Give-A-Jam

Tim O’Brien. Photo by Clarissa Peterson.

Tim O’Brien. Photo by Clarissa Peterson.

Clifton Center executive director John Harris joins me to discuss their annual benefit to end homelessness, which will be held on Dec. 18 at 6:30 p.m. Live music will come from Tim O’Brien, Appalatin, The Bibelhauser Brothers with Michael Cleveland and more, plus food from numerous leading chefs. Ticket sales go to the Coalition for the Homeless Louisville, whose executive director is Harris’ wife Natalie.

The Voice-Tribune: Why did you decide to raise funds for this cause in this way?
John Harris: It was pretty simple, really. My wife Natalie and I just realized we had a unique opportunity. Natalie’s organization was doing some really exciting work with their Rx:Housing project, and I was lucky enough to be in a position with the Clifton Center to be able to bring together the ingredients needed to pull off an event like the “Give-A-Jam” that could help. When the Clifton Center transformed itself in 2010, part of the vision was to serve the community in this way, so it was a natural outgrowth of our programming. The most important part, though, was that I had gotten to know some incredibly wonderful musicians and other partners of the Clifton Center who I knew would jump at the chance to do something positive for their town. Louisville is very lucky to have these folks here. I should also say that for years I’ve had a policy of never asking musicians to play for free. We really need to honor the work they do and respect their profession. But I now allow myself to break that rule once a year, and I always make sure to acknowledge that to all those generous people that participate.

V-T: How do you pick the artists and chefs who will be donating their talents?
HARRIS: It seems to be getting tougher and tougher! There are so many talented people that want to help, and we only have so much time to fit them in. But I tend to ask musicians who I’ve worked with before. Most have performed at the Clifton Center at one time or another, and all are really outstanding musicians. As always, that’s crucial for me. Even though it’s a benefit, we take quality very seriously at the Clifton Center, so we want everything we do to be of a very high level. We’re just incredibly fortunate to have so many great (and generous) musicians in town. As for the restaurants, we’re lucky to have lots of generous restaurant owners and great chefs in Louisville, as well. Some we ask because they are area restaurants we’ve worked with before for the Taste of Frankfort Avenue or one of the Coalition’s events, and some are simply restaurants we like a lot. We also try not to ask the same ones every year because we know it’s a big contribution they’re making. They’re buying all of the ingredients and using their staff’s time to prepare the soup, all while trying to run a successful restaurant. So we know it’s a big sacrifice for them, and we try to honor that sacrifice by not asking them over and over every year.

The Bibelhauser Brothers.

The Bibelhauser Brothers.

V-T: Do you think 20-somethings today have the same sense of activism, social justice and giving to causes as people did in the recent past?
HARRIS: I do. I think the mechanisms may have changed and the means of expression are very different, but I think young people are as aware, if not more aware, of the need and injustice that surrounds them than my generation was, or the generation before mine. I believe most people want to do good in this world. Often, it’s just a matter of figuring out how to express that desire to help. That’s what we want the “Give-A-Jam” to be: a mechanism for people that just want to perform a small act of charity that makes their town a better place and helps some people who really need it.

V-T: If someone buys a ticket, should they also buy you a Christmas present? Or are they good for another year?
HARRIS: You mean for me personally? A ticket purchase is definitely the best present for me. I already have plenty of beer.