Josh Rifkind is a busy man. And during the weeks following up to 500 Songs for Kids, as well as the intense 10 nights of the event itself, it can be a mix of heaven and hell.
"Honestly, it's so many bands and so many musicians that pretty much
it's an incredibly enjoyable nightmare every year," muses Rifkind. "It's a strange thing
where you really love doing it, but it keeps punching you in the
stomach. It's like a little kid continuously running up to you and
punching you somewhere being like, remember this, bam! I'm band number
411, whack! It's an endless stream of details and preparation."
And with a list of the 500 Most Passionate Songs of All Time, the work started well ahead of the event, with arguments over the songs that should be included, the order of the songs and who will be covering the songs.
"We get really into making the list – we take it really seriously. Some
people think we just throw it together, but we really fight about the
songs and argue about stuff no one would even know about," says Rifkind. "Like where
songs should be. I really wanted Sophie B Hawkins' 'Damn, I Wish I
Was Your Lover' to be even higher up on the list – it's really high,
like top 50 – I think it's the most passionate song ever and everyone
else was like, 'That songs is dumb, that's ridiculous,' and it kept
dropping down, and then it was a fight between that and if 'Hallelujah' by Jeff Buckley should be higher, I thought Sophie B
Hawkins' song should be higher, Jeff Buckley ended up being higher,
against my will, cos I loose sometimes, not often."
And then there is the matching of the songs to the artists, like a rock 'n' roll cupid, with the match often making perfect sense and sometimes pairing a song with an unlikely candidate for a fruitful relationship that lasts throughout the band's career.
to put the artist with the song. Instantly I thought Sonia Leigh, she
would be perfect for that song. And she's doing it. It's cool when you
get to put people with certain songs. And it's cool sometimes when you
get to bring out something in the artist that's playing something they
thought they could never do, like Modern Skirts are doing 'Fight The
Power' – that's amazing, you know? It was like, 'Fight The Power' or 'My
Generation,' and I was like, 'Come on man, do it! 'Fight the Power!''
They wanted to do something interesting because they're an interesting
band, and I have no idea what they're going to do with it."
He continues, "So many bands in this event keep the songs in their their set, I can't
even begin to tell you, it's endless. I remember one time recently I
was at Smith's and South 70 was doing 'Go Your Own Way,' which is a
song we gave them. The songs end up working out so well, people end up
keeping them. We always try and put them in a situation where they will
succeed, even if it's a stretch. Even if it's the theme from Annie,
we're going to put someone on it who can own it. Clay Cook
did it last year. I remember Derek Trucks'
singer, we gave him a Diana Ross song, 'You Keep Me Hanging On,' and he
just did this soulful, really slow version, and it was amazing, you
could hear a pin drop."
To expect the unexpected is a huge part of 500 Songs for Kids. While some highlights have already been revealed (Gavin DeGraw, who will be performing at the event on May 5, the same night as his sold-out show at The Loft, will be singing a song from Guns N Roses), there are plenty of tricks that Rifkind is keeping up his sleeve. It'll be an eclectic mix of thrilling performances from beginning to end.
"I just love how you can have the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra on stage, [like we did] last year, and then the next person who gets on stage is an acoustic
guitar player who has never stepped on a stage before, and then right
after him is the lead singer of 112 who has sold millions of albums,
and the person after him is a folk duo from 70 miles away."
And seeing as the "super groups" that usually appear usually come together out of spontaneous necessity, it's impossible to predict what might happen, as Rifkind recalls.
"You know what honestly happens? I get up there to announce them and
they've formed themselves. Like a big artist will be up there and
they've got the best drummer from here, just because that's the best
band they can put together. Like last year, we had for 'Hey Jude,'
Angie Aparo was singing, Butch Walker on keys, Kenny Creswell on drums
(he was the drummer for Brand New Immortals), Pete Stroud on guitar
(Sheryl Crowe's guitar player), Tommy Martin on guitar (he's T-Pain's
guitarist right now), and it was all improv, and they all come on stage
together. I'm watching the best musicians in the world and they're all
randomly playing this song together. Stuff like that always seems to
happen. And then I perform, and that takes it down a level."
But for all the fun and frivolity, the cause is never out of the picture. The idea of bringing musicians to children in special needs camps and hospitals around the country is a cause that everybody can get behind, which is what Rifkind hoped for when he founded the charity.
"I was hoping that people would embrace it and rally behind it like
we had," he says. "It's hard to get people's attention these days, but I really
felt like people would eventually understand that this is something
that could become really valuable and really important, you hope."
Rifkind stresses that it's about using what you have to make a difference, utilizing whatever skills you have to do some good.
an artist manager and I've put out Open Mic Madness for many years, and
I started that in 2002, and I really wanted to use this network of
people for something really special, and I pretty much decided I was
capable of being a good person, but hadn't really used any abilities to
do anything that good," he says, going on to talk about musicians' response to the charity work. "What's been great about it, from that point,
having created the foundation, is showing people what they can do with
their heart and their abilities.
"As an artist, you don't just have to
worry about getting a record deal, you can come out to the hospital
with our foundation, you can make a connection with some one other than
a person who might help your career, someone probably more important
than that, someone that will actually really appreciate you being
there, and these kids are so smart, that you can't hide behind tight
jeans – which I love, and am wearing! – or a shield or coolness, you
really need to open your heart and make an effort to make a connection
with the kids. And the cool thing is, artists always tell me, when they
leave the hospital, they're exhausted, all the time. And I think it's
because they've given so much of themselves that day, that they
wouldn't have in many other situations. Making a connection takes
energy and they've expounded that day in making that connection.
They're leaving with this great sense of exhaustion, of accomplishment,
that they've actually meant something to somebody on that day."
Rifkind's last thoughts are on the donations, and how "in these times," as it were, there is always a worry that the money coming in will be lower than previous years. But Rifkind has high hopes that this year will have just as impressive a turnout.
"We know it's tough times right now, no one is pretending this isn't a
tough time, but at the same time, if you're going to give, we'd love
for you to give to a foundation that is really making a difference," he says, noting that folks can donate year round here.
"It's easy if you're a zillionaire to give money – not that it's not
appreciated by everybody, and to be honest with you, that's where most
the charity comes from – but it's what you do when you're back's up
against the wall that defines you. So you hope that people will give,
if not to our foundation, then someone."
Tickets are available for individual nights, April 30-May 8, with the exception of the last night, May 9. Advance ickets for the last night are only available if you buy a 10-night ticket for $200 (though they can be bought individually at the door, night of), which allows Songs for Kids Foundation to bring a performance to a children's hospital. Tickets are available at Ticket Alternative here, and all of the proceeds, including the convenience charge, go to the charity.
Artists confirmed to perform include Gavin DeGraw, Arrested Development, Patterson Hood and the Pack of Lies
(including many of the Drive By Truckers), Angie Aparo, The Whigs, Novel, Injected, Meiko,
Modern Skirts, Jessie Baylin, The Selmanaires, James Hall, Jaspects, JOI,
Francine Reed, The Coathangers, Algebra, Aslyn, Wild Sweet Orange, The Bridges,
Courtney Jaye, Tim Brantley, the Constellations, Trances Arc, YOU, Rantings of
Eva, Bain Mattox, South 70, Three5Human, The Howlies, Ben Deignan, Doomsayer,
Death On Two Wheels, Five Eight……