In the aftermath of Flint, Michigan’s water crises, Indy natives are bringing a new meaning to the rock mantra “Get the Led Out." But in this case, it’s
actual “lead” that needs to go — as in the toxic metal, the kind that has contaminated the water of thousands of residents of one Michigan city.
This coming Saturday (Feb. 6th), Fountain Square Brewing Co. will host the first-ever BeneFlint music festival, a collaborative relief effort to send water, monetary
donations and hope to the people in the throes of this horrific situation. The event will run from 2 p.m. to 11 p.m. and feature more than 12 live bands (that begin performing at 3 p.m.), live painting from local artists, a silent
auction and abundant libations. The entry fee will make supporting the cause easy: It’s one gallon of water, a case of water bottles or $5 (the
price of a case).
“I’ve always loved doing events for good causes, but what it really boils down to is helping a city. I mean, what if this was happening here?” says the
event creator, Kyle Perkon.
The question plagued him for days after reading the reports rumbling around on social media. Articles piled up in his news feed, describing the brown, murky
water coming from Flint taps, leaving
thousands contaminated with lead poisoning
. It was almost too much to believe.
So Perkon decided to speak up on Facebook through an impromptu video. In it, he called on the people of Indianapolis to help the city of Flint. It only took a few
hours for the messages to start flooding in.
Fountain Square Brewing Co. will host BeneFlint: A Relief Effort from Indy to Flint 2-11 p.m. this Saturday for Flint, Michigan, residents whose drinking-water supply remains contaminated by lead poisoning.
“Less than 24 hours after we talked about the idea, we had an event page up, most of the bands confirmed, and it all just started coming together,” says
Benjamin Cannon, a friend of Perkon and co-planner of the fund-raiser.
Hosting a benefit show seemed like a natural fit for the two. Perkon, a longtime musician and drummer for local band Veseria, is no stranger to the Indy
music scene. Paired with the event coordinating savvy of Cannon, founder of local artist group Shine Indy, the duo quickly found themselves overwhelmed by offers from other volunteers eager to join
Among the companies contributing equipment or services for the day are Sam Ash Music, PRN Graphics, Anderson Creative and The Doit Indy Radio Hour. Food
will also be available for purchase courtesy of the local Cosmic Chrome Cafe food truck and 10 percent of all pint sales at Fountain Square Brewery Co. will be
donated to the cause.
“I’ve never seen this amount of support for a local benefit event,” says Cannon. For the founder of a collective centered on promoting artists and events,
this is no small statement. Cannon has organized events for most of his adult career and has made it a central part of his business. This isn’t his first
rodeo when it comes to raising funds for worthy causes.
So why the sudden rallying of support? It seems that the crises in Flint has hit everyone in slightly different spots. For Cannon, it’s the kids.
“I’ve got two boys, and with a family, it scares me to think of Flint. We take those things [safe drinking water] for granted,” he says.
Other are shocked by the mere geographic proximity. Despite Flint and Indianapolis having largely different backgrounds both socially and economically, the
city’s closeness brings the issue a little too near to Hoosiers’ hearts.
"It’s just so close to home. It’s only a four-hour drive,” says Perkon.“To not have something as simple as water, something we all use on a daily basis ... I
just thought if I could help out in some way, that’s awesome. I’m a musician, and this is what I know to do to help."
A public health emergency was declared for Flint, Michigan, after toxic levels of lead were found in the in city's drinking water, the source of which is a river filled with years of contaminated runoff from several GM factories.
From the list of volunteer bands to companies contributing to the silent auction, BeneFlint is a grassroots effort through and through, with everyone doing
their part to pitch in, in whatever ways they can contribute. The response from friends and strangers of Perkon and Cannon have been overwhelmingly
supportive, both vocally and in practical terms.
Perhaps this is what some refer to affectionately as "Hoosier hospitality.” Or maybe, people want to be involved in a fun day of local music — the benefit
part is just an added bonus. But in some ways, the water crises in Flint may have struck a timely, and rather sensitive, chord with the people of Naptown.
While Indy residents have never had to suffer from this level of environmental catastrophe, the feelings of misrepresentation and desertion by local
government (such as those felt in the aftermath of the RFRA bill or the refusal of Syrian refugee resettlement) can certainly be related to.
Politics aside, Cannon and Perkon say they’re determined to focus the event on being a positive reaction to the issue. It’s as simple as bringing water and
bringing hope to a city in need.
“I’ve seen so many posts on social media about celebrities and musicians making huge donations, and that’s great,” says Perkon. "But none of us are famous.
We’re nobodies. But we’re a solid community, we have big hearts and we want to make a dent in the problem, even if it’s a small one.”
Relative to the charitable big guns, most donations can feel like a “dent” when it comes to benefit events. But taken on its own, the potential effect of
water and financial donations from the event may be well over what its organizers ever imagined. Already the group has taken a truckload of 400 pounds of
water up to the residents of Flint. And after BeneFlint on Saturday, Cannon says he suspects the next load might require a semi-truck to haul it.
The band Veseria will be one of more than a dozen music groups volunteering their time and talent to perform at the BeneFlint Relief Effort.
While some have suggested a more sustainable solution to aid, such as providing water filters instead of bottles, right now it appears that water and
financial donations are the most sensible approach.
Without knowing specifications of faucets and water systems, it can be too difficult to send actual filters to residents. For long term solutions, The
United Way of Genesee County has taken the lead of setting up the Flint Water Fund for the purchase of filters and other preventative measures.
"The UWGC has sourced more than 11,000 filter systems and 5,000 replacement filters, with ongoing sources of bottled water going to the Food Bank of
Eastern Michigan and additional support of a dedicated driver for daily distribution,” a representative of UWGC reports. Full details on their work and how to
donate online can be found here.
In anticipation of the big day in Indy, BeneFlint organizers have also setup a “pre-party” show at Fountain Square Brewing Co. this First Friday at 7 p.m.
Donations will be accepted, but are not required for entry. Loading in cases of water will be reserved for the main event on Saturday.
For Cannon, it’s important to go see Flint for himself. He wants to physically take them water, talk to the families affected and show Flint that
Indy has its back.
“This city just has so much heart and soul. I want people to see that,” says Cannon.“You’re only as strong as the people who support you. People tend to
forget that. It really is a trickle-down effect."
Benjamin Cooley is a freelance writer, music enthusiast and lover of all things Indianapolis. He spends his days searching for stories of ordinary people creating beautiful things, while also trying to keep his cat from walking all over the keyboard.