The Most Exclusive Concert in Town? Prison
In the late 1960s, Wayne Kramer helped forge punk rock as a member of Michigan-based MC5, who influenced groups including the Sex Pistols and Black Flag. By 1976, Kramer was in a Detroit prison for selling drugs. The Clash even wrote a song, "Jail Guitar Doors," about the incarcerated guitarist.
Nicole Weingart Lancaster prisoners line up to watch a performance. They must remain 15 feet from the fence at all times
The clean-living Kramer was released in 1978 and three decades later brought together a group of musicians, including British singer/songwriter Billy Bragg, for a benefit gig. Bragg had written "jail guitar doors" on his guitar, and founded a non-profit organization named after the song to provide instruments to prison inmates in Britain. Kramer brought the organization stateside in 2009.
Now based in Los Angeles, Jail Guitar Doors provides new and used musical equipment to inmates in an effort to provide them an outlet for self expression, and through that, rehabilitation.
Nicole Weingart Kramer receives a shipment of donated instruments
"Prisoners are a population that is largely forgotten about, and the prison system is designed to make inmates feel that they have no self worth," Kramer says. "Having the resources to write music and play music can be very powerful for them, knowing that they've created something of value."
Famed street artist Shepard Fairey designed the logo stamped on all of the gear donated by Jail Guitar Doors. "I think that art and music are really great therapy," Fairey told Complex last year.
Nicole Weingart Equipment with the organization's Shepard Fairey-designed logo Nicole Weingart Wayne Kramer entering California State Prison, Lancaster to perform for the incarcerated inmates
Jail Guitar Doors also produces concerts in various prisons in the United States and the U.K. Kramer says that while gaining prison access is a "bureaucratic nightmare," the effort is worth it for the gratitude expressed by prisoners and prison employees. Participating musicians at a show held at Los Angeles County's Lancaster State Prison last year included Matt Sorum and Gilby Clarke of Guns 'n Roses, Corey Parks of Nashville Pussy, Jill Sobule, and jazz musician Phil Ranelin.
It took two years to organize the concert, as the prison couldn't afford to pay guards the overtime required for the event.
Nicole Weingart Musicians trying to get into prison
The performance included "Folsom Prison Blues", "Knocking on Heaven's Door" and the MC5's "Kick Out the Jams".
Nicole Weingart Wayne Kramer and his limited edition Jail Guitar Doors guitar, created by Fender.