Aaron Gomes Wants to Keep the Music (and Arts) Playing for Kids
Leap of FaithDecember 2014
By Jordan Venema
Photos: Jacki Potorke
Aaron Gomes cannot stop; he must not stop. If he were to stop, he might not start again. The man is a portrait of inertia, a living physics project. He’s a mover and shaker, a teacher, a local boy, a family man, a promoter, a musician and a community advocate. Gomes is a man on a mission.
On a recent Wednesday night, Gomes pulls into the parking lot of Cellar Door on his motorcycle. He rushes through the back door to check on the band, to make sure all the ducks are in a row. Dawes, a Los Angeles group accustomed to playing before audiences in the thousands, has agreed (and not for the first time) to play on a stage a fraction of the size – thanks to Gomes and the reputation he has built over 10 years of work, through countless hours spent networking, promoting, touring and answering emails. So when Gomes walks briskly by, with a phone to his ear, and apologizes for running late – well, hey man, it’s cool. You’ve got a lot on your plate.
For the past decade, Gomes has been bringing big stage bands to the much smaller, more local scene in Visalia through the extremely successful nonprofit, Sound N Vision Foundation. “I was just trying to make the community cool,” laughs Gomes, who used to front his own musical project, Vernal Falls. In its first years, Gomes says SNV was just a way to have fun, to book and play with the bands that were spinning on his record player at home.
Now Gomes is booking large marquee bands, like Grammy award-winning Foster the People and Bon Iver, and indie rock staples like Built to Spill, Modest Mouse and Vampire Weekend. As a local boy who grew up painting, skating and playing music, Gomes knows the value of fostering the arts in the community, especially among youth.
“That’s more and more my focus,” says Gomes, “to foster the generation that’s young now to pick up instruments and start doing their thing.” At first, that meant offering a safe place to listen to live music and encourage community, but in the last few years, SNV has moved beyond the stage and into the classroom. “That’s where the heart of this is for me. I remember being turned onto music as a kid, and that made a lifelong fan out of me in music and arts.”
A few summers ago, SNV began offering free summer classes to children. Local teachers volunteered to teach musical instruments like guitar and percussion. The classes were so successful that SNV expanded the classes to include other arts. This year, they offered classes that included ceramics, painting, even comic books. The plan to add classes like theater and voice lessons is wide open. “If I just had the time,” says Gomes, “I would keep going.”
As a father and teacher, Gomes knows the importance of reaching out to artistically inclined children. “There are kids who are born athletic and they connect to their peers through sports,” Gomes says. “And then there are kids who aren’t sports kids, you know, and they communicate in a more artistic way.” As a child, Gomes connected to his peers through skating, playing and listening to music, so he gets it. “Everybody has their little niches and ways that they feel they’re truly themselves and really able to enjoy their existence, and when they find like-minded people, they feel like they have more of a place in the world.”
Success, says Gomes, is often dollar-oriented, and preoccupied with the bottom line. “But there’s this worth,” he continues, “this intangible worth that is super important and that nurtures your spirit and your soul and your heart in a unique way that only happens through art and music.”
As Gomes own children (ages 8 to 12) grow older, he’s further realizing the importance of that worth, and the importance of encouraging them and other children to find their place in the world. His oldest son has begun expressing an interest in helping with the nonprofit, or starting his own, even teaching lessons. “Unfortunately, it sounds like he wants to be a professional drummer,” Gomes says about his son. But even while Gomes jokes, there’s pride in his eyes.
Now a decade old, SNV is poised to move to the next level. “I really do think that we’re in a position that we can really impact a lot more lives and do something gigantic,” he says. He and others involved with SNV would like to expand the music and art classes to a year-round program. Gomes hopes the foundation can one day purchase a complex that can host both the classes and an all-ages venue for shows.
“Being that we’re all educators, and working 9-to-5 jobs, it’s kind of difficult to have that vision come to fruition,” admits Gomes. “But we’re working on a business plan to exist and thrive in a small community…based on visual, performance arts and music.”
Gomes admits he’s never been one to ask for help, “and I micromanage things to a flaw. But I’m starting to learn that if you just let people come in and do things, you can do so much more.” And community members are stepping up, private investors who want to support SNV. Gomes has never earned a dime working with the foundation, but if the financial opportunity presented itself, he would consider moving full-time to SNV. “I love teaching, but mainly I love teaching because I love interacting with youth,” says Gomes.
The growth of SNV probably has surprised nobody more than Gomes, but it shouldn’t. Really, everything SNV has become is an extension of Gomes and his interests. But he’s learning to rely more on others. It hasn’t been easy, says Gomes: “It’s been a real leap of faith for me.” •