As the temperatures around the area hovered in the single digits above or below zero for a significant amount of time over the past week, this coming weekend will offer an event designed to warm things up in a couple of ways.
Bob Stannard, a local musician and observer of Vermont politics will have a group of friends -- "Those Dangerous bluesmen" -- converging on the Eagles Club on Route 11/30 Saturday night for an evening of blues that will likely take the chill off a cold winter's night. Additionally, the show, like its predecessors over the past five years, will also be a fundraising benefit for "Ski for Heat" -- an initiative designed to help those in need of assistance to heat their homes during the winter months.
"I like this gig for a variety of reasons," Stannard said earlier this week. When first approached by Martha Robertson, the organizer of the Ski for Heat Benefit, it was an easy call to say yes, he added.
"I just said this was in my backyard and it was the right thing to do this," he said.
The "this" that the concert Saturday, Jan. 11, is helping to promote and raise funds towards is a project Robertson has been working on since 2001. That year, she and her twin sister opted to donate money to charity rather than buy Christmas presents for each other. The idea of helping the less well-off pay for a tank of oil to heat their homes appealed to her and seemed like a practical one, she said.
"(I thought) maybe I could anonymously be an 'oil angel' and donate a tank of oil," she said, adding that for some families, affording Christmas gift giving and heating oil placed a strain on family budgets.
But Robertson didn't have deep pockets of her own to dig into to support a favorite cause -- "we live paycheck to paycheck," she said -- so there would have to be some "sweat equity" to make it work.
That's when she came up with the idea of having sponsor, or a group of people, pay her to cross country ski over the course of a day, she said. Her goal that first year was $100. Helped along by a matching grant from CVPS, the former electric utility, and with administrative support from BROC (Bennington Rutland Opportunity Council), the nonprofit, community action program designed to assist low-income families and individuals -- she raised $10,000. That inspired her to keep going, she said.
She, along with a small group of friends, skied at the Wild Wings Cross Country Ski area in her hometown of Peru that first year. This year, the event has broadened its scope enormously. It now has a statewide presence, with Ski for Heat fundraisers occurring at 14 separate sites around the state.
And new for this year will be the inclusion of alpine skiing and snowboarding -- it's not just Nordic any longer.
Ski for Heat began broadening its footprint in 2010, when a representative from the Central Vermont Community Action Council contacted Robertson to find out if a comparable program could be launched in the Montpelier area. It could, and this year, all five of Vermont's community action agencies will be taking part to make it into a statewide fundraising event. Those inclined to ski for a cause, and undertake to enlist friends to sponsor them, will be snowshoeing, cross country skiing, downhilling or riding on Sunday, Jan. 26.
The money raised locally by the skiers, snowshoers and snowboarders goes from the Ski for Heat fund into BROC's heating assistance fund, Robertson said.
BROC has more discretion over who eventually receives the assistance that other agencies which have to follow federal guidelines, she said. "Somebody who might normally fall between the cracks is able to be helped by the money we raise," she said. "What we've heard from the community action agencies is that the need is there, the gaps in the funding is greater and the cost is greater."
Those who think they might be eligible for assistance can contact one of the BROC offices in either Bennington or Rutland. Those who do apply can also get advice on weatherizing their homes to make them less costly to heat in the long run, she added.
The idea for a concert to help raise awareness of the initiative -- and create an additional fundraising vehicle -- originated in 2008, when Robertson, who knew Bob Stannard from her days as a minutes and note taker for the Manchester Select Board, contacted him and asked if he would be willing to lend a hand. He quickly agreed, and the first benefit concert was added to the overall program the following year, in 2009.
"It's a good cause," Stannard said. "I'm honored and flattered to play."
Stannard will be fronting a group of friends that include Jeff Salisbury on drums, Kenny B. on bass, Dennis Willmott and Charlie Hilburt on guitars and David Bain on piano. Stannard's son Wes will be also performing, along with Gina Coleman, of Williamstown, Mass. Those who attended the "Last Waltz" concert in Dorset last fall may remember her as the vocalist who brought down the house with her rendition of "I'm a Woman."
With several musicians converging on Manchester from several points on the compass, rehearsing two hours or so worth of music is a challenge. But given their familiarity with the material and previous experience playing together, pulling together a strong set list is do-able, Stannard said.
"You couldn't do this with inexperienced players; you've got to have people who have intuition, know the progressions and have a clue about how the song goes," he said. "I've played with these guys enough now that I just turn around and blink at them (to communicate)."
He distributed a proposed set list by email to all the performers, enough for two long sets and is confident everyone will be ready to do justice to the music come showtime on Saturday, Jan. 11. The concert and dance party starts at 7 p.m.
"It's a unique show that will never be heard again," he said. "I just have these awesome guys who show up and they're all happy to play."
The concert gives those who want to support Ski for Heat but who may not be skiers a way to contribute, Martha Robertson said. The suggested donation is $20, but anyone who wants to hear the show is welcome and throw what they can into the pot, she said.
This year's overall fundraising goal is $100,000 statewide. Local areas which will be hosting Ski for Heat events on Jan. 26 include Bromley Mountain, Magic Mountain, the Stratton Ski Touring Center, the Viking Ski touring Center in Londonderry and Wild Wings in Peru, where it all began.
For a list of other ski areas around the state which will be participating, or for more information about Ski for Heat, visit skiforheat.org online.