Click the questions below to see their answers. If you can’t find your question, don’t hesitate to contact us!
Well, you're talking to us, and that's a good start! Just keep reading, and if you still want to DO this crazy thing, start calling your friends and just about every musician you know and see if THEY have the passion for it. If they do, find a place to play (see below) and then start getting in touch with the media! But the best way to START is to send out some emails and ask your friends to pass that email along, and you will be AMAZED how many people you can reach that way!
No. If there is no Fisher House in your state, you can play for any charity you like. We just wanna get a buncha pickers together and do some good in the world by playing music! That said, we would LOVE for you to send whatever you raise to the Fort Bragg North Carolina Fisher House (they've gotten donations from as far away as Tucson, Arizona, and Baghdad, Iraq!!) OR give to the Fisher House near YOU. And of course, you can always send the money to Fisher House National. If your state does not have a Fisher House, or if you feel there is a greater need elsewhere, we urge you to assemble some friends, make a circle and play music and raise money for ANY charity, local or national, you deem worthy of your time and effort.
If you know which location you're playing for, have folks make out their checks to the Minneapolis, or Richmond, or Fort Bragg (or whatever) Fisher House and then take or send the checks there. People like to have a record of donations for taxes--find an example of a pledge form here. You WILL get cash donations too, so just take the cash to the bank and have them make out a cashier's check to the House and send it along! HOWEVER: We HIGHLY recommend you GO to the Fisher House 'cause once you see what Fisher House does first hand, well, like us, you'll be organizing a Marathon Jam every year! You will be amazed at how MUCH they will appreciate what you have done whether you bring in twenty, two hundred or two thousand dollars!!
Before the Jam starts: you should provide the musicians and other supporters with a sponsorship form. Make sure it includes the Fisher House info in case folks want the deduction on their taxes. Also, remind donors to check for matching donations from their workplace. During the Jam: If you are having an audience, set up a very prominent place (something they have to nearly trip over to get in) with information on Fisher House and a BIG jar for donations. Make sure that someone’s eyes (preferably a non-player) are on the donation jar! Be prepared with donation receipts for those who want one. After the Jam: Follow up with your fellow musicians to collect their sponsor donations. Set a deadline for them to send it in so they don’t dribble in for weeks afterward. We like the fact that this is a true grassroots movement and thus is all about PEOPLE. If you provide pledge forms, those people who want to help will not only come out and play, but they will harass their friends to sponsor them in the same way folks get sponsors for running or biking events. You can go to corporate donors as well, and we recommend asking restaurants to donate food. Be sure sure to ask all the players if any of the companies they work for have in-kind matching donation programs. That is a GREAT way to turn a hundred dollar donation into a TWO HUNDRED DOLLAR gift to the Fisher House! You can also send people to the Fisher House's donation page donation page by clicking here (if you do donate, THANKS! and please email us to let us know how much you gave), or send a check to the Fisher House care of John Santa, 7716 Leak Lane, Chapel Hill, N.C. 27516. John Santa here -- "I usually try to get four people to sponsor me at ten dollars an hour. I then make sure I play twelve and a half hours. At ten bucks per hour, that is $125 per person. Times FOUR is a fast FIVE HUNDRED BUCKS!"
They sure are! And while that is NOT important to some people, it is to others, so we make sure to put that on all our pledge forms (click here to see examples).
Well, we don't, but you can handle that as you see fit. We DO, however, put a big ol' jar out by the door and let people know it's a GREAT idea to throw some cash or a check in there. This works out well for a number of reasons, not the least of which is sometimes people hear about the event and wander in and don't know any of the musicians and didn't sponsor any and are thus able to go ahead and make a donation. At the end of the night, we have found hundred dollar bills and checks for SEVERAL hundred dollars in the contribution jar.
Here in Chapel Hill, we are blessed with musicians who can (and will!) play a wide variety of music, so pretty much everything is welcome. I just can't say this enough: WE GET PAID TO PLAY, so if somebody shows up and wants to do jazz, well, we play jazz! If they wanna do classical, we do our best to keep up 'cause we try to not run ANYONE off who wants to help! HOWEVER, you can certainly feel free to restrict the music for YOUR Jam and stay within your comfort zone, so just do what you like. But, be prepared to keep an open mind 'cause you never know if a soldier is gonna show up and sing, or some folks will want to do gospel or blues or whatever, and often that can be a great thing for the Jam, the players and the spectators! John Santa here -- "Try to keep in mind the Jam can be a very emotional thing for the participants, and some people will have very direct ties to soldiers and very personal reasons for supporting us and wanting to be there. One of the great musical moments of my life was in 2009 when a young kid came in and stayed WAY in the back, playing a banjo. His dad came up and whispered in my ear and said his son was brand new on the banjo but really wanted to lead just one song so he could tell his brother (who was stationed in Baghdad) he had helped to raise money in honor of his big brother. Needless to say, I called on that young man, and he played what was probably the slowest bluegrass banjo version of "Sitting On Top Of The World" I have ever heard or played before or since. It was also one of the most MOVING and emotional moments of our Jam last year because everybody knew WHY he was playing and what it meant and how much he was struggling just to keep that song going 'cause he was so new to picking. A great, great moment, and one I wish for all of you Team Captains!"
Twelve hours is a long time. Folks get thirsty and hungry—plan on it. Here are some tips from Karen "Nadine" Pepin, Chapel Hill organizer extraordinaire:
In Chapel Hill, we do a potluck! We ask players and spectators to bring some chow, but either way, you gotta get folks to bring food and drinks if you expect them to stay put for twelve hours! Don't give them ANY excuse (like getting hungry) to leave! Spectators will come and go, and our experience is that there won't be many players left at the end of the evening, but you HAVE to plan for them to be there, so provide everything you can to make it easy for folks to stay. Over the years, we have gathered many restaurants who provide food on a regular basis, so you might try asking around in the neighborhood! (And this is a great chance to thank Jimmy Stubbs, owner/operator of Allen and Son Pit-Cooked Bar-B-Q of Pittsboro, N.C., for his MANY years of faithful and delicious donations!)
- It helps if you have someone to help organize this part of the event and to be there to set it up, run out and get things forgotten and to keep things running smoothly. Preferably an non-picker.
- Ask local businesses to provide some food and drink for the pickers. They can use this as a contribution (have the Fisher House tax ID and a nice thank you letter ready to give them).
- And/or have a potluck dinner provided by everyone playing. Consider the event location as to the types of food you can deal with safely. Remember you are going to be there for 12 hours, so you’ll need lots of ice, coolers etc.
- Also remember you will need: paper goods, cups, plastic ware, serving utensils, ice, coolers, warming racks, crockpots, foil, plastic wrap and clean up supplies.
- Try to think of the extras that make it nicer for everyone, coffee, sodas, tea or lemonade for later.
- Be considerate of your venue provider and ask about alcoholic beverages beforehand.
- Don’t forget about cleaning up afterward so they will want you back.
Yeah, boy, is it ever! However, that pain is mitigated by: 1. The joy you will get when you see people showing up and helping out and playing for a great cause, and... 2. When somebody younger than you drops out 'cause they just can't take it anymore (try to be gracious).
Sure, as long as they understand that if they play, everyone will be playing WITH them! We get paid to play, people, not just sit around and listen! If a band has a problem with that, well, they might wanna consider another venue.
Well, for good or ill, there needs to be a designated Music Leader! That is, someone who will keep things hopping and act as host! The Music Leader's job is to KEEP IT MOVING and remind the players to watch their dynamics, referee spats and egos, introduce local (or national) celebrities who might show up , and deal with the press and interviews, etc. It's a good idea to have an assistant to keep the circle going if the Music Leader is off doing press (or when they need bathroom breaks!) In North Carolina, we:
- Don't allow electric instruments -- only acoustic instruments. We do this because we don't want to get into volume wars, and we don't want the hassle of a PA system and feedback, etc. PLUS, this is NOT a performance. It's an endurance test!
- We sit in a big circle with music stands, and everybody brings lyrics and charts, etc. because it's gonna be a LONG day, and you can't trust yourself to remember all the lyrics and chords for every song you know, or at least I can't! The RDU Session Players have been playing for so long we have a HUGE book of tunes at our disposal, and virtually everyone has a copy made, so we are often all literally on the same page! (Click here to download some of our tunes). So, it's good to maybe pass out copies of a song you want to play, but the main thing is to have it set up so the person next in the circle ALREADY HAS A SONG IN THEIR HEAD AND ARE READY TO GO when the current song is finished. CAN'T SAY THIS ENOUGH: We get paid to PLAY, not sit around trying to decide what to play next! Keep it moving!!! Don't be shy about passing out breaks!! For one thing, we have a LOTTA time to fill, so making each song twenty minutes long ain't a BAD thing, and hey, it IS called the MARATHON JAM, right?? Besides, people come to HELP and offer their SUPPORT. Giving them a chance to sing is great for the singers, but remember, you'll have some non-singers too, so offer them a chance to take a break, and hey all you Music Leaders out there, make sure the pickers back off on the rhythm, so folks can HEAR those breaks! You never know when somebody is playing for fun or if they're playing in memory of someone they lost, so make each player feel special 'cause, well, they ARE!
- We invite the spectators to sit around us, and yes, sometimes, the Music Leader has to ask them to be quiet, but really, we have found the audiences to be VERY respectful and really enjoy the chance to be close to the players, and they seem to understand the whole acoustic dynamic.
Well, you CAN, but boy, I sure don't recommend it!! REMEMBER: you're gonna be here for TWELVE HOURS! Stagger some of the people or find out who can be there when and REALLY try to get a couple of dynamic, outgoing singers/players to come in for the last three or four hours 'cause you're gonna be BEAT, and it is GREAT to have some ringers show up to help carry the group across the finish line! In fact, while we bestow the coveted Iron Picker award to those who play the entire twelve hours (see below), we are also considering adding an award for those courageous souls who come in at the midnight hour and help carry the team to victory!
We have had GREAT luck with American Legion and VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) halls. They generally are so into the concept that they will donate the halls to you, and if they don't donate, send me some contact info, and I will shame them into donating it! It is VERY important that you be able to go to the media and say: "EVERY SINGLE PENNY RAISED WILL GO TO THE FAMILIES OF SOLDIERS." We try as much as possible to have NO operating expesnses, or we pay for them out of pocket, NOT from the donations (but just 'cause we do that doesn't mean you have to).
As Team Captain, it's gonna fall to YOU to call the TV, press and radio folks and get out there and TALK THIS THING UP! Go to the Fisher House website and familiarize yourself with who they are and what they do. Practice telling that in a short, concise manner (think ten-second SOUND BITES for the press and TV!). But really, if you just get out there and speak from the heart, you'll be FINE! Hopefully, since you're a player, you're used to being in front of people and cameras, so the press part won't be so tough.
The great thing about the Marathon Jam is it just seems to sell itself. We have used our media contacts from the sale of John's book and EIGHTwentythree's performances to help, but really, if you just call your local newspaper or send an email to one of the reporters, the rest should happen pretty easily! Now, there ARE some cases where you will have to bang down the door, but most press really WANT to know what's going on, and they LOVE a good story! The other thing you need to know is, for good or ill, a lot of press people are very busy, so make sure you write a GOOD press release about your event (see below).
Give all the vital information in the first couple of lines, e.g., "There will be a (bluegrass/blues/jazz/all styles) marathon music jam on February 26, from 1:00 PM to 1:00 AM, at such-and-such location, and all the money will be donated to the Fisher House Foundation." Then, explain BRIEFLY what Fisher House does (and include the website), and in the next sentence, explain that the event is part of a national grassroots effort called the Marathon Jam. Then, mention any local support or celebrities who might be involved. In other words, give all the IMPORTANT details you need to know FIRST and BRIEFLY. Then, fill in the story with more information and details the more you write. The idea is, if you're interested, you'll keep reading, but if you're not, or if you're in a hurry, you'll have everything you need to know in the first (short) paragraph. If you're lucky, the media will run the press release just as you wrote it, which is, in a way, kinda cool 'cause YOU get to control the message. If you're VERY lucky, they'll call and do an interview and then re-write the press release with quotes from you, etc. and maybe even ask for a photo op. IMPORTANT: No matter how shy you are, NEVER TURN DOWN A PHOTO OPPORTUNITY! Even if you just go over and stand in the middle of the American Legion Hall, pointing at nothing (been there, done that!) with the Commander, if that picture runs, more people will read about it! It's also a great chance to thank some local businesses. In 2009, John met with the Commander of the Chapel Hill American Legion (who spearheaded the donation of their facility) at a local music store, The Music Loft of Carrboro, NC (see how I snuck that in there??) because Jim Dennis, the owner, has been a great supporter (and participant) of the Marathon Jam over the years. The photo eventually ran in the Chapel Hill News, and it was TERRIFIC! All of us standing in front of a line of guitars pointing at a piece of paper that had nothing to do with anything per se, but boy, that photo got a LOT of attention and helped get people in the door, so don't be shy about getting out there! And it's okay to get your name or your band's name or whatever in the paper. REMEMBER: As Ben Franklin said, "It's okay to do good while doing good!"