Rockers and music fans jingle for Toys for Tots
Musicians from across Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut are coming together to help raise money and toys to give children a rockin’ Christmas.
Cranston resident Eric Tier has organized the third annual “12 Bands of Christmas,” a concert that will take place Sunday from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. at Mardi Gras Multi Club, while vocalist Jesse Gauthier, 22, and his father, Jack, a guitarist, are doing a holiday mall and toy drive tour performing songs of the season, with a stop at Warwick Mall Dec. 16 from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Both events are to benefit Toys for Tots.
For the Gauthiers of Smithfield, this year will mark the third year in a row that they have performed at Warwick Mall for the cause. They will also be playing at a handful of other shopping centers, such as Emerald Square Mall, Smithfield Crossings and South County Commons, with select appearances from the local United States Marine Corps. At their gig at Warwick Mall last year, they collected several bags full of toys for the cause, as well as $100 used to purchase gifts, in less than a few hours.
“This year we’ve already collected a giant box full of toys,” Jack said, noting that people have also made monetary donations. They play mostly holiday hits, with a few original songs sprinkled in.
Jesse, a student at Rhode Island College who is set to graduate this semester with a degree in liberal arts-geography, has been singing professionally for six years. But if you ask Jack, his son has been singing much longer.
“He’s been singing since before he could speak,” Jack joked.
Jack began playing guitar when he was eight and has been a producer and engineer for the last 25 years. He owns and operates Lakewest Recording in West Greenwich and is the manager of legendary blues guitarist Duke Robillard.
“He does a lot of recording at my studio and we’ve had a lot of Grammy nominations over the years,” Jack said.
Robillard, as well as local artist Mark Cutler, have appeared on their albums, which they record with their full band, The Jesse Liam Band (he drops his last name for the group’s title) with drummer and percussionist Dan Hann and bassist and keyboardist Peter Ciorlano.
They have also been involved with other benefits through the years, including From Boys to Men, a mentoring program for young boys and adolescents who don’t have any positive male role models in their lives. Jesse and Jack said combining their passion for music with charity work is a pleasure.
“The two always go hand in hand for me,” Jesse said. “We love singing, whether it’s at a club to make people happy or anywhere that we can use our gifts to help people. It’s really fulfilling and fun.”
Jack agreed. He said Toys for Toys is something that they’ve always thought of as “special.”
Tier, owner of Tier Enterprise DJ Service and Black Wing Productions, shares their sentiments. He said planning the 12 Bands of Christmas fills him with holiday cheer. Last year, he helped raise $8,600 in toys and cash combined for Toys for Tots, and accumulated $10,000 a previous year.
Not only does Mardi Gras owner John Ready donate his facility for the event, he’s donated funds for radio ads. Further, all money collected at the door will be contributed to the cause. The cover charge is $10 plus a toy. Doors open at 3:30, and credit cards and cash will be accepted.
“You’re seeing 12 [rock] bands in nine hours; that’s less than $1 a band,” Tier said. “And it’s for a good cause. It’s to give kids Christmas who normally wouldn’t have it.”
Also, money raised during an online auction is donated. This year, autographed instruments, including a custom-made guitar donated by Ziggy Tiffany Guitars Inc., a bass, which Tier bought and donated, a custom-made 14-inch chrome snare drum donated by Mark Duane and Sons, plus other items.
Tier had the instruments signed during “Shipwrecked,” a recent cruise he went on of Key West and Nassau. The 17 bands that performed on the cruise were eager to sing the goods, especially when they found out the goal is to help children in need.
“As soon as the musicians realized it was for Toys for Tots, they were all trying to grab a pen off me to sign it,” Tier said. “A couple bands said if they weren’t touring at the time they’d come down and play at the event.”
The guitar, which bears the Marine insignia and nearly 70 signatures on its neck and 1960/1970 Jaguar body, has been autographed by major-label acts such as Godsmack, Korn, Sevendust, Gilby Clarke (formerly of Guns N’ Roses), Geoff Tate of Queensryche, Fuel, Lit and more.
Six national bands, including Filter, Five Finger Death Punch, 10 Years, In This Moment, The Letter Black and Helmet, signed the bass and drum. Additionally, a Dean bass and a PRS guitar are up for bid. Zach Myers of Shinedown signed the guitar, while his band mate, Eric Bass, signed the bass. The band donated both instruments.
To bid on the items, find Tier on Facebook at www.facebook.com/eric.tier and click his “events” link. He’s posting separate event invites for each of the instruments to avoid any misunderstanding as to what item the bids are placed on.
“I don’t want people to get confused with three items on the same page,” said Tier.
He first put together the event in 1994 at the old JR’s in Providence. A few years ago, he found photos from the event, scanned them, and posted them to Facebook. A friend posted on the one of the photos, noting that it was a great time and even better cause. From there, he decided to do it again.
“The Marines want me to do it, the club wants me to do it, and the bands want me to do it, so I’m going to continue doing it,” Tier said. “These kids don’t know who it’s coming from, they just know that they are getting Christmas. Knowing that kind of makes me feel like Santa – the unknown Santa.”
Participating band members feel the same. They are happy to help children in need and lift the spirits of people who are struggling during a poor economy.
“Nowadays, everything is so expensive and everyone is really tight with their money, but the only thing that people can really afford to do is check out a cool band that’s playing and have a good time to get their minds off the daily grind,” said Andre Vanchot, vocalist for Streets, a New England-based band that formed in Connecticut in 2006.
While this is the first time they will be taking part in 12 Bands of Christmas, they’ve gigged at a few other charity events through the years.
“When you do benefit shows, it helps in both ways – the charitable way, but also the people that come out. Everybody is a winner,” he said.
While Vanchot and the other members of Streets will be taking the stage at 5:30, Flash Mob will be playing at 10. Leader and bassist Chris Rapoza, who has been in the music business locally and nationally for nearly 30 years, said music is the perfect way to help others, especially children.
“It’s a great cause,” said Rapoza, noting that Flash Mob is a Rhode Island-based band that formed a little more than a year ago. “We’re excited. And it’s not about money; it’s about doing something special. If you can go and play music and all of the proceeds are put towards kids, it makes you feel good all the way around.”
Other bands set to perform are Cabana Boys, Suburban Downfall, Sunset Steel, Scarlett, Therapy, Those Alone, Pistol Shot Gypsy and Omega Reign. He’s working on two last bands to fill out the group.
“They are all looking forward to doing it,” Tier said.
Tier’s friend, Vinnie Green, who accompanied him on the cruise, said it’s nice to see musicians unite for the show. He also praised Tier for spearheading the event.
“He put a lot of work into this,” Green said. “When we were on the cruise, he was constantly talking to people on the phone and texting people to square away bands,” Green said.