The Ups and Downs of WRASFF

27 yearsBy SCOTT SAALMAN

What if we throw a Will Read and Sing for Food benefit show and no one comes?

That question has nagged me before each and every show ever since WRASFF’s fall 2011 debut at VUJC. To date, we’ve had 143 performances, representing a lot of worry.

Sometimes such uncertainty lingers clear up to five minutes before show time when not even one vehicle has yet to arrive at the venue.

Empty parking lots are humbling, especially when the previous show drew 100 people (a good number for us) — victory often has a short shelf life. As ever-faithful WRASFF core musician Kyle Lueken often comments, “We sure do move the needle.”

Of our 143 shows, we’ve been humbled 20 times (a conservative estimate). By that I mean 15 or fewer people cared to come out to support our charity of choice for that night. A single WRASFF show takes several hours of prep work. I take each empty seat personally.

WRASFF’s tagline is “Dollar by Dollar. Show by Show,” alluding to our dogged determination to donate our own time and talent show after show after show to raise whatever money we can for others in need. Those who show up typically make a $10 minimum donation to the charity at the venue’s entrance in exchange for live music and laughs (hopefully). We are compensated with laughter, applause and a free drink here and there. It’s sinful when a venue’s bartender doesn’t give the performers free drinks. Hedinger Beverage is the king of all WRASFF venues — they even give free drinks to the audience.

We know we can never be the major fundraiser for a charity. We are merely a Band Aid, albeit a dependable one, but never the cure. I’m still trying to pick my jaw up from the floor after learning the recent 100 Men Who Cook event raised $255,000 in one night for the very worthy Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) organization.

We did a show for CASA last February, raising $224,000 less than all those male cooks. You’d think just by virtue of having the word “food” in our name we could’ve done better. Maybe we should incorporate those goofy chef hats into our act.

In a recent show, we raised $67 for a library in Dale. In the room next door, something called corn husk dolls was also happening. A musical act maybe? I’m not sure, but what a great name for a band. Maybe we should’ve merged shows that night. Having both WRASFF and corn husk dolls on the same Thursday night was apparently way too much entertainment for Dale. Hurricane Florence was approaching the Carolina coast — maybe people in Dale were in a panic to get bread and milk.

Regardless that only eight or nine people (two being my parents) showed up, and regardless that one person was spinning with a spindle to make yarn throughout our performance (this happens at Springsteen shows all the time), Marc Steczyk, Kyle and I performed as if there were actually 13 or 14 people in attendance (we are professional like that). We were proud to learn that $67 could equate to the purchase of two new library books.

In eight seasons, the most money we’ve raised in one night was $17,000 for the Jasper Rotary Club’s Polio Plus charity event — in large part due to a generous match from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Take that, polio!

My proudest WRASFF moment occurred in 2014 when then Dubois County Community Foundation Director Brad Ward convinced us to do two shows on a Sunday inside a then dormant long-in-the-tooth building on the Jasper Square called Astra Theatre. We were assured that all rats and bats would be eradicated from the premises by sound check. Downtown businesses joined forces, aired out and tidied up the old place, and WRASFF became the first official entertainment to perform a public show inside the Astra since being shuttered more than a decade before. The smell of popcorn once again wafted through the theatre that had provided golden memories for generations since the 1930s. A combined 445 people showed up, and $4,700 was raised for a community cause.

I’ll never forget the good feeling while looking out the Astra door to see a long line of people waiting to enter. It was a relief knowing all the parking spots were full for once, as well as most of the seats inside. We knew the Astra was the real draw, not WRASFF, but we take what we can get. Not long after, Next Act formed to revitalize the place, turning it into a small-town crown jewel for the arts in southern Indiana.

WRASFF and Next Act have always had a great relationship. We’ve raised several thousand dollars for them, and they have, at times, provided us a prominent community stage. Appropriately, the Astra will be the site of WRASFF’s very last show ever Dec. 21.

It will be our 150th show, our swan song, and, thanks to a handful of Farewell Shows between now and then, we will easily surpass the $150,000 mark in charitable donations raised through our shows for 40-plus charities.

WRASFF didn’t raise that money — our audiences did. They deserve the applause. Thanks, Dubois County. Here’s hoping you show up to fill some seats — while we applaud you one last time.

Show host Scott Saalman has led Will Read and Sing for Food since show No. 1.