Musicians gather to defeat hunger in Indiana There are scores of benefit shows in Indianapolis each year, but one of the most prestigious is the annual Tonic Ball, now in its third year of benefiting Second Helpings, Inc., a non-profit food rescue, job training and hunger program. The music of Neil Young will be interpreted by Hoosier artists Friday at Radio Radio. The Tonic Ball will be held starting at 8 p.m. Friday at Radio Radio in Fountain Square. A gallery event will be held from 5 to 9 p.m. at the Wheeler Arts Community, 1035 Sanders St., where prominent local artists will sell works for $100 each.

Last year’s Tonic Ball raised $15,600, making it one of the largest local music benefit events of the year.

Each year’s Tonic Ball spotlights a legendary music artist. Locally-based performers will play one song each by the featured artist along with one of their own. Neil Young was chosen as this year’s artist.

The list of performers reads like a Who’s Who of the local music community: Ann McWilliams, Yoko Moment, The Electric Amish, The Retreads, Joel Henderson, The Vulgar Boatmen, Jennie DeVoe, Arminta and Blaq Lilly, Blackberry Jam, Otis Gibbs, Blueprint Music, Heidi Gluck, Matt Boyer, The Leisure Kings, Bigger Than Elvis and Zorba and Bobbie, winners of the 2004 Masterpiece in a Day music competition.

Tonic Ball was created in 2001 by local freelance writer Ken Honeywell, who based the idea on the Losers Lounge series of concerts, where a variety of performers would play the music of a single artist. He wanted the show to benefit a local charity addressing the hunger issue and was advised by his then-fiancee to select Second Helpings.

Second Helpings reprepares and redistributes food to area shelters. According to the group, Second Helpings rescues 50 tons of food from restaurants, grocery stores, hotels and caterers each month and uses it to feed approximately 1,500 people a day.

Although finding musicians to play a Friday night show during a busy time of year was problematic for the first Tonic Ball, Honeywell said, “We’ve gotten to the point where the event has received so much awareness that we have no problem recruiting artists. People come to us and express interest in playing and the people who’ve played it in the past have had such a great time they want to come back.”

Artists rearrange their schedules to perform Tonic Ball he said. “It’s always been our intention to ask the top people in their genres to play the event and to give people who don’t ordinarily see other types of music a chance to see the top people in town.”

As a result of his work organizing the event, Honeywell is now on the board of directors of Second Helpings. He and his wife also deliver food for the organization on Friday mornings, something he describes as being very gratifying.

“I’ve been able to see firsthand the amazing work Second Helpings does,” Honeywell said. “And it’s great to hear musicians and reporters describe the event as one of the best events of the year. That’s also very satisfying.”

Neil Young was chosen as this year’s artist because his music covers a wide range of styles that audiences want to see. In fact, Young himself donated a signed photo for auctioning off at the event.

Over the past three years, Tonic Ball has grown to an event involving the entire Fountain Square neighborhood. “A lot of artists live and work in Fountain Square and display their work there, so it seemed natural to add the Tonic Gallery event.”

In addition, Second Helpings has relocated to Fountain Square. The Fountain Square charter school, the Southeast Neighborhood School For Excellence, is involved this year in creating artwork for an installation at the Wheeler Arts Center. Third-graders created the art, which will hang in the gallery alongside the work of prominent local artists.

“There’s been synergy in the whole area, not only with the charitable work but with the kids, who are learning about the needs of people in their community, and the art and the music. It’s been a great event for Fountain Square,” Honeywell said.

Paul Wilson curates the Tonic Gallery event, which attracts some of the top professional exhibiting artists in the area. “We try to do with the gallery what Ken does with the bands. We try to bring together the work of artists under a common theme. There will be everything from printmaking and painting to photographers, ceramics, jewelry, glass, all media,” he says.

Among the commercial artists participating is well-known illustrator Rob Day, who creates a special work for Tonic Gallery each year. “You may not see his work hanging in a gallery, but here’s a chance to see it alongside the work of other fine artists,” Wilson said.

Every piece is priced at $100. “It’s not an auction and we try and sell as many pieces as we can. Last year, we sold 50 pieces out of 70,” he said. “So that’s $5,000 that directly went to Second Helpings.”

Given that the work of many of the participating artists would sell for well more than $100 anywhere else, Wilson said, “It’s a great bargain.” At last year’s event, he saw some interior designers walking around with cell phones describing pieces in the exhibit to their clients.

One of the musicians who’s performed at the previous two Tonic Balls is singer/songwriter Ann McWilliams, who said she’s also excited about this year’s show.

“It’s for a fantastic cause and I really love that there are so many other great artists performing at the event,” she said. “It’s great seeing them and talking to them, because I don’t get a chance just to hang out with some of these people a lot.”

McWilliams said playing Tonic Ball “feels good,” which is her main motivation for performing. But it also forces her to learn a new song and perform it live. Being allowed to perform at such a high-profile event is the only compensation each musician receives, McWilliams said, but it’s more than enough.

“They just do it right,” she said. “They promote it well, they organize it well and they have such a worthy cause. It’s a win-win situation all around. It’s just a great event.”

For more information on the Tonic Ball, go to For more information on Second Helpings, visit For information on sponsorship or donation opportunities, contact Honeywell at 924-9261.

What: The Third Annual Tonic Ball benefiting Second Helpings, Inc.

When: Friday, Nov. 19, 8 p.m.

Where: Radio Radio, 1119 E. Prospect St.

Tickets: $15 in advance, $18 at the door


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