In Alecia Haselton’s video for the “Love You Madly” fire relief campaign on the santacruzfirerelief.org website, she’s sitting on a horse in a river, singing a cappella while she slaps her leg as musical accompaniment.
The song, “Haulin’ 2 Horses,” is a recent one that she wrote while actually hauling horses out of the CZU Lightning Complex fire burn zone in her truck and trailer. It’s short—less than two minutes long—unusual, and moving.
It’s just the kind of powerful statement by musicians that “Love You Madly” organizer Jon Luini wanted to bring to this fundraising effort, which is subtitled “Artists for Santa Cruz Fire Relief” and aims to inspire viewers to donate to the Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County’s Fire Response Fund.
With help from Event Santa Cruz’s Matthew Swinnerton, Luini has now posted performances and messages of support from more than 50 artists, sharing new videos every week. He’s hosted big names from both the national music scene (Joe Satriani, Los Lobos, John Doe) and the local scene (Good Riddance, Chris Rene). With the announcement of an upcoming “Love You Madly” livestream on Dec. 5 that will feature Bonnie Raitt and Boz Scaggs, Sammy Hagar, Los Lobos, Colin Hay, the String Cheese Incident, Rogue Wave, Laurie Lewis and more, he’s upping the profile of the campaign’s artist roster yet again.
And yet, Luini admits it can be a video from a relatively unknown local artist like Haselton that surprises him the most.
“It was a shock,” he says of seeing the unorthodox video for the first time. But when he heard Haselton describe the backstory of the song in the video, he realized it was everything “Love You Madly” is about.
“It tied in perfectly,” he says. “I thought that was wonderful.”
The musicians who’ve contributed to “Love You Madly” have turned in everything from full-on productions to iPhone videos. But what has impressed Luini is that they’re never phoning it in, even when they’re literally phoning it in. It’s evident from their contributions—for instance, Louie Perez’s incredibly touching message that prefaces Los Lobos’ performance of “Anselma”—that it’s as emotional for these musicians to create these videos as it is for us to watch them.
Still, it’s hard to keep awareness of the fire’s many victims in the public consciousness week after week—especially in disaster-ridden 2020. That’s why Luini began thinking about doing a livestream, even though the initial concept for “Love You Madly” had been the opposite of the “one big event” model of fundraising.
“It’s a bit of a rollercoaster,” he says of doing the campaign. “There was a lot of excitement in our first month. Week seven is where I started feeling like, ‘I wish I had a whole staff.’ That’s when I started feeling like maybe it’s time to build up an event. I wanted to get people’s attention back to the recovery. It’s going to be a decade. It’s a long haul, and we’re only at the beginning.”
The “Love You Madly” livestream also makes it easier for big-name artists who get requests for benefits all the time and worry that having too many floating around on the internet at once will diminish their impact. They may not be comfortable submitting something that will be on the “Love You Madly” site forever, but they can contribute a performance to a livestream (the videos will be pre-recorded).
“Then there’s the space for the next thing they want to support—because there are so many good causes,” says Luini.
While the livestream is sure to make a splash, the campaign relies week to week on artists like Haselton to allow their own connections to the community to inspire them. During the fire and in its aftermath, Haselton was obsessed with saving horses and later returning them to their families. Her first save came after she first heard about the fire, and called some people she used to housesit for on Ice Cream Grade to find out if they needed help getting their horse out. They did, so she hijacked her mom’s truck and trailer and made her way into the burn zone, getting the horse to safety.
“I led it down the road, and there were literally flames to the sides of us,” she remembers.
Most of her rescue work, though, actually came after the fire, after she got herself on a social media list of people who were available to help evacuees transport their horses.
“I was so pumped on it,” she says of helping evacuees with their horses. “Everything revolved around it.”
So it makes sense that she would choose to do her “Love You Madly” song on a horse in the mountains, but she was still very aware she was making it weird for everyone. Like when she rode the borrowed horse to the river where she was going to shoot with videographer Katey Schoenberger—bareback, in a white dress.
“I was riding through the neighborhood, and I felt like some sort of weird pageant queen, or someone from Game of Thrones,” she says.
She’s thrilled that people are appreciating her offbeat take on the concept. Swinnerton certainly does, and he says his young daughter may be the biggest fan of all.
“She’ll come over and slap her leg, like ‘I want that song,” he says. “It’s by far her favorite song of the year.”
‘Love You Madly: A Stream For Santa Cruz Fire Relief,’ featuring Bonnie Raitt and Boz Scaggs, Sammy Hagar, the String Cheese Incident, Los Lobos and many more will be broadcast on Dec. 5 at 7pm. Free. For more information, visit: santacruzfirerelief.org. The campaign also has a ‘Love You Madly Santa Cruz Fire Relief’ T-shirt available at bonfire.com, with original art by Chris Gallen and 100% of proceeds going to Community Foundation Santa Cruz County.