To the Benefit of All: Benefit Concerts - Charity Week on BTR


Pink Floyd performing at the Live 8 concert in London, July 2005. Photo by Dave Bushe.

The incentive towards charitable giving appreciably increases when there are perks involved. Beyond tax breaks and name recognition, many nonprofits these days partner with music and entertainment entities as a way to garner attention to their organization, raise money, and give contributors the bonus of an extra-special good time. Probably the earliest, most renowned incarnation of the benefit concert was Live Aid, Bob Geldoff’s 1985 broadcast concert initiative to derive funding for famine relief in Ethiopia. Live Aid featured many of the world’s biggest artists, including U2, David Bowie, Queen, Madonna and Tom Petty (to name a few); the event went down simultaneously in London and Philadelphia, and was telecast across 182 networks around the world and aired on over 2,000 radio stations. Decades later, the event saw a rebirth in Geldoff’s similar prerogative for Live 8 and Al Gore’s Live Earth.

Benefit concerts conspire commonly through the banded effort of artists donating their time and creative energy for a cause, often performing for free or at a significant cut so proceeds can be directed to the organization spotlighted. In 1979, the Music for UNICEF concert arranged by the Bee Gees raised nearly $10 million; 2005’s Concert for Hurricane Relief raised $30 million for the Red Cross and Salvation Army; Paul McCartney’s rock benefit for 9/11 raised $65 million for the United Way. The ultimate benefit of these shows, however, may be less about the money and more about the message. Showing pledge and support and a helluvalot of star power behind a cause urges those who make decisions to at least take a further look. While celebrities often reap criticism for using such displays as publicity stunts for themselves, an article last year in Forbes refutes this cognitive dissonance, coining the situation “catalytic philanthropy.”

Notes the article, “It’s natural to feel a bit cynical watching Madonna in a fancy leather jacket, with a face seemingly improved by thousands of dollars’ worth of plastic surgery, singing and asking viewers to donate small sums to help people in Haiti who are hurt, homeless and starving…Why doesn’t she just donate some of her own millions to those suffering in Haiti?…A benefit concert gives celebrities the feeling they are using their particular skills to do something good, and it makes donors feel good because they become a part of a bigger pool of giving.”

On a local scale, these altruistic endeavors can hit even closer to home, providing measurable testament to the fruition of their outcomes. In other words, it becomes personal. Case in point: New York City – hub of summer concert benefits. New Yorkers proudly cling to their music and their city, attending a number of shows over the season to both enjoy and service the community.

Here’s a look at three of this year’s philanthropic music enterprises and the organizations they aid:

Northside Festival – June 16-19 – Brooklyn: A fête raising money for the Open Space Alliance in Brooklyn through the gathering of musicians, visual artists and thinkers. Festival passes are sold for the entire occasion, and individual tickets are available for as little as five bucks. This year’s musical lineup includes Guided By Voices, Beirut, Wavves, Surfer Blood, Theophilus London, Oh Land, Twin Sister and Grouplove, as well as film screenings and business panels on new technology. Erected to honor the cultural legacy of the community, the festival’s core aim is to support OSA, a nonprofit formed in 2003 that supports local parks.

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Summer Stage – All summer long – NYC: One of the more prevalent music forums, Summer Stage hosts a variety of top-line artists in parks around Manhattan and the outer boroughs, put on annually by the City Parks Foundation. Mostly free to the public, the gig profits by the spirit and strength of community attendants, and earns the foundation year-long backing to a broader extent than perhaps a one-off affair can offer. Artists performing this year include Florence + the Machine, Twin Shadow, Ratatat, Pink Martini, Wiz Khalifa and more.

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Celebrate Brooklyn! – All summer long – Brooklyn et al: This series includes both free gigs (Maceo Parker, Ledisi and Raekwon) and fundraising shows (The Decemberists, Animal Collective and Bon Iver), all in support of  BRIC Performing Arts. The foundation was formed to present “emerging and established artists in music, dance, theater and multidisciplinary performance to broad audiences from Brooklyn and throughout New York City, and supports the development of new work.” Many Celebrate Brooklyn! shows take place at an outdoor arena in Prospect Park, but others are held at venues in the city.

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Fort Green Festival –June 25th – Brooklyn: The event is free, though showrunners will kindly accept $3 donations from music goers. The day-long fest will be headlined by the Mighty Mos Def, hosted by Rosie Perez and Angela Davis, and showcasing foods from a variety of local joints. Meant to embrace the “art, soul and future of Brooklyn,” this affair specifically assists the enclave of Fort Greene.

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