Live musical performances tend to come from a distance. Whether it’s an arena or amphitheater, a national treasure or an up-and-comer, the nature of concerts is one of separation. This reality makes the upcoming benefit for the Orange County Free Clinic all the more special, as a sizeable donation earns patrons an evening with legendary blues guitarist John Hammond, close enough to watch his fingers fly up and down the neck of his guitar and even see the sweat bead on his forehead.
“It’s a pretty unusual opportunity,” said clinic board member Fred Karns, who arranged the benefit. “Usually there’s a stage where the band plays and then the audience. Even in small venues there’s a stage and there’s always that separation. This will just be an informal evening up close with John Hammond. It’s basically a salon concert; something like Chopin would have played, where he’d come to your house, have a meal and then play some music.”
Karns, an accomplished musician and composer himself, met Hammond a few years ago when a mutual friend held a similarly sized concert on the Fourth of July in Boston.
“When he showed me the card [for the show], I saw that it really was the John Hammond, playing in a barn,” he said. “I studied with jazz guys in New York and he grew up with a lot of the same people. We sort of just spoke the same language and hit it off.”
When Karns talks about Hammond he almost separates his admiration for the man and his friendship. Hammond’s career exists on the periphery of other musical legends, including Jim Hendrix, who played in Hammond’s band prior to becoming a solo artist, Bob Dylan and Robbie Robertson of The Band.
“He’s legendary,” said Karns. “He was actually part of that scene and has been his entire life. It’s going to be a cool party, seeing a guy who is absolutely one of the greatest guys to do what he does. It’s like seeing a great baseball player or athlete, someone that does what the do really effortlessly.”
When developing his idea for the benefit, Karns had heard stories of similar concerts producing little profit for the actual charity, once production costs were paid. That fear was assuaged when some friends of the clinic volunteered to assume nearly all of the costs associated with making the concert a reality. Karla Baer, whose Piedmont Farm in Rapidan will host the concert, also agreed to pay Hammond’s fee. Jamie and Mary McConnell, also of Rapidan, took on many of the other costs, ensuring that the clinic will see the greatest mpact from the show.
Tickets for the show are $500 each, meaning Hammond’s performance will be an exclusive event for a select few in the region. Karns said the clinic was aiming for a couple dozen guests, and that a few seats remain. The proceeds, he said, would greatly benefit those that use the clinic.
“A lot of these people lost their jobs and lost their benefits,” said Karns. It’s young couples, who just haven’t been able to find work again.”
Executive director for the clinic, Dorren Brown, said that in the past year, when the clinic moved into its own space, the operating budget essentially doubled due to the increased overhead costs.
“The clinic operates on fundraisers and donations, with a small portion of our income coming from a few grants,” said Brown. “It’s definitely a community effort.”
The profits from Hammond’s show will go into the general operating fund for the clinic, she said.
“It helps us keep our doors open,” she said. “When you see someone come in with blood pressure 200 over 100, then we’re able to get it down with education and medication, then they come in next time, feeling better with a smile on their face, that’s what it’s all about.”
The clinic, which has been operating since 2007, handles a heavy load, with 48 percent of its patients being treated for high blood pressure and diabetes. There are 1,500 charts on file at the clinic, said Brown, with 700 different individuals being visiting the clinic since July of last year. She puts the total number of visits in the thousands.
A Valentine’s Day fundraiser and a dinner at Elmwood at Sparks are two of the clinic’s biggest annual fundraisers, but Brown said she’s very excited about the opportunity to host a Grammy Award winning artist in Hammond.
“We’re very excited we have this opportunity to have a famous artist come to our little Orange,” she said.
An Evening with John Hammond will be held Wednesday April 25 at Piedmont Farm in Rapidan. Cocktails and heavy hors d’oeuvres will be served at 6:30 p.m., with the performance beginning at 8 p.m. The $500 tickets are 90 percent tax deductible. For more information on the event call 672-2878 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.