The Hippo


Jun 2, 2020








Alternate Routes. Courtesy photo.

Alternate Routes

When: Friday, Dec. 2, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Flying Monkey Movie House & Performance Center, 39 S. Main St., Plymouth
Tickets: $14 and up at

American story
Alternate Routes turn grief into moving music

By Michael Witthaus

 Writing a topical song is risky, particularly one about a  polarizing issue like gun violence. Making it personal is an even bigger challenge. In 2005, Eric Donnelly’s parents were murdered during a robbery of their Fairfield, Conn., jewelry store. The crime happened just as Donnelly’s band, Alternate Routes, was preparing to record its first album. 

In his shock, he found what Joni Mitchell once called “the refuge of the roads.”
“I never talked about it,” Donnelly said by phone recently. “It was a big story in our town, but when I went on the road it was something that nobody knew.” 
As an artist, though, he was aware that his story needed to find its way into song. Ten years later, he distilled his emotions into “Somewhere in America,” released as a single last Father’s Day. 
It succeeds in balancing grief and an urge to activism against a complex and divisive social problem, one with no easy solution. The song begins with the murder — “The last thing that my father saw when he was still alive/Was the gun in the hands of a sick young man with bright blue eyes” — and concludes with Donnelly searching for words to someday tell his now-infant son about why his grandparents are gone, and what their fate might portend for his future. 
“Somewhere In America” is gripping, heartbreaking and powerful precisely because it doesn’t point fingers. Rather, it depicts the universal nature of Donnelly’s grief and the loss endured by others like him when everyday life is shattered by awful news. 
“A phone’s about to ring; nothing can prepare you for the news it’s going to bring,” sings Routes’ frontman Tim Warren. Donnelly’s own feelings, however, are  clear: “When something’s broken that clearly needs fixing/you can fight to change; or you can fight to stay the same.”
The song took  many years and several forms before Donnelly’s becoming a parent catalyzed its completion. 
“There were times when it was angry, more judgmental, all over the place;  I’m grateful for the amount of time it took,” Donnelly said. “Going from being a son who lost his parents to a father who has to navigate those waters ... that put it into perspective.”
Surprisingly, having his musical partner sing such a personal song wasn’t a challenge. 
“I have been working with Tim for so long, it wasn’t weird at all,” he said. “He was in the hospital that night when everything happened [and] he was close with my parents. ... It is a luxury of mine that when I have an idea for a song, I can bring it to him and he does what he does with it – he’s an extraordinarily gifted singer and musician.” The organization was founded in memory of a student killed in the December 2013 Sandy Hook school shooting. 
“Their motto is to reward and recognize acts of kindness in children, and we thought that was such a cool and beautiful and simple idea, considering everything that their community had been through,” Donnelly said. “It was inspiring and just gave us permission to kind of capture that. I know it sounds hokey, but I felt it was something that was just a little bit bigger than us.”
“Nothing More” found its way into the CBS television series NCIS when someone connected to the program heard the song at an Alternate Routes concert and touted it to one of the show’s writers. 
“He liked it enough to write it into the Christmas episode,” Donnelly said, likening their luck to a fairy tale. “This was an unsigned band, without anybody working it, and that happened. It shocked us.”
After that, the song got picked up by the Olympics. 
“It was one thing after another; we just didn’t know how it happened,” Donnelly said. “I guess it was just a message that people wanted to hear, and we’re grateful to be along for the ride. Every week, we get emails from schools and charities and churches; there are youth groups singing the song. It’s a really cool thing to be a part of.”
The song’s only message is to be a good person. “We are how we treat each other, nothing more,” goes the chorus. 
“Somewhere in America” is a much different song; this worried Donnelly at first, but he found himself surprised by its reception.
“I braced myself for negative feedback, and it just didn’t come to the degree I expected,” he said. “The response was in fact very positive, even from friends that I knew were on the other side of the argument. By telling something so personal, even though my opinion is in there, it was shared in a way that’s not judgmental or attacking, just honest.” 


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