Thursday, August 26, 2004

Making music making money for a cause

Local musicians donate time
and talent to help others

By C.E. Hanifin / Enquirer staff writer

Justin Lynch, a local musician who manages the York St. Cafe's club, visited the Pendleton County Animal Shelter just once. But he couldn't bring himself to go back.

Justin Lynch, club manager at York St. Cafe in Newport, and his wife Jonni pose with their dog Eli, and Susan Vitello of Fairfax poses with her Golden Retriever Ginger.
(The Enquirer/Brandi Stafford)

His wife, Jonni, is a volunteer at the shelter and says it was intended to hold about a dozen dogs but sometimes must house as many as 60.

Justin and Jonni have adopted a dog and urge friends to do the same. But Justin had the nagging feeling that he should do more to help the shelter, which was struggling to take care of the animals within its budget. So he drew on his contacts as manager of the Newport night spot and a member of the band Wojo to organize Saturday's Gimme Shelter, a benefit for the Pendleton County facility and a tribute to the Rolling Stones.

From animal shelters to AIDS support groups, local charitable organizations are increasingly receiving significant financial help from some unusual sources - the community's indie rockers, pop punks, death metal bands and other musicians - who are pouring their talent into philanthropic efforts. Gimme Shelter is the latest in a growing number of benefit performances by local artists, including several successful events this summer and a roster of shows set for the fall.

The animal shelter's annual budget is $4,200, and Justin hopes the $2,100 he expects to raise when 14 local groups and artists take the stage at York St. will go a long way toward enabling the shelter to enhance care for its animals.

Upcoming benefits
Playing For a Cure, Sept. 27, Madison Theater in Covington. Proceeds will be donated to the American Cancer Society. Go to

Chaz Howard Benefit, Sept. 3, Northside Tavern. Proceeds will be donated to local drummer Chaz Howard, who lost many of her possessions in a fire. 542-3603 or

Harvest Moon Benefit Festival, Oct. 29 at the Southgate House in Newport. Proceeds will be donated to a children's charity to be announced.

Most of the recent tributes, festivals and other fund-raising events organized by musicians benefit local nonprofit organizations, which use the money to make a significant impact on the community. In June, the A.M. Holiday festival brought in $1,200 for LINKS (Lonely Instruments for Needy Kids), which the organization will use to provide musical instruments for students at Cincinnati-area schools. The Rivertown Breakdown festival's yearly donations, including $1,500 garnered at the event this June, help supply gloves, trash bags and other gear to the volunteers at River Sweep, an annual effort to clean up the Ohio River organized by the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission.

Like many not-for-profit projects, River Sweep is completely funded by donations, so gifts of all amounts help keep the cleanup efforts going, says project director Jeanne Ison.

"Any time we have any kind of donation toward the project, it certainly helps," she says.

Working together

With inventive musicians at the helm, these events aren't your typical fund-raisers, says Kent Meloy, a veteran guitarist who plays with the band Kelp. Six years ago, he and fellow rocker Jay Nungesser launched the annual Harvest Moon Benefit Festival.

"This is a lot grittier than a black-tie dinner," he says. Meloy and Nungesser donate the festival's proceeds to a different local charity each year, and have helped artists in Louisville, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York set up their own Harvest Moon events.

In the Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky areas, the organizers of rock fund-raisers have begun to pool their knowledge and contacts. Jake Speed of Rivertown Breakdown and Mathew Arnold of A.M. Holiday, who both hold their festivals at Newport's Southgate House in the summer, swap advice throughout the year.

The '80s Pop ... Rocks! benefit for AVOC (AIDS Volunteers of Cincinnati) - which netted a roster of 34 artists, a crowd of about 550 people and a donation of $2,850 - was such an overwhelming success that other local musicians kept asking how it was done, says Beth Holzer-Wilson. She and her fellow organizers are talking about creating a Web site that would provide how-to information and contacts.

"If you've never done a benefit before, it's hard to know where to start," says Holzer-Wilson, who plays with the band Lovely Crash. "We thought, 'Wouldn't it be great to have a site, so people don't have to reinvent the wheel each time?' "

On the national level, the history of rock 'n' roll benefits can be traced to the consciousness- and cash-raising shows of the '60s and '70s, such as George Harrison's Concert for Bangladesh in 1971, says Scott Dudelson. His Los Angeles-based company, Music For Charity Productions, organized three concerts in Nashville this week to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Sweet Relief, a national organization that gives financial assistance to musicians in need.

"Those are the events that inspired me," Dudelson says. "Younger artists see those concerts and think, 'We can do that to help people, too.' "

Live Aid impact

Banding together onstage for a good cause enjoyed a particularly high profile in the '80s, with televised events such as 1985's Live Aid benefit for victims of the African famine. Farm Aid, which also grabbed headlines in 1985, is still presenting annual concerts to help struggling family farms. Last year's event, which featured Willie Nelson, Neil Young and Emmylou Harris, was held in Columbus.

Whether it's a low-key local show or a star-spangled national event, most rock benefits offer something for everyone involved.

Nonprofit organizations receive much-needed cash and a higher profile, often with audiences who might not have heard their message before. The money raised at '80s Pop ... Rocks! will help AVOC provide prevention, testing and client services programs to people who live in 13 counties, and information about the organization was made available at the show, says Doris Marks-Callis, special events coordinator.

"The event provided us with a really good forum for getting our message across," she says.

The crowd gets to attend a once-in-a-lifetime event and assist a worthwhile cause, all for the price of one admission, says the Screaming Mimes' Dave Storm. In January, his Start Making Cents: A Tribute to the Talking Heads show sold out York St. Cafe and raised $2,800 for the Greater Cincinnati Autism Society. Fans from as far away as St. Louis packed the venue and members of the Talking Heads donated items such as an autographed boxed CD for a raffle.

"We had a line out the door all night long in the middle of a Cincinnati winter," says Storm, whose son has Asperger syndrome, which is considered a form of autism.

Local musicians are willing to donate their time to benefits - often again and again - because they get to have a little fun, reach new ears and, most importantly, help out a cause they believe in, says Swarthy (Brian Love), frontman of the Swarthy Band. Love and his band have played several fund-raisers in the past few years, including the Talking Heads show.

"You'd have to have a heart of stone not to want to donate your time and talent to something like that," he says.

Meloy, who frequently plays benefits other than the Harvest Moon Festival, says that helping others simply fulfills a basic human need. "It can get really empty playing your music over and over again just to buy another beer."

Musicians making a difference

Many of the musicians organizing benefit shows started their careers as rock 'n' roll do-gooders while in their 20s and 30s. Scott Dudelson, 25, launched Music for Charity Productions, a Los Angeles-based company, earlier this year. Since then, he's produced shows in Los Angeles and Nashville for Sweet Relief.

Meet some of the young hometown artists who are making a difference with annual music events:

Jake Speed, 26. The frontman of Jake Speed and the Freddies started the annual Rivertown Breakdown festival three years ago. The event, which celebrates the Ohio River, expanded to two days this year. Proceeds benefit River Sweep, a volunteer-driven cleanup of the waterway.

Mathew Arnold, 26. The founder of A.M. Holiday, who plays drums for Mallory, also took his three-year-old event from one day to two this year. Each summer, the festival chooses a new nonprofit organization to help out.

Jay Nungesser, 30, and Kent Meloy, 41. Six years ago, the two musicians were playing together in a now-defunct band called Collins Gate when they got the idea for the Harvest Moon Benefit Festival. The event helps a different charity each year, and has spawned offshoots in Louisville, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles.

Five recent benefits

Harvest Moon Benefit Festival

• When/where: Oct. 4, 2003, Southgate House

• Amount raised: $1,000

• Benefiting: The School Intervention Program at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center

Start Making Cents:
A Tribute to the Talking Heads

• When/where: Jan. 9, York St. Cafe

• Amount raised: $2,800

• Benefiting: Greater Cincinnati Autism Society

A.M. Holiday

• When/where: June 11-12, Southgate House

• Amount raised: $1,200

• Benefiting: LINKS (Lonely Instruments for Needy Kids)

Rivertown Breakdown

• When/where: June 18-19, Southgate House

• Amount raised: $1,500

• Benefiting: River Sweep

'80s Pop ... Rocks!

• When/where: June 26, Southgate House

• Amount raised: $2,850

• Benefiting: AVOC (AIDS Volunteers of Cincinnati)


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