WILDWOODstock: Entertaining & educational

When Dave Graham, guitarist and vocalist of Albany punk band The Blisterz and father of Wildwood stu

The annual WILDWOODstock benefit concert is helping to raise more than just money for Schenectady’s Wildwood School.

When Dave Graham, guitarist and vocalist of Albany punk band The Blisterz and father of Wildwood student Luke Graham, organized the first WILDWOODstock at The Parting Glass in Saratoga Springs in 2008, this was always one of the goals. And the bands who have played the show over the years have noticed the results, often in surprising places.

“We played a music festival in Oswego, and saw someone in attendance with a WILDWOODstock T-shirt on,” said Melanie Krahmer, vocalist, drummer and flutist for three-year WILDWOODstock veterans Sirsy. “I thought that was pretty neat. Dave is not only helping out the bands that play the benefit, he’s also spreading the message of what Wildwood School does, and awareness is always a good thing.”


With: Blackcat Elliot, The Velmas, Erin Harkes and The Rebound, Sirsy, The Fighting 86’s, Ramblin Jug Stompers, Dave Graham, Rob Skane

When: 1 to 9 p.m. Sunday

Where: The Parting Glass, 40-42 Lake Ave., Saratoga Springs

How Much: $10 (doors); $5 (advance)

More Info: 583-1916, www.partingglasspub.com, www.wildwoodstock.com

For Wildwood, which serves students from kindergarten through 12th grade with developmental disabilities such as autism, the show gets people involved who would otherwise not even have heard of the school.

“When you take something that is outside of our usual mission, something like rock ’n’ roll, it brings a whole new audience that then asks, ‘What’s Wildwood?’ ” said Wildwood public relations director Tom Schreck. “‘Oh, it’s a school for kids with autism. How many, 1,500 people are served by Wildwood? That’s what this rock ’n’ roll is about today; how do I get involved?’ Some of it, you’re talking to a captive audience of parents and service providers, but the rock ’n’ roll fans at the show, it’s probably less well known.”

Growth in attendance

Sirsy is once again performing at this year’s WILDWOODstock, on Sunday at The Parting Glass. The lineup also features fellow WILDWOODstock veterans Blackcat Elliot and Erin Harkes and The Rebound, along with The Velmas, The Fighting 86’s, Ramblin Jug Stompers and Rob Skane. The Blisterz will be sitting the show out for the first time, but Graham will perform a solo acoustic set.

The show begins at 1 p.m. with Skane and continues until 9 p.m., with each band playing 45-minute sets. As such, audience members come and go, but Graham has noticed a steady increase in attendance each year.

“Number-wise, it’s hard to say; I counted up some tickets from last year, from saving half and putting them in a bucket, and we had 300-something tickets; the number was in the 3 [hundred] to 500 range,” Graham said. “Kudos to the sound guys from Live Sound Incorporated, who keep this thing right on schedule; no running an hour-and-a-half behind. But oh my gosh, this is crazy. The crowd’s been great; it’s been growing every year and the word seems to be getting out, building I guess.”

Of course, there is a strong fundraising component to the event. All of the money from ticket sales — $5 in advance, or $10 at the door — and from silent auctions held throughout the day — go to benefit Wildwood programs. “We’ve got a lot of cool stuff from restaurant gift certificates, to concert tickets, gift baskets, paintings, pottery — we go after everything to get a wide range of stuff,” Graham said.

Striving for excellence

In 2008, the benefit pulled in about $6,000 for Wildwood, Graham estimates. The totals were slightly lower in 2009, at $5,600, but last year the show increased its fundraising to roughly $10,000.

Although Wildwood receives national and state government funding to cover its basic operations, the school relies both on donors and fundraising events to help support other costs. For example, the first WILDWOODstock came about in part to help fund the new playground equipment now at Wildwood.

“When we look to fundraising, we look to the kind of margin of excellence stuff that makes possible for us,” Schreck said. “One year’s WILDWOODstock, a lot of it went towards some new playground stuff, although we also have some donors that helped out with that.”

Originally, WILDWOODstock was meant to help out with the playground that year. Graham had no plans to make it an annual event, but reaction from the bands, community and school was so positive that he kept it going.

“We kind of just threw it together that first year,” Graham said. “I was fortunate to kind of hook up with Sirsy — I basically scheduled it around their schedule so I could get them to play it. Sirsy, Erin Harkes’ band and Blackcat Elliot have been there every year we’ve had it.”

More than performers

Gus Hais, vocalist and guitarist for Blackcat Elliot and a friend of Graham’s, was quick to jump on board with the event. For its first three years, Hais helped design the graphics for the event’s posters and T-shirts, although this year he “didn’t have a chance to do it.”

“I kind of helped [Graham] start in this crazy business,” Hais said. “He kind of asked us to just be a part of it, and I told him yeah. Blackcat Elliot is always interested in doing, helping out the community as much as we can. And I told him, ‘Listen, you need anybody to design anything, I can do that as well,’ and he’s like, ‘Ah, sure.’ Now it seems like it’s getting bigger and bigger.”

Sirsy has also helped with some of the event’s behind-the-scenes details, suggesting the discounted presale tickets and also bringing in new bands to the event each year.

“I help Dave with a lot of the press contacts and selling tickets on our website,” Krahmer said. “We help promote it in any way we can, just because everyone wants to help because it’s so sincere — it’s not a big corporate charity thing, where you don’t really see the people that it’s helping.”

Singer-songwriter Skane will be playing his first WILDWOODstock this year. Like the other musicians on the bill, Skane was friends with Graham previously and was drawn to the cause.

“It’s a very positive thing, and I think the people that are involved are very excited,” Skane said. “The people that are playing there are very excited as well. . . . With most bands, probably every band and performer, it’s an honor to play as many benefits as you can. It’s great to use your art or just use your passion for music to hopefully help people along the way.”

Joining in

Graham also has help from his family every year. “My sister does a lot of work, my wife does a lot of work, my parents, my in-laws, everybody helps,” Graham said. “It’s a good family event; everyone pitches in, and it makes it a great time.”

Graham’s son Luke also gets involved; Graham tried to bring him up onstage with him every year.

“I give him a tambourine, and it’s the highlight of my day,” Graham said. “He’s up there, jumping around, thinking he’s at some kind of punk rock show. He’s kind of a high energy kid, so he’s just going bonkers up there.”

Graham hopes the event will continue to grow each year. And Wildwood School is eager to have the event continue to raise awareness and money as well.

“Everyone knows the way budgets are being cut and funding is being affected,” Schreck said. “We at Wildwood set a goal, set standards, and to support that standard we want to keep [funding] at that level. So fundraising more than ever becomes critical, and WILDWOODstock is another means to keeping us providing the very best that we can.”

Categories: Life and Arts

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