When Getting Is Giving

Annual outdoor Miami Valley Music Fest

By Tim Anderl

Photo: The sisters of Jah Soul perform at the 2013 Miami Valley Music Fest; photo: J. Allen Laack

On the first weekend in August, organizers and volunteers from the Miami Valley Music Fest provide a weekend of music and camping for concertgoers from around the area and beyond. The event also provides music fans an opportunity to contribute to the wellbeing of their communities by simply attending the event; showing charitable giving cannot only be easy and accessible, but also fun.

The annual festival, held in Troy, Ohio, combines art and giving, showcasing the region’s best musicians and providing grants to regional charity organizations with the money raised during the event. Since 2008, the music fest has donated over $10,000 to local charity organizations, several thousand hours of service to the Miami Valley and education to thousands of festival attendees on charitable giving.

This year promises another great lineup of regional and national acts, including Anders Osborne, Cincinnati-/Dayton-based roots rockers The Buffalo Killers, Columbus’ The Spikedrivers and more.  

According to organizers, the mission of the event is simple: To gather people together to celebrate life in a way that is beneficial to themselves and their community; to promote musical diversity, local artists and charitable giving and to enhance the mind, body and spirit of all who attend the festival.

And with over 40 bands to choose from over the weekend, RV and tent camping offered, and food, art vendors and several charities on site, it is easy to get in the spirit of celebration and charitable giving.  

History that rocks

The Miami Valley Music Festival Association, Inc. was conceived in July of 2008, although the seeds for its growth were sown many years earlier. The Miami Valley Music Fest was first organized in the summer of 2006 by Nick Christian. At its conception, the goal was simply to showcase local musicians. The turnout was under 100 attendees, and the net income from the festival just barely overcame the expenses to put it on.

Around the same time, association president Brad Denson, who works by day as a carpenter for Denlinger Construction and plays with Lost on Iddings by night, started Lost Creek Music Review to similar results. A conversation with Christian led the two to combine their attention and efforts.

In 2007, the festival organizers made an important decision: to take an emphasis off of showcasing local music and focus on serving the local community. They achieved this through donating funds raised at the event to a local charity organization. 

Following the change in their mission, they began to see the good will boomerang back at them. They received sponsorships from local businesses to help defray the costs of the festival. And the support from sponsors and concertgoers enabled the festival to donate $700 to the Covington Outreach Association and other charitable causes.

“This year’s festival is sponsored by the generous folks at Dayton City Paper, Woodlands Productions and Troy’s Fraternal Order of Eagles,” Denson said.

Shortly thereafter, in July of 2008, Christian decided to create a non-profit organization that would facilitate and organize the growing needs of the festival, with hopes to one day attain 501(c)(3) status. This move proved very rewarding, as the music fest underwent remarkable growth, doubling the attendance and the amount of donations from the prior year. This time, the music fest was able to donate $1,400 to local cancer outreach and facilities.

The snowball of caring and charity continued to grow in scope and size in the following years. Today, The Miami Valley Music Festival Association is a 501(c)(3) public charity organized in Miami County, Ohio with the purpose of hosting music events to raise funds and awareness for local charitable causes. Their “Charity Rocks!” initiative seeks to educate the public on opportunities to give back to the community, and expose younger festival audiences to the public services offered by non-profit organizations.

Volunteering rocks! 

According to Denson, putting on a festival of this scope and size requires about an 11-month planning period and the combined efforts of over 100 volunteers. Volunteers accomplish everything from interaction with the media, running security check points and cleanup, running craft activities in the children’s area, organizing parking and spending the weekend in the kitchen, providing all the talent with home cooking.

“During the last two years, festival attendance has doubled,” Denson explained.  “Last year, 3,700 people attended, and this year we’re expecting about 1,500 more people than that. Because we understand that without people there is no event, we really strive to present a top-notch production on every stage. It takes every volunteer’s efforts to pull this off.

“The organization also participates in volunteerism and charity during the year,” Denson added. 

In the past, the group has organized river clean-ups for the Miami County Park District.  In just six weeks, they also organized an instrument drive to benefit the Rafiki Foundation’s AIDS orphanage in Kenya. As a direct result of their efforts, the orphanage received 500 pounds of instruments shipped for free, as well as $5,000. Denson also heard one child who lived at the orphanage and received those instruments is graduating from school and has and an internship with one of Kenya’s biggest music producers.

“I get a tremendous reward in seeing the effects of our collective efforts, not just on our community, but on people on the other side of the world,” Denson said proudly. “I know this kind of example encourages others to participate in volunteerism and inspires them to make a difference in their own ways.”

According to Denson, every year the cream of the crop rises to the top, and this year’s most valuable volunteers have included Melonya Cook, Brad Centers, Todd Oaks, Matt Stager, Shawn Wells, Carean Johnston and Susan Willis.

These acts rock!

Although each of the 40-plus bands and artists performing on one of four stages at the festival are unique and noteworthy in their own right, a handful of special headliners make the festival a must-attend event. 

Local boys The Buffalo Killers are having a tremendous year, which includes a headlining set at the music fest. Earlier this year, the hook-heavy rock band visited South By Southwest, hit Los Angeles in May to perform at the second annual Freaks For The Festival and appeared on shows up and down the California coast. The group also provided direct support for the legendary Chris Robinson Brotherhood, where they played a blistering live set to a full crowd at Joshua Tree. During the visit they also appeared on the late night show of host Carson Daly, which aired in early June.

“We are very excited to be playing this event,” Buffalo Killers guitarist Andy Gabbard said. “It seemed like a good opportunity for us to rock out. We are on a roll right now, just doing our thing, and we are gonna bring it. I’m looking forward to watching a lot of groups I haven’t seen before, and expect it to be a lot of fun.”

This year, renowned musician and Alligator Records recording artist Anders Osborne will perform a headlining set on Saturday night. Based out of New Orleans, Guitar Player magazine called him “the poet laureate of Louisiana’s fertile roots music scene.” 

Osborne is a familiar name in the jam-band circuit, having toured or played with Keb’ Mo’, Galactic, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Phil Lesh and others. He has performed at one of the nation’s largest music festivals, Bonnaroo, The High Sierra Festival, The Telluride Blues and Brews Festival, the Hangout Festival, WYEP Summer Music Fest, Central Park SummerStage and has been a fixture at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival for many years. His most recent release, Peace, has earned shining reviews from fans and critics alike, adding to an already impressive catalogue of music.

A who’s who of local musicians will also perform a collaborative tribute headliner at the event. Such A Night! A Celebration of The Band’s Last Waltz, is the brain child of local organizer Jeff Opt and brings together the region’s finest players to recreate the final concert of The Band, originally staged on Thanksgiving Night, 1976. In the late 1970s, the concert was made into what is today regarded as one of the best concert films ever, “Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz.”

For over a year, the group has been performing with a rotating cast of players. With money raised at their performances, they have been making charitable contributions to The Foodbank, Inc. and other beneficiaries.

First time Waltz-er David Payne, also of local rock band The New Old-Fashioned, said, “I’m excited to be a part of this group that not only pays tribute to one of the greatest bands and one of the greatest concerts of all time, but is also comprised of some of my favorite musicians in Dayton. It’ll be great to perform the show in front of the big festival crowd. I’m also excited because I get to sing ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,’ which is a great privilege and challenge for any singer; especially if you happen to be the singer in a roots rock band that is just trying his best to live up to the example set by the late, great Levon Helm.”

During their set, Such A Night! will receive a check for $2,000 from Miami Valley Music Fest to donate to a charity of their choice.

Finally, fest veterans The Spikedrivers, whom Denson describes as a “rowdy, honky tonkin’, rockabilly band,” will perform a nearly two-hour headlining set. With the most past events under their belts, the group is what Denson described as Miami Valley Music Fest’s house band.

Also performing during the weekend are Lost On Iddings, The Repeating Arms, Sharon Lane, Jones For Revival, Terrapin Moon, Paige Beller, Jah Soul and many others. 

Charity rocks!

The Miami Valley Music Fest provides the opportunity to apply for Charity Rocks! grants online. In order to be eligible, organizations that have been a 501(c)(3) for a year or longer, and provide services to Miami County residents, submitted an application by Monday, July 28. 

Charity Rocks! grant applicants will be announced at the 2014 Music Fest, and every charity participating receives an opportunity to present their organization on stage in between band sets during the festival. Voting for recipients of the 2014 Charity Rocks! Grant is democratic, beginning in September 2014 with a new online voting mechanism.

The fans rock!

“One year a storm system blew through during The Spikedrivers’ set and completely destroyed the campground and threatened to stop the event in its tracks,” Denson recalled. “It was the same storm that collapsed stages at similar concerts over in Indiana.”

Volunteers moved the stage to a safer location indoors, were able to jumpstart the festivities again and Denson’s head hit the pillow at 4 a.m. for a quick nap before assessing the damage to the 30-acre property. When he awoke an hour later, he realized fans and volunteers had cleaned and organized the trash and debris the storm left in its wake.

That said, in addition to all the other catalysts needed to foster growth and success for the event, Denson recognizes there would be no event without the fans, who are paramount to its success.

“The people who attend the event are its life’s blood,” Denison explained. “They are the ones who tell their friends, brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers about us. They promote us on social media, and without them there is no Miami Valley Music Fest.”

Miami Valley Music Fest takes place Friday, Aug. 1 and Saturday, Aug. 2 at Eagle’s Campgrounds, 2252 Troy-Urbana Rd. Tickets are $45, which includes the cost for tent camping, and are available from performers or at miamivalleymusicfest.com.

Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Anderl at TimAnderl@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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