To Who’s Benefit?

“We’d get these requests literally twenty-four hours a day. When Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young were touring America in 1974, I used to get notes slipped under my hotel room door in the middle of the night, sometimes at three or four in the morning. The notes were interchangeable, and they always went something like: ‘Dear Mr. Crosby, please forgive me for writing you this note but you are the only person who can help us. We need to raise a million dollars by next week to (feed the world, house the homeless, clothe the whales). Will you do a concert for us? And will you ask all your friends to do it with you? It’s only one night and it will make a huge difference to (the world, the homeless, the whales). Thanks in advance for saying yes’.”

So shares music legend David Crosby in his book Stand and Be Counted.

Not to be too terribly cynical, but who really benefits from benefit concerts? Are they more for publicity than the cause? Is the money raised actually going to get to the intended organization? Will it even make a difference if it does?

Or have incalculable strides been made out of public view, following such events? We mostly try to keep the reality of such causes out of our public view anyway, so how would we really notice if they were any different? And I’m talking about all of the causes: AIDS, nuclear weapons, global poverty, the environment, orphans, homeless, abused women, military veterans/families, world peace, etc.

Some of the most famous benefits through the years, followed by the cause and year: Monterey Pop Festival (MIPF Foundation, 1967), The Concert for Bangladesh (relief of refugees from East Pakistan, 1971), The No Nukes Concert (against the use of nuclear energy, 1979), The Secret Policeman’s Balls (Amnesty International, multiple dates), Farm Aid (family farmers in America, first in 1985), Live Aid (famine relief in Ethiopia, 1985), Live 8 (eradicate poverty in third-world countries, 2005). There are many, many more.

Following the 1971 Concert for Bangladesh (from the book Stand and Be Counted), legendary sitarist Ravi Shankar shared his thoughts about the assumed large amount of money raised, 

“…When you think of the amount being spent on almost eight million refugees, and so many of them children, of course it is like a drop in the ocean. Maybe it will take care of them for only two or three days. But that is not the point. The main issue – beyond the sum of money we can raise – is that we feel that all the young people who came to the concerts…they were made aware of something very few of them felt or knew clearly – about Bangla Desh and what has happened to cause such distress. It is like trying to ignite, trying to pass on the responsibilities as much as possible to everyone else. I think this aim has been achieved.”

That’s the positive and hopefully-realized impact.

The reality is this (also from Stand and Be Counted):

“…the Internal Revenue Service ruled that since the concerts had not been produced by a nonprofit entity, all proceeds were to be viewed as taxable under the law…The result was that it took an unbelievable eleven years for most of the money to reach UNICEF…A UNICEF study estimates that during those eleven years, more than eight million children of Bangladesh died of malnutrition and disease.”

I’m all for helping out, but unfortunately most problems are a few light years beyond the funds (potentially) raised by a group of “famous” musicians and/or celebrities. 

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

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7 thoughts on “To Who’s Benefit?

  1. I really enjoyed this, John. There is so much truth to it. It’s important to raise awareness and doing something is better than nothing, but red tape often eats away at that good that is accomplished.

    • Thanks Sara. I appreciate the comment. I know this side of things speaks to your interests/expertise and I would love to know if you have further thoughts later on.

  2. I really enjoyed this, John. It’s so true. Awareness is important, but red tape often gets in the way of any good that may be accomplished. It ends up being free pub for often over-exposed artists.

  3. Great post. I think my favorite part is the last line.

    I can’t imagine what it’s like for artists/their managers who are approached time and time again with worthy causes. I’ve thought about it so much more, as the coordinator for the YWCA’s Celebrity Auction featuring Martina McBride during CMA Fest (http://kl.am/ywcacelebauction). Many of the artists and their “people” understand and do what they can to submit at least one thing – and then there are those who go above and beyond. It’s great to see how, for many artists/managements/labels, much of an effort is made to support nonprofits and their fund raising events.

    I have to admit, I was a little perturbed, at first, especially as a PR person, by the response from publicists for two country starlets. Backstage at the Opry (with the VP’s permission), I had a handful of goodies I was hoping to get autographed by them (on 2 separate nights). Fans of all ages were getting a number of items signed. I explained the items were for Martina’s Auction for domestic violence victims: One publicist prompted me to contact her management and not to request an autograph. The other said I could get a CD signed and nothing else.

    My immediate inner response was like the author of that note: It’s only a guitar and cowboy hat, and we could raise sooo much money with just a few autographs. The second publicist explained the artist signing more items would “devalue” her autograph. I went away thinking: “Why did I even explain it was for a good cause – I should’ve just acted like any other fan.”

    I can kind of understand where she was coming from. So, you live, you learn, I guess. I am happy to say artists like Josh Turner, Keith Urban, Dolly Parton, Brad Paisley, Rascal Flatts (& their “people”) and many other country artists have made awesome contributions.

    Back to your last line: It reminds me of “Idol Gives Back” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idol_Gives_Back).

    I heard they didn’t do that episode/try to raise money in the same way, this year because of the economy. The first thing that came to my mind is that they didn’t think they could surpass last year’s total (which always seems to be the case with Idol: bigger-than-before numbers)…doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have tried.

    So sorry that’s so long! Just kind of came out 🙂 Hope all’s well!

    • Cheryl, thank you so much for this. It’s great to hear your stories of a comparable situation. Thanks for reading.

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