30 Indy bands battle as the Talking Heads vs. Prince
Tonic Ball V: 30 Indiana-based rock, folk, jazz, funk, country and pop bands perform covers of the Talking Heads and Prince to benefit Second Helpings, in conjunction with the Tonic Gallery
Talking Heads tribute at Radio Radio (21+), 1119 E. Prospect St. (317-955-0995); Prince tribute at the Fountain Square Theatre (all ages), 1111 E. Prospect St. (317-686-6006)
Friday, Nov. 17, 8 p.m.
INFO: www.secondhelpings.com ; www.discoverfountainsquare.com
Give thanks this season by supporting the community — musical buffet-style. Tonic Ball V returns to Indianapolis Friday, Nov. 17, offering aural hors d’oeuvres from 30 Central Indiana bands covering songs by the Talking Heads and Prince. In conjunction with its sister event, Tonic Gallery, held earlier in the evening (see our Calendar Previews), the Tonic Ball bands will take over two stages in Fountain Square.
Each band plays one cover and one original song, sprinkling just a pinch of sound over the audience as the proverbial game of musical chairs continues throughout the night. Like last year, Radio Radio is again open to ages 21 and over, acting as headquarters for Talking Heads fans. This year, however, Tonic Ball founder Ken Honeywell has decided to expand to a second all-ages stage in the Fountain Square Theatre, where Prince fanatics will get their fill.
Fifteen bands on each stage will battle between Midwest folk renditions of songs like “Girlfriend is Better” and funky versions of “Little Red Corvette.” No genre left behind, Tonic Ball V exposes listeners to a wide range of styles — everything from rock, folk and pop to country, jazz, funk and beyond. It’s a diverse gathering in the spirit of Thanksgiving, and all proceeds benefit Second Helpings, a charity aimed at Greater Indianapolis hunger relief, food rescue and job training. Last year, 500 people squeezed into Radio Radio, helping raise $20,000 for Second Helpings.
The bands performing in Radio Radio this time around include Arminta & Blaq Lily (the band’s absolute final show), Yoko Moment, We’re Not Squibnocket, Ron Boyd, Junction 356, Impossible Shapes, Walking Into Drawings (featuring Matt Boyer), Blueprint Music, Ann McWilliams, The Roundups, Extra Blue Kind, The Hoovers, Born Again Floozies, Amy Lashley and Everest. Honeywell chose the bar to host the Talking Heads tribute night because he admires the diverse song choices the band has to offer. Previous bands covered have included Elvis Costello, Neil Young, The Rolling Stones and others. Honeywell also admires the Talking Heads’ contender, Prince, and his willingness to transform musically and influence so many artists throughout his career.
The bands covering Prince in the Fountain Square Theatre include The Turnipseeds, The Band Formerly Known As We’re Not Squibnocket, Kit Malone and the American Arsonists, Jennie DeVoe, The Common, Peal, Tecumseh Flyers, The Tumbleweeds, Ebenezer & The Hymnasters, Loretta, Supermoneytrain, The Benders, The Paper Americans, Otis Gibbs and Ralph Jeffers with Geoff Davis.
“[Tonic Ball] is so popular that we used to have to turn people away,” Honeywell says. “But we’ve increased our capacity from about 250 people at Radio Radio to 1,500 total.”
He and his wife Becky never imagined such success. “The idea came up when the two of us were pondering the meaning of life,” he says. “We wanted to choose a cause to work for. I couldn’t think of a more worthy cause than hunger, so we chose Second Helpings.”
Since then, Becky has become Second Helpings’ development director, and Ken delivers hot meals to impoverished Indianapolis children every Friday morning. “It’s gratifying when they see me walk up with the food, and they run up to hug my leg,” he says. The money raised thus far by yearly Tonic Balls translates into about 120,000 meals for the needy, and local bands are happy to help.
Pop-rock outfit Extra Blue Kind (www.extrabluekind.com), originally from Bloomington, Ind., during its 2001 punk and jam band phase, realizes the importance behind the politics of food. “The way food is wasted and resources are misused — wasteful subsidies to meat and dairy — is a humanitarian crisis in our own neighborhoods,” says vocalist and guitarist P. David Hazel. “Stopping food waste is something everyone can do to make a difference.”
Along with bandmates Randee Eimer on drums, Trevor Wathen on guitar and vocals and Jeremy Blount on bass and vocals, Hazel’s Extra Blue Kind decided to challenge themselves musically by choosing to perform in the Talking Heads bar. “We are doing ‘Naive Melody,’” he says. ”We knew the more known songs would be the first to be taken, and we wanted to find something a little bit more obscure that we would be able to make our own and do in our own style.”
This is the band’s first year playing Tonic Ball, and Hazel insists their two-song limit will have no affect on their show. “Like Ben Franklin said, ‘Relish is the best pickle,’” he says. “I’m going to make you wait and wonder!”
Thereafter, Extra Blue Kind will continue writing songs for their second album and savoring their previous time spent recording with Ray Martin and Jr. Sanchez (Gorillaz, Madonna, Shakira) and making their debut album, Tide and the Undertow, with the guidance of local indie pop guru Vess Ruhtenburg.
Another popular Indianapolis band, The Common (www.myspace.com/commonrock), returning for its second Tonic Ball, will rock out Prince’s “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man.” “The big reason we chose that one is that it’s one of the few Prince songs a rock band can pull off!” says bassist/vocalist Steve Hayes, who also runs www.IndianapolisMusic.net. “We couldn’t figure out how to translate his funk into what we do. It was too slippery, not enough corners for ham-fisted rockers to grab onto. But, the song we picked was one we’d always thought about playing anyway, so it worked out.”
Since 1996, members of The Common, longtime friends Jim Sizemore and Mike Hayes on guitar/vocals and Ryan Roberts on drums, have performed together. Limiting live engagements since selling out their album Live Tonight, the musicians now take time for their families and day jobs. Tonic Ball V is the exception. “It kind of kicks off the holiday season where you do get a lot of fun holiday-themed shows,” Hayes says. “I know a lot of musicians look forward to it every year and try to be part of it.”
Cross-pollinating audiences with 30 local bands brings out diverse music fans. “From an artist’s perspective, the Tonic Ball crowd doesn’t seem to be your typical club crowd,” Hayes says. “You see a lot of new and different faces there, so it’s a good way to introduce what you do to new people.” Oh, and he had one other thought to add. “Tonic Ball organizers — next year, Neil Diamond … Think about it.”