Rock Out for Recovery: The Story Behind Project HEAL’s First Benefit Concert

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This bodacious post is from Kristen Pizzo of the San Jose Chapter.

“Music saved my life.”

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There are those that have taken on that expression as their life motto, citing music as the sole entity that gave them purpose, a reason to keep fighting. And there are those who despise the statement, calling those who say it ungrateful and selfish for crediting their life to something that cannot literally, by itself, salvage one’s life.

Me? I believe playing, writing, listening to, and connecting over music can be an extraordinary outlet. It was one of many escapes for me personally, though I’d never label myself a musician.

When I first founded Project HEAL’s San Jose chapter in the summer of 2013, the motto came to mind and sprouted what, at the time, seemed like a far-fetched, overly ambitious idea in my mind: I wanted to make it a reality by hosting a benefit concert for the treatment grant fund.

I began by casually looking for and contacting local bands, posting ads on Craigslist, and strategizing how to best approach my school about using the much sought after theater as a venue. I had no idea just how difficult arranging a concert would be, and gave up without ever really getting started. The idea of such a grand event faded into my mind and became a sort of dream fundraiser that I never believed could truly happen.

Fast forward to summer 2014. My chapter had raised just under $1,000 in our first year and our biggest event had been a bake sale. I was ready to take on the enormous endeavor that was the benefit concert. I began contacting local venues, putting Craigslist ads up again, and soliciting sponsors. The bands that responded to the Craigslist ad were, for the most part, very mediocre, but what could I expect? Then I received a response from a San Francisco rock band called Strange Hotel. I checked out their website, streamed their album, and watched their music videos. They were amazing. Their sound was unique and psychedelic, yet instantly likable. They even looked like rock stars. I knew they would please a crowd. It was an automatic yes for them. I knew I probably wouldn’t have that kind of luck with Craigslist again, so, while still posting the ads, I began actively pursuing bands online. On the website GigSalad I discovered a Los Altos based high school indie rock band called 37th Parallel and instantly fell in love with their sound. The singer, though only my age, had the mature, sexy voice of a 20-something rock star rising to fame. Their original songs’ lyrics were catchy and radiated a wise-beyond-their-years maturity unlike any high school band’s I’d ever heard before.I emailed their manager, Jason, and just like that, they were in the line up.

Many bands, as I expected, said no because of the lack of pay. A band called Stickup Kid, however, told me they would play the show if they weren’t busy. Even that “maybe” meant a lot. The band is a San Jose based alternative, or pop punk band that is signed to Adeline Records, which was co-created by Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day. The band has opened for Green Day, and already has a huge fan-base, which includes me. I had discovered them a year before, and, having been a pop-punk/alternative fan for years, immediately loved their sound. So, you see, that “maybe” was quite exciting.

Though finding bands was a huge part of the process, I was also still soliciting sponsors and donations for a silent auction daily. I had secured the San Jose Woman’s Club as a venue, and with the help of Project HEAL executive director Sara Brody, got it for a discounted rate. Sponsors were slow to come, but by late fall we had $1,750 in sponsorships, which more than covered the cost of the venue. Then there was the issue of the sound equipment. It was looking like it would cost us around $500, and we would have to pay out of pocket for most of it.

Ticket sales were slow for the concert, and more than once I feared it’d be better to cancel my dream event than risk losing money. Meanwhile, no one in my chapter group at school really wanted to help. It was just me, with Sara’s guidance, doing everything from finding food vendors, sponsors, auction donations, and bands to advertising the event itself.

As the concert neared, I became increasingly more stressed. On top of that, our hot dog vendor and third band, who I will not name, cancelled on me two weeks before the show date. I couldn’t have an hour long event with two bands, a few people, and no food. I contacted Stickup Kid again, but they declined. I got another San Jose band, Docks, on board immediately, and replied to a seventeen year old singer/songwriter named Kaleb Askew who had responded to the Craigslist ad and got him on board too, as well as a band from my high school, in hopes that they’d draw more students. I got a replacement hot dog vendor and our ice cream vendor confirmed they’d be there. Jason, 37th Parallel’s manager, informed me that they would be able to provide all the equipment and that he could be the sound guy. Ticket sales picked up the week of the event, and things were really looking up.

Just when I didn’t think I couldn’t be any luckier, I received a Facebook message from Stickup Kid. Plans had changed and their singer, Tony, was willing to do any acoustic set. We already had five acts, but he was too good to pass up.

The night of the concert, everything was surreal. So many months had passed since I had first started organizing it, and I had always felt like the day would never come. My two main chapter officers Natalie and Sehaj, helped set up and sell tickets at the door, as did my family. The bands were shocked at first to learn that a 16 year-old girl was behind the whole affair, but were so sweet and happy to help the cause nonetheless.

I received several compliments on the speech I gave before the show, although it was last minute and unrehearsed. After the show began and Strange Hotel hit the stage, I was able to relax a little and take it all in. Colored lights danced across the stage where each band and musician played phenomenally, guests sat at tables, ate, danced and mingled around. After each performance, I thanked and chatted with the bands. I was able to enjoy the intimate acoustic set Tony of Stickup Kid performed while singing along with the familiar lyrics as if I were a guest myself. It was all a dream come true, a beautiful night of music where I felt surrounded by guests and musicians who had so much love and support for the cause that some of them hadn’t even known existed before.

I breathed a sigh of relief and utter awe at it all. I had done it. I had created a night where music could truly save lives.In the end, we raised over $3,000 for the eating disorder treatment fund.

None of it would have been possible without the help of the Eating Recovery Center California, the Healthy Teen Project, Center for Discovery, the Santa Teresa High School Organization of Parents and Staff, Kathy Sutherland and the San Jose Woman’s Club, Sonia’s Hot Dog Cart, Baskin Robbins, the many companies that donated to the silent auction, my parents and officers, and most of all, the insanely talented and kind bands and musicians.

Strange Hotel, 37th Parallel and Jason Guesman, Docks, Andy’s Problems, Kaleb Askew, and Tony Geravesh of Stickup Kid were the heart and soul of Rock Out for Recovery, and I will forever be huge fans of not only their amazing music, but also the compassionate, beautiful, and overall wonderful people behind it who donated their time and talent to Project HEAL.

Check them out, give them a like on Facebook, and download their music because they rock!

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