Peru para Per

by Michael Todd

A world-renowned chef steps off a bus onto an empty street. He tests the megaphone and leads a band of culinary artists, musicians, actors and athletes down to where the townsfolk are slowly gathering. He switches the megaphone back on and tells the citizens of Peru, Neb., “You are from Peru. You have the right to eat delicious food!”

But the perplexed Peruvians on the curb have no idea what he just said, because they don’t understand Spanish. So the visiting Peruvians, from the South American nation brimming with 29.5 million people, have to rely on culture to connect with the 550 or so Nebraskan Peruvians.

Lucky for Logan Merz of the band Escape the Fire, the crew filming this commercial-to-be for a national tourism campaign wished for a two-way cultural exchange, and Merz just happened to be carrying his guitar as he went on a taco run and was accosted by a black SUV with a camera inside.

“It was completely unplanned,” says the Peru State College grad student and songwriter whose audience expanded to some 500,000 people and change after the commercial, “Perú Visits Peru,” went viral on YouTube. “I’ve heard, at least translated from some of the comments, they call it an anthem of Perú. They consider it a connection between the two places.”

(See Merz at about 11:50.)

The song Merz pulled out of the air on the streets of Peru, “Sold,” wasn’t supposed to be revealed to anyone except for his friend’s wedding party in about two weeks. It was supposed to follow the ceremony.

“The cat kinda got let out of the bag," Mertz says, "so that got thrown into the dirt.” Now the betrothed are happy to have Merz play it just before their vows are said.

After spending Monday helping about 300 other volunteers fill about 12,000 sandbags and build a 6-foot wall to protect the village — and going back to work an hour after the interview — Merz is the kind of musician Nebraska prides itself on: someone who is part of the community, eager to share whatever he can. He says his line of work is making people smile, and his songs are simply an extension of that.

“I just feel like music is more than a business — music is like your soul,” Merz says. “I’m glad I created something, just to create that joy in people’s lives, that’s more than enough.”

And those who add to his creation, Merz’s band, praise their frontman’s wherewithal. Percussionist Mike Parde says “Sold” promotes well-being, which was the point of the commercial.

“Just ’cause we live differently doesn’t mean we are different," he says. "People are people, and we should love and respect each other.”

“It’s the right song for the right time,” says Kevin Krause, who plays guitar and occasional keys for Escape the Fire. “Them coming up here was perfect timing, and it was the perfect song he could have played.”

Now that the attention is slowing down a bit after Merz’s appearance and hits on the more-formal music video of “Sold” with Peruvian musicians have tapered off, Escape the Fire hopes to arrange a tour through the nation of ú following the release of the band’s CD, recorded at Plan C Recordings. A website is in the works, and Merz is in contact with band managers from Peru.

“I’ve met a lot of great people, so now it’s a waiting game to find out when we get to leave,” Merz says.

Michael Todd is a summer intern for Hear Nebraska. He would like to enclose his own message of goodwill in a foreign language: Te amo, mi carino. (And the Spanish-speaking world said, "Aw.") Reach Michael at