Lowell unites to host benefit concert in support of detained journalist in Russia
LOWELL — Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich has worked out of Russia for six years, covering news within the country and the former Soviet Union, from which his parents hail. Much of his recent reporting has centered around the war in Ukraine.
Gershkovich was suddenly arrested in late March on espionage charges, leading to national calls for his release and campaigns in support of his release. Despite the uproar, Gershkovich remains in Russian custody and is expected to go to trial in late August or later.
Gershkovich’s roots in New England, however, run deep, and his local friends and former classmates are rallying for him in a personal way.
“One of Evan’s favorite things to do in Russia was pop into small, local music spots and check out bands,” said Morgan Milardo, managing director of the Berklee Popular Music Institute at Berklee College of Music. “It’s a fun thing that he loves to do, and I thought, ‘Well, I love indie music and I can throw a show, that’s what I do for a living. Why don’t we just do something in Evan’s name?’”
Milardo, of Lowell, is the driving force and organizer behind the Evan Gershkovich Benefit Concert, which will feature performances from local bands, raffles with small businesses and a collective spirit of action and unity. All of the event’s proceeds will go toward Gershkovich’s family and the Committee to Protect Journalists, a nonprofit that fights for journalists’ rights across borders.
“The circumstances are obviously pretty sad,” Milardo said, “but I’m hoping that we’re coming together in a really fun way to celebrate the power of what live music can do in terms of bringing the community together in support of a really important cause.”
The concert takes place June 23 at 8 p.m. at Taffeta, a live music venue located at Western Avenue Studios.
Milardo’s younger brother, Luke, attended Bowdoin College with Gershkovich, where the pair quickly formed a tight-knit friend group composed of people committed to “making a positive impact on the world,” she said.
“I think that’s what’s so special about Evan,” Milardo said. “His family is from Russia, and so he’s had this really deep connection and love for the country for a long time … (He’s) been doing an amazing job for The Wall Street Journal, and it’s really unfortunate what’s happening to him right now.”
The response to the show, Milardo said, has been overwhelming.
“Everybody’s so eager to support Evan and the cause,” she said. “I’ve reached out to tons of local businesses that have been really, really excited to contribute.”
Sean Gordon, co-owner of Taffeta, said they’ve been working closely with UMass Lowell and its music program and “trying really hard to cultivate a lot of the local music scene.” With Milardo’s clear passion for music and helping a family friend, Gordon said the partnership seemed a good fit.
“We are very independent here,” Gordon said, “but supporting charities as best we can by providing a space to fundraise is something that we are passionate about and are going to continue doing.”
Indie rock group Mom Rock — who studied at Berklee — will headline the concert, and bands Little Fuss, Blue Light Bandits and The Ghouls will each play a set.
George Danahy, lead vocals and lead guitar for The Ghouls, plays “hook-driven” alt rock alongside his fellow UML bandmates. A rising senior at UML, Danahy said the group officially formed just a month and a half ago and is excited to perform alongside other “great performers.”
“I totally support the goal of this entire event,” Danahy said. “I think the guy’s been wrongfully arrested. Obviously, I think that it’s a bit dumb they’re trying to get him on espionage, all that stuff. All of us are in complete support of the freedom of journalism.”
Mom Rock, who previously worked with Milardo while attending Berklee, planned to play in Lowell prior to hearing about the concert, making the occasion “a pretty serendipitous coincidence.” The group will bring their “loud, high-energy” antics back to Greater Boston, all for a good cause.
“The Internet is a cradle of misinformation, and brave, unfettered journalism is more important now than ever before,” the group wrote in an email. “We were familiar with Evan’s situation before Morgan had reached out, and we were really honored to get the opportunity to show our support in such a big way. We’re all really glad that we have a platform (albeit not a huge one) that we can use to make Evan’s story heard and raise awareness for him and for all journalists as they fight to maintain a free and open press.”
While attending the show is the best way to contribute, Milardo encourages people to write Gershkovich a letter and seek more information at freegershkovich.com.
“When we protect our journalists, we’re protecting a healthy democracy,” Milardo said. “And so, that’s my goal, is to raise awareness and funds.”
Tickets are available for $20 and can be found at tixr.com/groups/taffetamusic.