This wasn't a typical gig for Westminster blues musician Christopher James.
The concert was in Sahuarita, Ariz., 2,300 miles from home and 50 miles north of the United States-Mexico border, where migrants hope to elude Border Patrol agents and cross into America illegally every day.
How James wound up performing in the desert town just south of Tucson last October can be directly traced to friendships he made at Common Ground on the Hill, two weeks of roots-based music, arts classes and performances on campus at McDaniel College in Westminster.
The 19th annual Common Ground on the Hill begins tonight.
James teaches music classes and performs at concerts for Common Ground each July.
During down time, he meets lecturers who are at Common Ground to discuss divisive human rights issues in a nurturing environment, one where participants are brought together through their shared passion for the arts.
At previous Common Ground events, James met Green Valley Samaritans Shura Wallin and the Rev. Randy Mayer. They regularly travel across the U.S.-Mexico border offering water and first aid to migrants who are weary from traveling days through the desert in the hopes of illegally entering the United States.
James was invited by the Samaritans to perform at a concert in their hometown of Sahuarita. While there, James traveled to the border, where he was shown how disorienting and dangerous it can be for desperate migrants hoping to either reunite with family or improve their livelihoods by somehow trekking into the United States.
The immigration issue gets discussed annually at Common Ground by the Samaritans and activists who live near the border. One of this year's keynote speeches will be given by journalist John Carlos Frey at 8 p.m. Monday at McDaniel's Alumni Hall. The lecture is free and open to the public.
Frey, who has reported from both sides of the border, will discuss immigrant struggles, reforms and the role the U.S. Border Patrol plays. It's a touchy subject, yet it's one that has been discussed at length in Common Ground, without bickering or arguments.
"That's one of the neat things about Common Ground," James said. "It's all the different people you meet and the different things that happen from the relationships you start to make during those couple weeks in July."
Common Ground was founded by musician Walt Michael, a graduate of Western Maryland - now McDaniel - College who went on to record 14 albums and tour internationally. Michael strives to bring participants to Westminster from all over the world who love the arts and want to learn more about other cultures.
Common Ground is always evolving. When an interested participant comes to Michael with an idea, he always listens. He usually says, "Let's give it a try," allowing them to investigate a wide array of topics and bring in a variety of unique viewpoints.