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Concerts for a cause

Band Together 

Concerts for a cause

Danny Rosin was born to do this. He's sitting on a full-length, red leather couch in the headquarters of his advertising and promotions firm, Brand Fuel, slightly nervous but mostly cool, asking his secretary to grab some T-shirts from some unseen stock, calling one of his employees to make sure a prospective client gets taken care of (he's going to be a little late for that 11 o'clock), and throwing off jokes like a disarming politician slipping through the tough questions at a mid-morning press conference.

"I was a punk going to prep school," jokes Rosin, explaining away the long hair in his passport photo from 1980 that's sitting in a glass-encased, odds-and-ends bureau inside Brand Fuel's front lobby.

A punk in prep school: That's appropriate, given Rosin's life. Now, his prep school is the corporate world, and--though his hair comes shorter these days and his clothes are immaculately pressed--more than a hint of that prep-school clash still lingers. He likes to kid and loves to laugh; in odd circumstances, a smirk comes with his smile. And, although Rosin is well into his job, it's not his only work. He's like that infamous teenage punk who makes all A's (Brand Fuel won the Distributor Website of the Year prize from the Advertising Specialty Institute in May) in school but writes a zine, runs a record label and plays in three bands.

"Danny is a person that many of us would like to emulate--his spirit, his energy and how he always does things in a positive, productive manner," says Skip Mangum, who graduated from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with Rosin. "That's unique."

And, like a punk, Rosin loves his music. Like Mangum, Rosin is one of a handful of founders of Band Together, a 501c3 nonprofit organization that hosts first-rate benefit concerts for charities directing funds to national crises or concerns. This year alone, Band Together--an eight-member board of directors tied to a score of volunteers and a core group of allegiant corporate sponsors--has raised over $250,000 for three local charities: Stop Hunger Now, Music Maker Relief Foundation and the Food Bank of N.C.

The organization helps bring quality entertainment to quality causes, banding the two together so as to spark interest--and hence funds--for people that need help. Derek Trucks--a blistering blues guitar player and a member of the Allman Brothers Band--led a benefit for the Hillsborough-based Music Maker Relief Foundation, an organization devoted to preserving the blues by preserving its artisans. Cracker and Junior Brown played an April concert to benefit local charity Stop Hunger Now, which funnels money to disaster areas, especially Southeast Asia following last year's tsunami. And, in October, a bevy of local bands--from soulsters Hobex to long-running rockers Arrogance--all played a massive Lincoln Theatre show to benefit the Food Bank of N.C. and its efforts in New Orleans.

Band Together, much like its founders, is powerful and ambitious, an organization that commits to doing something colossal if it does anything at all. That's how it started, too.

"I had the idea to do something, and Danny had the idea to do something big," remembers Phil Gruber, Rosin's college friend from UNC and another co-founder who was at the first informal meeting in his backyard on Sept. 15, 2001--four days after 9/11.

Gruber and his wife, Shellie, another UNC friend, decided to have a wine tasting, invite 50 friends over and charge $100 per head. They would donate the money to a charity. Rosin liked the idea of raising money and donating to a charity, but the small number of participants was irksome. He proposed a party with 1,000 people somewhere downtown with bands, thereby charging less money but raising more.

"Knowing how hard each other worked and knowing how committed we both could be helped a lot. Danny was the guy in college that, say you were selling T-shirts, would sell more than anyone else. I knew Danny would deliver on his promises of a great event for our sponsors," says Gruber, a 35-year-old insurance broker, driving home after a Special Olympics meeting that lasted longer than expected. "And I can't speak for him, but I imagine Danny knew that I would deliver on the fund-raising side."

The delivery was self-propagating. Six people with one goal formed the first meeting. By the second meeting, the core had grown to 15. Somehow, 60 people--10 more than Gruber had even proposed attend his wine tasting--found out about the third meeting and were there to volunteer. One was Hans Huang, another UNC graduate and young lawyer at one of the event's corporate sponsors, the law firm of Maupin Taylor.

"Band Together helped me in many ways. I was scheduled to be in New York on Sept. 11, but the trial got postponed for a deposition. Maupin Taylor has its offices in Tower 2, and I would always stay at the Trade Center Marriott," says Huang. "So, when this came about, I volunteered for the late shift as a bouncer. It helped give me some sort of mental relief."

Rosin and Gruber's little plan raised big money: Their final tally of $60,000 tripled their initial goal. Money went directly to The New York Police and Fire Widows' & Childrens' Benefit Fund and The Washington, D.C. Survivors Fund.

The idea was to only attend to urgent-need crises. But, without anything to focus on for more than a year, Band Together--which dropped the "For Our Heroes" part of its name shortly after the Nov. 3 concert--hosted two successful benefits for Special Olympics of North Carolina and Operation Smile, a Virginia-based organization that funds reconstructive surgery for children with facial deformities, especially cleft palates and lips.

"You would think that people would just keep talking, drinking their beer, trying to get picked up," remembers Rosin of the Operation Smile benefit, where videos of life-changing operations and testimonials from people affected by Operation Smile silenced the crowd before a 20th anniversary set from The Connells. "But people actually listened, and that was really moving."

But this year has been a bevy of fund-raising opportunities: Huang led Band Together for Tsunami Relief, the organization's most successful benefit yet, raising over $200,000 in downtown Raleigh at Capital Fitness. Though more than 1,000 people came, most of the money was raised in advance through corporate sponsorships. The crux of Band Together's power--itself an organization of young, committed professionals with plenty of energy to expend--is realizing that corporations stand to make the largest donations, and that the money may be higher if the event--and, hence, publicity--is done well.

"It's not a competition," says Gruber about the quest for funds. "But, when we go to a business, they will have already donated to the Red Cross from a foundation. But we ask for money out of their marketing department. They get good marketing value for their money, and that helps everyone."

"One thing that's unique about Band Together is the diversity of the board. Lots of nonprofits have boards of directors that hang together anyway. But there's only a little overlap with us, so there's a lot of possibility and we're able to reach a diverse group of people," says Huang, who, like the other board members, realizes that this allows them to throw a first-class benefit with relatively low overhead by making use of others' resources and skills.

Sponsors--more or less investors in the vision and energy of Rosin and his board--need not worry. With two weeks notice in September, Band Together paired with local musicians Caitlin Cary and Dave Bartholomew to throw a 14-band benefit for Hurricane Katrina victims on a Sunday afternoon at the Lincoln Theatre in downtown Raleigh. The total: $47,724.09.

"All companies have processes, and if you stay the course and tell people what you are doing and show them your passion, the squeaky wheel will get the grease," says Rosin about fund-raising and making good benefits bigger. "That's how this works."

For more information on Band Together, visit www.bandtogethernc.org.

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