Marc Beeson can hardly believe how much time has passed since he performed in the first Bluebird Cafe fundraiser for Alive Hospice.
“It seemed like a worthy cause but it didn’t really touch my life in a personal way,” he recalled. “Over the years, after both my parents passed away and both times we had a hospice nurse, it’s just weird how it suddenly hits you and really matters to you.”
Since that inaugural night in 1994, the Bluebird has come to dedicate almost every night in its January calendar to raising money for the much admired hospice. Now known as Alive at the Bluebird, the program earned $77,000 in 2012 alone, which boosted the two-decade total to more than $470,000. “That money has helped us provide care and grief support to all who need them,” said Anna-Gene O’Neal, President/CEO, Alive Hospice. “A significant percentage of our population is uninsured or underinsured; this solidifies our ability to make sure that everyone has access to our care, regardless of their ability to pay.”
The two institutions work together closely to make each January a success for them both. “We begin meeting around August to brainstorm,” said Erika Wollam-Nichols, COO/GM, Bluebird Cafe. “Do we want a big kickoff? How will we represent the fact that 2013 is the 20th anniversary of our program? What does Alive Hospice need? What do we need? Then they’ll invite performers based on a spreadsheet we have of people who have participated.”
Nightly operating expenses for the Bluebird are covered by the $7 per person minimum admission charge. Other than that, every penny raised through the price of admission and purchase of specially designed T-shirts and posters goes back to Alive. Even so, Wollam-Nichols has discovered that generosity does reap unique benefits.
“January is slow for us, so this campaign brings a certain energy with it. The holiday feeling carries over from Christmas and there’s a kind of glow about the month. On any given night during Alive at the Bluebird, I’ll ask, ‘How many people have never been here before?’ It’ll be anywhere from half to two-thirds of the room. So it raises awareness of the Bluebird and makes us a place that local people can be proud of even as we get to do something that’s kind of unparalleled for others.”
More than 80 songwriters performed over 22 nights at the 2012 program. It’s a tribute not only to the venue but to those who rally to this cause that the calendar fills quickly with outstanding talent – which, as with each previous year, will once again include Beeson. “I talked to Erika the other day and said, ‘Hey, it’s about time to get one of those nights.’ She said, ‘Well, about half the dates are already taken.’ And I said, ‘Whoa, man! In mid-October?!’
“So I’m wrangling some guys together, but,” he reflected, with a laugh, “you think I’d have some seniority by now!”
Manhattan Transfer co-founder Gene Pistilli and his band perform at The Bluebird for Alive Hospice in 1995.
photo: courtesy of The Bluebird Cafe