Rock Injection 

Stewart Marshall IS tired.

No, make that exhausted.

It’s no wonder. As the point man for Rock The Cure 2005, this professional musician has been scurrying around for weeks, hammering out deals, troubleshooting possible snafus, and acting as a liason between over twenty different bands and solo artists, seven different venues, and countless soundmen, stagehands, volunteers, marketing directors, and just plain old helpers.

Showtime is rapidly approaching, and he’s starting to sound a little frayed around the edges.

“My boss is a very understanding guy,” Marshall offers, when asked how he’s possibly juggling his day job with all this added responsibility.

“The past few days, I’ve caught myself and taken stock of how much time I’m spending on this and how much effort it is. Man, it might as well be a full-time job!”

Not that he’s complaining. The guitarplaying singer/songwriter – he often appears locally as a solo act and tours nationwide with his well-known Americana band Stewart & Winfield – is thrilled to be involved with this undertaking, and despite the rigors of helping to put together a show (or make that shows) of this magnitude, he’s resolute in his belief that it’s all for a worthy cause.

Hell, if he wasn’t, I’m sure he and many of the rest of the volunteer staff wouldn’t have subjected themselves to this for a second year in a row.

Last year’s inaugural Rock The Cure Concert was an all-day event held at Grayson Stadium. The idea? To have a grand old time while generating a ton of money for diabetes research as part of local realtor and pub owner Shelley Carroll Lowther’s Kiss-A-Pig campaign.

For those unaware, Kiss-A-Pig is the annual fundraising drive coordinated by the American Diabetes Association in which local figures compete against each other to see who can raise the most money for the cause. It’s a friendly competition, but one not without a lot of spirited rivalries. The winner receives two prizes: bragging rights, and the opportunity of kissing an actual pig. On the lips.

Why? It’s a symbolic gesture meant as a tip of the hat to swine – from whence the first insulin-based diabetes treatments were developed. Pigs aren’t in demand as much anymore, but hey, there’s still a lot of karma to repay, know what I mean?

Hopefully, word of this token gesture spreads quickly throughout hogville.

So, last year, Lowther (who is one of the proprietors of Finnegan’s Wake Irish Pub – formerly known as O’Connell’s) tapped Marshall to help drum up some popular local and regional talent for their high-profile benefit show.

In many respects, he was the right man for the job. With strong, longstanding ties in the Athens and Atlanta music scenes, Marshall was able to sign up a fairly impressive roster of like-minded roots-rock and blues acts to take part in the event.

Unfortunately, it proved to be a classic case of too much too soon.

“We went big last year (at Grayson Stadium),” reflects Marshall, “and realized after seven hundred people showed up... Hey, that’s not bad for a club. in fact it’s great. But for a stadium...”

Sure enough, even beautiful weather and a worthy cause couldn’t make up for the fact that too many of the bands on the bill appealed to roughly the exact same audience. That coupled with the fact that only serious diehard partiers can be counted on to stick around upwards of eight hours anywhere – let alone a baseball stadium – proved to be somewhat of a recipe for disappointment.

Which is not to say that Rock The Cure 2004 was a bomb. It’s just that, well, yeah, seven hundred people in a stadium that size can seem pretty demoralizing.

However, for many people closely connected with the show, while not a breakout success, it was a major step in the right direction that energized their donor base, reached out to folks who’d likely never have contributed otherwise, and in general, seemed like the start of a long-running local tradition.

“Rock the Cure was very well received last year,” says Catalina Garcia-Quick, the American Diabetes Association’s Local Marketing Manager.

“The project raised over $10,000, and there is already a ‘buzz’ about town.”

All organizers seem to agree that when all was said and done, the best thing to come from that experience was a renewed desire to climb this particular mountain again.

This time, however, Lowther, Marshall, and the ADA would all reflect on that sobering first time out of the gate, and do their best to come up with a safer, easier route to the top.

Garcia-Quick is confident they have.

“I know people are looking forward to the event – especially because this year there are so many venues around City Market, and such a showcase of local and regional talent.”

The multiple venues she mentions are withiut a doubt the single biggest change in direction from last year, and as far as most everyone involved is concerned, the key to a more successful and more inclusive festival.

According to Marshall, the brainstorming began in earnest almost immediately after last year’s overly ambitious outing, and, while no specifics were mentioned, one can only assume that two of the main areas which could most benefit from a little tweaking would be the diversity of the artists, and the upfront cost of staging the entire event.

So, they began by scrapping the notion of an all-day festival, and instead concentrated on the peak nightlife hours of between 5 pm and 1 am.

Then they set their sights on the epicenter of Savannah’s live entertainment scene, the Historic Downtown area.

As if that weren’t enough of a switch, they also found a clever and relatively ingenious way to easily broaden the scope and the variety of the entertainment, while slashing operating costs.

The organizers convinced the owners of City Market to let them use that centrally-located, open-air courtyard as the kickoff point for Rock The Cure 2005.

Sarting at 5:00 pm, Wednesday, April 6th, a half-dozen rock, soul, country and blues artists (including Marshall, popular Tybee cover group The Christy Alan Band, local songwriter Jan Spillane, electric blues combo Too Blue, Tinfoil Stars frontman Dodd Ferrelle, and the rural swing blues duo of JoJa Band members Bobby Hanson and Michael Amburgey) will appear there for free.

Much like the Grayson Stadium show, this portion of the festival will be open to all ages, and family oriented.

However, once that generous bill wraps up at 9:00 pm, things really shift into high gear.

Seven different venues – all within a few blocks of City Market – are turning over their stages to a breathtaking array of musical acts. In a shrewd maneuver, each club or bar is featuring artists who are “right for their room.” In other words: alternative rock at The Jinx; roots-rock and Americana at Finnegan’s Wake; R & B at Savannah Blues; tribute bands and modern commercial rock at Ibiza Nightlife, jam-bands at JJ Cagney’s on River Street, blues and jam bands at the Mercury lounge, and reggae and alt.country at Locos Deli & Grill.

Despite Savannah’s penchant for later-than late start times, the music will kick off a few minutes after 9:00 pm (it is a Wednesday night, after all), and run till approximately 1:00 in the morning.

Taking a page from The Classic City’s extremely successful annual music showcase Athfest, this notion of letting the music breathe a bit and giving different genres their own space allows the widest number of fans to see the music they’re most interested in without sitting through a set that won’t float their boat.

But what if you’re simply not familiar with many (or all) of the artists that have graciously donated their time and energy to this wonderful party?

Well, that’s the best part of it all. Like Athfest – and several other major music festivals around the country – audience members will trade in their advance tickets the night of the event for wristbands that give them access to every venue. It’s a novel idea that means everyone can stroll around and catch as many different artists as they can stand.

In a part of the city that’s known for being a great place to walk, this is a golden opportunity for those who regret not being more “plugged in” to the regional music scene to quickly and easily get a bird’s eye view of the sort of live shows that take place regularly in our neck of the woods.

According to Marshall, if a concertgoer hasn’t purchased a ticket in advance, that’s not a problem, as they will be for sale at all venues the night of the show. If someone is only interested in staying at one club all night long, they only have to pay $3 to get into that room, but merely by donating an extra $2, they can then avail themselves of everything else the festival has to offer.

Stewart laughs when asked how he would best pitch this idea.

“Twenty bands for five bucks? How could it get any better than that? Come on, folks. Don’t pay three bucks. Get the bracelet. No roaming charges. (laughs)”

Every bit of that bracelet fee goes directly to the ADA. The clubs see no part of the door money. The vast majority of the artists are playing for free, with nominal fees going to headliners. Those fees are donated by the clubs themselves, who are also encouraged to further donate five percent of their overall bar sales to the Kiss-A-Pig campaign as well.

Marshall says that virtually all of the bands he approached readily agreed to appear. Furthermore, he says almost everyone concerned with last year’s festival signed on to help again this time – something he says bodes very well for Rock The Cure growing into a hotly anticipated annual event.

When asked to what he attributes this outpouring of help, he thinks for a minute before he answers.

“I think from a performer's point of view, there are only so many charities that you can make time for, so the ones you want to do are the ones that everybody else's band is psyched on.

“Rock The Cure is an event that brings together a bunch of local musicians and music lovers, gives them a reason to rally the troops against a serious disease that affects many, many people, and galvanizes a ‘scene’ in which all efforts are for the greater good. And a fun one at that.”

As further proof of that all-pervasive spirit of cooperation, although Lowther was initially the candidate who came up with this idea (making it a major component of her last campaign), this time, all the Kiss-A-Pig canidates are joining forces to promote Rock The Cure.

Garcia-Quick says that doesn’t surprise her at all.

“The mission of the American Diabetes Association is to prevent and cure diabetes and to improve the lives of all those affected by diabetes. There are over 18 million Americans with the disease which means just about everyone knows someone, or has heard of someone who suffers. Our volunteers are very dedicated to the ‘mission.’ Yes, Kiss-A-Pig is a competition, but everyone has the same goal.”

Furthermore, both she and Marshall say they’re not concerned with any potential negative aspects to holding the event on a weeknight as opposed to a weekend. When asked why the event was scheduled in such a manner, Marshall says it simply made sense.

“Bars wanted a night that didn't conflict with their already packed evenings, and last year we had one of the most beautiful weekends of the year, but still had a hard time up against Heritage and SCAD events and the like.

“A weeknight seemed like a good idea as it didn't conflict with other stuff.”

“I think by Wednesday, most people are looking for a break from the daily grind,” adds Garcia-Quick. “Rock the Cure provides a great opportunity to get out and enjoy some good music during happy hour, and on into the evening.”

Marshall admits to being a bit disappointed that he’ll have to miss seeing so many of the concerts either because he’s playing a set himself, or simply running around like crazy trying to make sure everything runs smoothly. When pressed, he mentions a few acts he’d like to try and catch – if able.

“Cigar Store Indians, Passafire and the last part of Superhorse, of course... And Bobby Hanson and Michael Amburgey in the City Market Courtyard. They don't play very often, so that's a great chance to see some great music for absolutely zero dollars.”

Garcia-Quick sidesteps the question with the sort of answer only a PR person could give – but in this case, it’s probably quite honest.

“I’m looking forward to going from place to place and catching a little bit of everyone,” she says.

She also provides a wonderfully succinct argument for why everyone should consider taking part in this event.

“Rock the Cure is the only music festival for charity in Savannah,” she states.

“Diabetes is the fifth-deadliest disease in the USA, and it has no cure. If my $5 can help a child or anyone else -– that’s all I need to know.”

Tickets to Rock The Cure 2005 are on sale now at Silly Mad CDs, I-95 Radio, the AASU Student Activities Office, the Grayson Stadium box office, and other locations listed on the website: www.rockthecure.com. All $5 advance tickets and those sold at the door of the clubs can be redeemed for wristbands allowing access to all participating music venues. A complete schedule of performing artists is online as well.

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Jim Reed

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