By Fiona O’ Connell
A charity or benefit concert is not a new nor revolutionary idea. Gigs of this sort have been happening for decades with the aim of fundraising for a charitable cause, often at the height of a humanitarian crisis. Musicians have been getting involved and offering their services to these causes unreservedly, often performing for free for a greater cause. The scale of these types of events differs greatly from venue to venue, cause to cause, and of course, to the organisers of the gig and the type of budget at their disposal for the event. As a nation we have never shied away from offering services or funds to those less fortunate, with countless charitable musical events taking place all over the country every year. At a more local level, Cork city as the cultural, artistic hub that it is, continually lends its support to those in need in the form of generous and talented musicians offering their services to create a shared musical experience, a form of sanctuary if you will, in the hopes of raising profits and awareness for those in need.
The coupling of music and charity and/or philanthropy, has been occurring for centuries. Continually cited as a shining example (and for good reason) is the infamous 1985 Live Aid concert, organised and curated by Ireland’s own Bob Geldof. Taking place in Wembley stadium with a stellar, jam-packed lineup, the concert raised a whopping £30 million for the starving in Africa through global phone-in donations as well as ticket sales. It is worth noting that Live Aid was broadcast globally on television and radio allowing for those unable to be physically present, to still feel part of something special, heightened by the fact viewers and listeners could call in to pledge their donations to the cause. This type of benefit concert has one clear purpose – mass communication. Musicians alongside organisers of this type of concert can communicate their message efficiently to a wide audience through the use of quality entertainment, showcasing the power of music in speaking to and inspiring the masses. Unknowingly to Bob, with this concert he stylized the format for traditional modern-day charity gigs with the running of this large-scale, landmark musical event. Modern day examples of similar benefit concerts include Geldof’s 2005 Live 8 in an attempt to urge governments to tackle poverty in third world countries, 12-12-12; The Concert for Sandy Relief with proceeds going to Hurricane Sandy victims and Ariana Grande’s 2017 One Love Manchester in aid of terrorist attack victims.
The scale of the events in question can differ drastically in terms of location and the amenities in question; acts, venue, promotional resources, and most importantly, audience. One of the biggest annual charity gigs in this country is the RTE 2FM Christmas Charity Ball in aid of the ISPCC. Taking place in the 3Arena, the ball pulls in some of the biggest names in the Irish industry every year including the likes of Picture This, Hozier, and Kodaline. To date the ball has raised a whopping €3 million for the ISPCC since 2015. This annual event is of course, one of the most efficiently organised and heavily promoted charity gigs in the country; its name precedes the actual event, creating a hype many other gigs of this type could only dream of generating. In comparison to smaller charity gigs, with just as much heart and desire to do good, it is near impossible to reach a similar level of profits, secure acts of similar calibre and status, or gain as much media attention as the likes of the Christmas Ball. Matters of scale are inevitable and unavoidable when budgets and available resources come into play. However it is important to remind ourselves that any attempt to use music and its communicative abilities for a greater good is worthwhile and something to be commended, regardless of attendance and proceed figures.
It is worth noting that efficient marketing and publicity can make or break this sort of event. When the success directly depends on proceeds and the amount of money made as well as awareness created around a certain cause or topic, effective promotion of the event at hand is nothing short of essential. While the issue of money arises in attempting to secure good advertisements in print media, on TV, and on the radio, it is vital that we do not underestimate the power of social media as a marketing tool. And not just in the promotion in the lead up to the event. Social media has given the individual this strange and wonderful tool to publicize our daily lives to the masses, to emphasise the importance of our own voices and our own lived experiences by broadcasting them to our literal followers. I won’t mansplain the concept of social media to you any further but I do think it is vital to highlight the significance of it as a tool, particularly in this type of instance where its power to do good may be overlooked. One of the biggest draws and reasons to go to live music events in the first place is this idea of a shared experience which a gig is; this magical, otherworldly space where a performer can connect and communicate with an audience, delivering a performance which can transcend anything they can attempt to articulate in words alone. This is often the draw in actually purchasing a ticket in the hopes of witnessing something spectacular, while the publication and broadcasting of the event on social media allows for those not present to feel a twinge of jealousy. Social media can also allow for the significance of scale to be overridden. When publicised on the stories of certain social circles it can feel like absolutely everyone and their dog is at an event as their personalised broadcasts on Instagram and Snapchat fill their followers with envy and perhaps even the dreaded FOMO.
One of the most recent examples of local charity gigs took place a few weeks ago in The Roundy, headlined by Cork-based, ambient trap-pop band Happyalone. The boys curated a lineup jam-packed of emerging Irish talent for the evening – Dublin-based rap duo ROGAN + OMEGA opened the show, shortly followed by Cork-based indie singer-songwriter Etain, and the eccentric trio The Love Buzz before headliners Happyalone took to the stage of the cosy Plugd. In aid of Pieta House, a charity that aims to help those in mental distress with suicidal thoughts and/or those engaging in self-harm, the gig attracted a passionate reaction both from those playing as well as from the audience. With the ever-increasing focus on mental health and issues surrounding the topic, the organising of a fundraising gig for the charity on behalf of three young men in their twenties; the category of people in Ireland with the highest suicide rate, is massively commendable. The publicizing of the gig in the run up was relatively minimal as it appeared to be organised on a whim, with acts not being announced until a few days before the event. However, with the loyal following of the Cork band, an abundance of talent between all of the featured acts, and a cause dear to many people’s hearts; the gig was still a huge success. The Roundy provided a perfect venue for the gig, as the performances felt equally intimate; with the soft, harrowing sounds of Etain’s deeply personal and poetic songs, whilst also providing the perfect space in which to completely let go and dance like nobody’s watching to the sounds of The Love Buzz. Something I found entirely captivating and an element of charity gigs I had never picked up on was the artists’ on stage reaction to, as well as their engagement with, the charitable cause of the evening. Rogan and Omega expressed their gratitude for being able to play at such an event on multiple occasions as well as both taking turns to share their own struggles and issues with mental health in the past, performing two songs evidently inspired by such troubles. Etain and Happyalone expressed similar sentiments of gratitude towards both Plugd for providing a venue for the event and the audience for showing their support for such a worthy cause. The Love Buzz took an entirely different but equally commendable approach to the sensitive topic at hand by encouraging the audience to lose themselves in dance by truly letting go when things get difficult. A highlight of the evening, the band provided an charged, cathartic musical experience which fully captures the power of music to express that which with words we sometimes cannot. The presence of social media and those opting to broadcast their experience of the night on their stories also struck me more so than usual. I felt the impact of the ‘you had to be there’ idea during the performance and I think that is why gigs of all kinds but particularly charitable gigs in aid of these entirely worthy causes that often struggle to reach those in need due to lack of funding, are so important but also why they work. To feel the full effect of these performances, you need to be there, live, standing in front of these astonishing musicians, witnessing their talent and passion, losing yourself in the moment, and feeling a part of something. Because if music can’t do that then what can?
Sidebar – Gig of the Month – Charitable Edition ‘Music for Sanctuary’
Feeling inspired to give back to the greater good? Look no further than this charity gig in aid of those living in Direct Provision in Cork City. A group of nine BMus students from UCC’s Music Department have organised a gig featuring Citadel, a world music band from Kinsale Road taking place on 22nd March in the Kino. Each of the members of the eight-piece band are currently living in direct provision in the city centre. All funds will go directly to those participating who are currently attempting to fundraise for a new project that will connect refugees and asylum seekers like themselves with jobs.
Tickets will be available through the Facebook event ‘Music for Sanctuary’ at €10 with a discounted rate for students of €5. Bring your friends and family down to the Kino from 8pm on 22nd March for what is set to be an unmissable and collaborative night of energy-fuelled music, all in aid of a terrific cause.