Call it "Out of Jailhouse Rock."
Five musicians who were sent to prison for crimes they didn’t commit — later exonerated and freed — will perform together at a Sunday benefit concert in Salt Lake City.
Produced by local musician Kate MacLeod, the unusual fundraiser will benefit the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center, a local nonprofit organization working to correct and prevent the wrongful conviction of innocent people in Utah, Nevada and Wyoming.
"Despite the challenges of the years taken from these musicians by a system, their spirits prevailed, and the music takes on an urgency that makes their performances especially vital," MacLeod said. "Their musicianship often exceeds the quality of more famous touring musicians, taking the audience by surprise and creating a positive synergy, a clear result of the depth of their experiences and the joy at being able to perform together. They really do have something special to share with an audience."
Musicians Antoine Day, William Anton, Eddie Lowery, Darby Tillis and Raymond Towler are from Illinois, Ohio, North Carolina and Missouri. Before their prison stints, both Day and Towler aspired to be professional musicians. In contrast, Lowry only began learning the guitar while he was in prison. The five men have played together twice at conventions, but the Salt Lake City concert is the first time they’ll play for a public audience.
"This is not fluff," MacLeod said. "It is humanitarian art in its most vital form. Supporting the [center] and like-minded organizations helps to lift our general consciousness and improve our intricate social systems."
The musicians share a common connection:
Antoine Day, drummer » Spent 10 years in prison for a murder that he didn’t commit, then waited nine more years after his exoneration to be released.
William Dillon, guitar » Freed from prison after 27 years in 2008 when post-conviction DNA testing demonstrated his innocence of a 1981 murder.
Eddie Lowery, bass » Convicted of rape, aggravated burglary and aggravated battery, he was sentenced to 11 years to life in prison. After serving nine years, he was released on parole and was able to procure DNA testing on the biological evidence in 2002. DNA test results confirmed Lowery’s claim of innocence, and his record was cleared.
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Darby Tillis, harmonica and singer » Sentenced to death for a murder in 1977 in Illinois, he was among one of the first death row prisoners to be exonerated. New evidence led to his release in 1987, including evidence showing that the prosecution paid the only witness, despite no evidence tying Tillis to the murder.
Raymond Towler, guitar » Freed after 29 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit. DNA tests proved his innocence in 2010.
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Jammin’ For Justice
This concert is a fundraiser for the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center, a nonprofit founded in 2000 to correct and prevent the conviction of innocent people in Utah, Nevada and Wyoming. The center examines DNA and non-DNA cases. In 2004, the center’s work helped secure the DNA exoneration of Bruce Goodman, who served 18 years in prison for a rape and murder he didn’t commit. In May 2011, the center’s work led to the exoneration of Debra Brown, who spent 17 years in prison for murder she didn’t commit. Brown was the first person to be exonerated under Utah’s non-DNA factual innocence statute, which the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center helped to write and pass in 2008.
When » Sunday, June 10 at 7 p.m.
Where » Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center’s Jeanne Wagner Theater, 138 W. 300 South, Salt Lake City.
Tickets » $40 for general admission; $30 for students; $75 VIP tickets include a pre-concert party at Squatters at 5:30 p.m. and access to reserved seating; at www.ArtTix.org or 801-355-2787.