and social service providers in the form of free access to concerts and musical experiences at local venues.
“Music is the one thing that kept me going through the crisis, it brought joy and healing to me,” says Barntsen, who works by day with an online ticketing brokerage. “I wanted to share that with other people, and what better people than those who helped us.”
In addition to offering free concert tickets to employees of organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness and Buckelew Programs, as well as Santa Rosa and Petaluma city school districts, Live Music Lantern is branching out this year with a new program, Music Is Care (MIC), which brings local musicians directly to hospitals, shelters and social-service organizations to perform for caregivers and those they care for.
“MIC has been really miraculous,” Barntsen says. “There’s musical healing going on through this. It’s wonderful to be a part of it and to shine a light in the darkness there.”
The MIC program offers two performances a month, though Live Music Lantern is going to four a month in the coming weeks. This weekend, Live Music Lantern is holding a special benefit concert with world-class African guitarist Vieux Farka Touré and his band at Congregation Ner Shalom—called the Old Cotati Cabaret for this show—to raise funds for its expanding MIC offerings. Touré’s fans know him as the Hendrix of the Sahara.
Touré’s appearance at the former Cotati Cabaret is a one-night-only resurrection for the venue, explains Barntsen. Though the building has not used the cabaret moniker in some 25 years, the name still resonates in the hearts and minds of North Bay music lovers today.