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Wounded Warrior Project benefit concert inspired by longtime friendship

Close friends Dave Contant, left, and Jon Sweatman, right, circa early 1990s. (COURTESY JON SWEATMAN)
Close friends Dave Contant, left, and Jon Sweatman, right, circa early 1990s. (COURTESY JON SWEATMAN)
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TOWNSEND — A benefit concert next weekend is about more than just raising funds for a good cause, it’s a celebration of life, love, enduring friendship, and the undeniable way that music connects people.

The band Chapter Seven was formed last year for the sole purpose of doing a fundraiser show for Wounded Warrior Project, the brainchild of Townsend resident Jon Sweatman, 71. He roped in two longtime friends to play with him, Arnie Ashford and Greg Gargas, and they raised $2,000 playing for friends and family in Sweatman’s backyard last fall.

Because it was such a success, they decided to do it again this year but at a larger venue — the Townsend Rod & Gun Club at 7 p.m., on July 30.

“We all have a definite dedication to doing something for Wounded Warrior Project and we all support it,” Sweatman said. “We don’t play anywhere else. The pointed focus is on raising money for it.”

(L. to r.) Greg Gargas, Jon Sweatman, and Arnie Ashford of Chapter Seven raised $2,000 for Wounded Warrior Project playing for friends and family in Sweatman's back yard last fall. (COURTESY JON SWEATMAN)
Left to right, Greg Gargas, Jon Sweatman, and Arnie Ashford of Chapter Seven raised $2,000 for Wounded Warrior Project playing for friends and family in Sweatman’s back yard last fall. (COURTESY JON SWEATMAN)

The story goes beyond their charitable efforts. It began 32 years ago when Sweatman met his close friend Dave Contant, an Army veteran and Wounded Warrior Project supporter, on a camping trip.

The two immediately bonded over their shared love of music and playing guitar, enjoying the great outdoors, and fishing.

“We were extremely close, as close as two people could be,” Sweatman said.

They started performing as a duo at coffee houses, writing music and working on arrangements, and recording music together, which continued for many years. When Contant lost his job at Digital, he ended up getting another job and then “went off on his own with music,” Sweatman said.

“We played a little bit after that, but life took over, we both had families,” he said. “It was close to 17 years after the last time I saw him that the phone rang. He told me he had cancer and was going in for brain surgery the next day.”

Contant got through the surgery OK but because it was during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sweatman said he had to “wait until it was safe” to see his friend.

“He was in very rough shape, but he started to get a little better and started to play guitar, which at first was a struggle,” Sweatman said. “He picked up the harmonica and music therapy worked wonders for both he and I and reconnected us. I had not played at all.”

The two were thrilled to be reunited and play together again, but Conant took a turn for the worse and died on March 26 last year at the age of 66. Sweatman, who has recorded three albums, one with his friend, wrote a song two months before Conant died. One of the lyrics is “living life is more important than thinking about what might have been,” which Sweatman said is “a phrase to live by.”

Sweatman says he misses Conant’s “humor and his way of putting lyrics together. He was such a good friend, good friends are hard to come by. We picked up right where we left off. I do miss him.”

(L. to r.) Jon Sweatman, his brother-in-law Bob Seligna, and his close friend Dave Conant fishing on the Androscoggin River in Nashua, New Hampshire, in the early 1990s. (COURTESY JON SWEATMAN)
Left to right, Jon Sweatman, his brother-in-law Bob Seligna, and his close friend Dave Conant fishing on the Androscoggin River in Nashua, New Hampshire, in the early 1990s. (COURTESY JON SWEATMAN)

Sweatman credits Conant with getting him back into music and said his friend gave him a newly purchased Martin guitar before he died.

“I haven’t been able to express how I feel about it,” Sweatman said of the treasured gift.

He was inspired to put together the band in honor of his late friend and his renewed zest for music. Prior to last year’s concert, Sweatman spoke to their mutual friend Ashford, a bassist who produced and recorded their albums including “Back Home New England,” at Contant’s funeral and told him about his idea for the show.

“I got two or three words out and he said, ‘I’m in,’” Sweatman recalled. “We did a little work with the setlist and Greg, the most capable guitarist, was the missing piece.”

They would get together and jam when they could and started developing quite the song list, a mix of blues, ballads and originals.

“We have a lot of fun with it,” Sweatman said, adding the band name comes from the fact that “some of us are 70.”

He decided to do the fundraiser show last year in memory of his friend and Sweatman said “hey how about we do this in my backyard.” The proceeds were split between the Wounded Warrior Project and the Norris Cotton Cancer Center in New Hampshire, where Contant was treated.

Sweatman said he was shocked at how much they raised and thought they could raise even more at a larger venue “in hopes that we get a lot of people.” When he mentioned to his son-in-law’s father Kevin Massey, who he knew played drums, that they were putting together another show Massey “without hesitation said yes.”

Chapter Seven is be holding a Wounded Warrior Project benefit concert on July 30 at 7 p.m. at the Townsend Rod & Gun Club. (COURTESY JON SWEATMAN)
Chapter Seven is be holding a Wounded Warrior Project benefit concert on July 30 at 7 p.m. at the Townsend Rod & Gun Club. (COURTESY JON SWEATMAN)

“He lives all the way down in Connecticut and has been coming back and forth to practice and of course being a veteran, he is all in,” Sweatman said of Massey, who retired from the Air National Guard last year.

Sweatman has lived in town for over 35 years and is a retired teacher who taught biology and related subjects at North Middlesex Regional High School. He was camping in Truro recently and told some people there about the concert. They came back a little while later with a donation for the Wounded Warrior Project.

He said Chapter Seven is getting together on Sunday for a “full-blown practice” ahead of next weekend’s free show.  Sweatman said he hopes to have his newest release, “More than the Song,” available, which features songs he and Contant wrote together.

He said the death of his friend made him want to share their “story of friendship, love, and the courage to move forward,” and that he visits Contant, who is buried at the New Hampshire State Veterans Cemetery in Boscawen, every time he goes north and leaves him a few Hornberg fishing flies on his gravestone.

“I’m just trying to continue his desires,” Sweatman said. “Dave and I had one year of time together before he died. In that year we lived more life than any two friends could live.”

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