Tonic turns ten 

Ken Honeywell of Tonic Ball

Tonic Ball
Friday, Nov. 18
7 p.m., $25

The concept was simple: local bands would cover popular national artists for their friends and fans. All funds raised would be for Second Helpings, a “food rescue” organization that provides meals for thousands every day. An increasingly philanthropic music community has embraced the Tonic Ball mission and made it successful for ten straight years.

This year matches three venues and three artists: Michael Jackson at the Fountain Square Theater, R.E.M. at Radio Radio, and David Bowie at the (just added) White Rabbit Cabaret. One wristband will allow the audience entrance into all three venues, where 42 artists will be performing throughout the evening.

Tonic Ball hit the sweet spot in 2002. Since then, the ever-growing arts event has raised over $100,000 for Southeast side nonprofit Second Helpings.

In the Beginning

Expectations were fairly low in the first year. The inaugural event featured the music of country-crossover artist Gram Parsons.

“The first few years, we were begging bands to play. They were our friends, and we were pleading with them to play. Now, bands are campaigning with us to play at the event, and we are having to make hard decisions about scheduling,” said Nora Spitznogle, programs director for Second Helpings and long-time member of the Tonic Ball board.

After the first event, organizers handed a check for around $4,000 to Second Helpings, feeling very proud. They never expected how big the event would become.

Ensuing years covered the music of Elvis Costello, Neil Young, the Rolling Stones, Prince, The Talking Heads, Madonna, The Clash, Bob Dylan, Led Zepplin, Elvis Presley and Queen.

Now, as the event rings in a new decade a founding member is stepping away. This will be Ken Honeywell's last year as an organizer of the Tonic Ball.

“Ten years is plenty of time to be in charge of the event. Thankfully, we have a really strong committee and people working on the event,” Honeywell said.

Two of those strong people are Spitznogle and Ben Shine, manager and communications director for Second Helpings. Remarkably, both became involved with the nonprofit they now both work for because of previous participation on the board for Tonic Ball. Spitznogle is working on her ninth Tonic Ball as a member of the board, and her seventh as an employee of Second Helpings. Shine is participating in his fifth Tonic Ball as a board member, and his third as an employee of Second Helpings.

Why Tonic?

The name Honeywell chose for his event symbolizes a lot of different things. A tonic is something that one takes to get well or alleviate pain; it is an important note in musical composition. It also has an oblique reference to drinking.

Honeywell will be once again MC-ing at Radio Radio on the R.E.M. Stage.

“I sometimes have trouble getting to the other rooms, which is a shame, especially this year. In the David Bowie room at the White Rabbit Cabaret are just some of my favorite local bands,” Honeywell said.

“It has been life-changing for me. I have volunteered at Second Helpings for a number of years, delivered food every Friday and was on the board. It is amazing when you see the need in the community and see how many people that you are helping. You see how many kids wouldn't have a hot meal without Second Helpings,” said Honeywell.

Second Helpings has grown enormously during the years that Tonic Ball has been donating to the program. They've moved locations, rescued their 15 millionth pound of food, and are preparing to launch a massive kitchen renovation, allowing them to serve many more agencies. And Tonic has grown too, adding variations on their core event, including the Tonic Gallery, Tiny Tonic, the Tonic Preview Party and the Tonic Ball Compilation CD.

The Tonic Expansion

Tiny Tonic is in its second year. Tonic Ball organizers wanted parents to be able to bring kids and be a part of the Tonic experience. Last year, children's performer RudiToonz performed Beatles songs while the kids ate fish and chips (for a British pub experience). This year, RudiToonz will return to play the songs of Jackson, Bowie and R.E.M. while the kids that attend create their own artwork inspired by the artist.

Tonic Gallery began during Tonic II in 2003, and is co-curated this year by Kirsten Eamon-Shine and Nikki Godersky. This year, 40 artists will exhibit at the Tonic Gallery, including (but, of course, not limited to) Justin Cooper, Mab Graves, Laura Kivela, Wug Laku, MaryAnne Nguyen, Eric Stine and Erin Swanson. The artists are encouraged to use Tonic Ball's featured musicians and bands as inspiration, and many do. The artwork in the gallery is hung salon-style, with pieces arranged in small groupings that relate to one another, creating narratives throughout the space.

The Gallery, located in the New Day Meadery, culminates with a live silent auction, running from 5 to 8 p.m. on the night of Tonic Ball. Bidding starts at $100 for each piece and tops off at $500; whomever has the highest bid at 8 p.m. on the evening of the auction wins the piece (although each piece is available for purchase for $500 until the start of the auction).

This year, a sampling of Tonic Ball musical artists also donated a track to the Tonic Ball Compilation; the 17-track album is available for $5 and was released November 4th. It includes tracks from Red Light Driver, The Calumet Reel, Skyhunter, Ryan Williams, Chindi, The Common and many more.

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