On Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015, the public is invited to join in supporting one of the most exciting fund-raisers of the year. Called “Big Kids Rock!” it’s a celebrity-studded, fun-filled Battle of the Bands to support Little Kids Rock, a national nonprofit that came to life on the wings of an inspiration, by one-time elementary school teacher Dave Wish, who just wanted to provide free musical instruments and lessons for children in schools and neighborhoods where they’d never otherwise be able to afford them. And Wish wouldn’t let go of that idea until it became reality.
Little Kids Rock began in 2002, as Wish developed a way to bring music to students to give them early self-esteem, by teaching them how to play contemporary rock songs they could relate to more readily than the songs respectfully cataloged on the Columbia Masterworks series of classical music albums. There’d be plenty of time to learn the works of great music masters down the road. First, you’d have to get the children excited about playing the music of their generation.
Wish had been an elementary school teacher in schools where resources were either scarce or nonexistent. He created a curriculum that taught children vocal skills and how to play basic rock music songs, quickly. After just the first lesson, children could go home and tell their parents that they’d played their very first rock song, a tremendous boost for their confidence and self-image.
The program caught on quickly, and has skyrocketed in popularity nationally because of its effectiveness. Dave Wish has also been fortunate to gather a host of celebrity musicians who see the results he’s amassed with the schoolchildren. More than just lending a name or a face to a worthy cause, these celebrity musicians regularly visit the program schools or community centers and spend time, playing music with them and talking to them. What these stars see are modest rooms of students whose economic circumstances have predisposed them to “filled with promise but low in resources.” These children also get to hear how stars began their music dreams.
Ever as much as the names of big cities such as Dallas, Tampa, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, Los Angeles, Nashville, Atlanta, and Chicago inspire the aura of success, industry vitality and economic affluence, reality is that inner city schools are filled with forgotten children. There’s no money for “extras” or “outside the scope” programs such as music education. When hopes and dreams are not fostered, carefully, a preteen can easily view the world around them as the future they’re destined to inherit. And they fail to set goals or dream big, because no one is there to care that their fears of obscurity don’t play out into the real world.
Imagine the smiles on the children’s faces, when they have a chance to play songs with Grammy winners and rock stars who come to their schools as special guests. They’re playing their very own instruments, or singing alongside people they just saw on the national Grammy Awards telecast. Their electronic heroes become real-life heroes to them as well, all because of an inspiration to make a difference where few established sages would have likely given the cause a chance of sure-fire failure upon first hearing the idea.
What began as one teacher’s dream in San Francisco has now skyrocketed into a cause in 28 cities across the country, because of the organization’s success in accountable, transparent fundraising. The proceeds of public philanthropy are right in front of them, shining brightly with megawatt smiles, playing rock songs made famous by the inspirational mentors who come to their schools to help them. That very dream has been a part of Chicago’s philanthropic signature organizations since 2008, where volunteers and leaders around the country, including event coordinator Christine Fanning and team have spent almost a year planning for the “Big Kids Rock! Chicago” fundraiser and friend-raiser.
On Feb. 17, 2015, Richard Hoffman, Chair of the Katharine W. Hoffman Chicago Council of Little Kids Rock, shared details with zoomdune.com about the extraordinary event that will take place next Wednesday (Feb. 25) from 6 to 10 p.m. This event will provide most of the hard dollars needed to continue to “serving more than 20,000 students in 120 Chicago area schools.”
Hoffman explained that entertainment empresario Ron Onesti will serve as the evening’s Master of Ceremonies at Chicago’s Hard Rock Café, where three popular local bands—The Cadillac Casanovas, Subcool, and Liquidated Damages—will battle it out to win the audience’s favor and a very impressive Lucite guitar trophy, which puts that coveted mirror ball on “Dancing with the Stars” to shame.
So, how the bands can win that trophy is based on three criteria: “50% funds raised, 25% musical performance, and 25% crowd noise.” Celebrity judges (including one student judge) will be there to provide the bands with captivating commentary on their performances.
If you know and love the music of The Buckinghams and Shadows of Knight, then you know Carl Giammarese and Jimy Sohns, two founding members of their respective classic rock bands, which started in their Chicago home basements. Giammarese and Sohns, possibly Chicago’s version to Simon Cowell and Harry Connick, Jr., answered the call to be two of the evening’s five guest judges when their friend, Jules Follett, a member of the national board for Little Kids Rock, invited them to participate.
Follett, and her husband Kent, initially became known in Chicago music circles for their exemplary rock photography. In fact, Jules, author of the coffee table book “Sticks and Skins,” answered the call when famed drummer Liberty DeVitto made a personal request for her time as a volunteer on the national board of Little Kids Rock. It’s that person-to-person outreach that has helped the organization grow and flourish through the years.
Hoffman explained that he and his wife Kathy, an award-winning middle school math teacher, had been planning together about how they could spend their retirement years together and make a difference in their community. Dick shared that Kathy had been giving piano lessons to neighborhood kids while raising her two sons, and knew of the mutually beneficial relationship between music and classroom success, so the organization was a natural choice for them.
Kathy passed away unexpectedly, however, and Richard carries on their mutual love of the organization and its work in her honor. Also, in her memory, in 2012, the Chicago Council board decided to name their local group the Katharine W. Hoffman Little Kids Rock Chicago Council. The Council includes Perry and Sarah Bump, Robin Dawson, Colleen Egan, Michael Hoffman, Richard Hoffman (Chair), Jonathan B. Lewis, Ron Onesti, Nancy J. Powell, Chris Raimondo, and Gina Sideris (Council Secretary and Development Officer).
How can you be involved in this exciting endeavor? First, by attending next week’s Big Kids Rock! Chicago benefit. A select number of tickets are still available, starting at $50 per person, as an unforgettable evening of fun, fabulous entertainment unfolds, all in the name of serving 20,000 students in 120 Chicago Area schools who need this support to realize their dreams.
As seen on this link to tickets, each level of giving, from $50 general admission, $100 VIP, table sponsors and above, has a tangible and specific gift outcome. Donating $50 means providing ten sets of drum sticks or four guitar tuners; only $100 is needed to “put a guitar into a kid’s hands and give him/her a year’s worth of music lessons.” The Headliner sponsor level “provides for a two-day Little Kids Rock training for up to 30 new Chicago public school teachers, their instruments and curriculum, plus a Jam Summit for the children to have a community showcase.”
You can voice your support and choose which of the three performing bands (Cadillac Casanovas, Subcool, and Liquidated Damages) you’re backing, as you get your tickets. Currently, Subcool is leading in donations, but all that could change overnight. All gifts are tax deductible, another reason to support this endeavor generously.
Even if you cannot attend next week’s must-see event, you can still donate (follow the link on the ticket web page). If you love Chicago, if you love rock music, and if you believe in the power of music education to inspire at-risk, underserved children to keep their hopes of being a future Grammy-winning performer, all it takes is your first gift. Doors for Big Kids Rock Chicago open at 6 p.m. on Feb. 25 at the Hard Rock Café, located at 63 W. Ontario Street. The evening concludes at 10 p.m. Although some walk-up tickets might be available, your best bet, Dick Hoffman advises, is to get your tickets in advance. Go ahead. It’s only a life you could be changing, one song at a time.