When Ken Honeywell and some friends founded Tonic Ball in 2002, the concept took a little explaining: Local performers in rock and related genres are invited to set aside the Friday night before Thanksgiving for a revue-style tribute to a pre-selected songwriter, with proceeds benefiting a food-rescue charity.
“The first year, we had to beg people to play,” Honeywell says of that inaugural event at Fountain Square’s Radio Radio nightclub, which featured the music of country-rock cult hero Gram Parsons and raised $4,600 for local not-for-profit Second Helpings.
By the time of last year’s fifth edition, the music had expanded to a 30-act, dual-venue smack down: Talking Heads covers at Radio Radio vs. Prince covers at the neighboring Fountain Square Theatre Building. The accompanying Tonic Gallery visual arts auction, begun in 2003 and overseen by graphic designer Paul Wilson, had become an attraction all its own at the nearby Wheeler Arts Community. Together, the activities attracted more than 1,000 visitors to Fountain Square and raised more than $25,000 for Second Helpings.
The intervening years have seen Tonic Ball grow into a mark-your-calendar night for the Central Indiana music scene, with local luminaries like Jennie DeVoe, Otis Gibbs, the Vulgar Boatmen, Extra Blue Kind, Arminta, Ann McWilliams and the Zero Boys showing up to pay homage to global luminaries like Elvis Costello, Neil Young and the Rolling Stones.
The idea was inspired by the Losers Lounge, a New York City performance series that organizes musicians into tributes to various artists. Honeywell, a music lover who otherwise is an author and a partner with Well Done Marketing, wanted to do something similar in Indianapolis, so he went in search of a cause.
“At the time, I couldn’t think of anything more important than feeding people,” he says, citing statistics about hunger and waste — one pound of food thrown away each day for every man, woman and child in the United States.
Thus, he discovered Second Helpings, with which he had no previous connection. The organization collects about 100,000 pounds of unwanted food each month from restaurants, groceries, caterers, food distributors and the like, and reformats that food into 50,000 free meals that are provided six days a week to hungry children, adults and senior citizens at shelters, day care centers, schools and other facilities around the city. At its business and kitchen facility on Southeastern Avenue, Second Helpings also conducts a job training program that prepares underprivileged people for careers in the culinary field.
Thanks to Tonic Ball, Second Helpings has gained donors and supporters in segments of society that are often overlooked by charity fund-raisers. Even some of its full-time staffers have gotten involved in the planning and execution of the annual music event.
“It’s been a huge labor of love for a lot of people,” Honeywell says.
— Scott Hall