“At this point, we’ve done so many of them, I really couldn’t pinpoint it,” Chet Cannon says in response to a question about when, exactly, he began putting on benefit concerts. Cannon, 59, a harpist and a blues singer, fronts a band called the Committee. The reason he founded the band, he says, was as a gesture of philanthropy.
“My friend Etta Keeler — I don’t know if you remember a club down there on 70th and University called Etta’s Place...? She was hosting a benefit for Kids Rock San Diego or something that was helping bring music and instruments to school-age kids. She talked to me about how she was having a hard time getting bands to play her event.” The year was 1998, as nearly as he can recollect. “I told her, ‘Etta, don’t you worry about it. I’ll go out and put a band together.’ I did, and we’ve been doing this ever since.”
Not counting Harp Fest, an annual benefit that Cannon was involved in the producing of for ten years, he says he’s created in the neighborhood of 25 or 30 more benefits since Etta’s gig. “Mostly, it’s people who come up and say, ‘Have you heard about so-and-so?’” meaning that Cannon’s causes are generally, but not limited to, local musicians. Once there was the case of a school-age boy that got hit in the back of the head and became paralyzed. “I saw Michael Turko talking about it. I called my friends and I said we gotta do something to help out.”
Cannon, who will say only that he lives on an East County mountain, is on the hook for everything once he’s decided to throw a benefit. This includes lining up the bands, the venue, the sound system, any promotion, and having all of it donated. He says he has zero for an operating budget. “It’s pretty much an endless job.” He works with a partner named Budd Willis. “He’s been my banker and my right-hand man in every show I’ve put on.” Is Willis a banker by trade? “No, he’s just an honest guy in the community who really cares like I do.”
There have been critics over the years. “It has come up in conversation that this is part of the reason that I do this, to get publicity, but I don’t need to put myself through several months of headaches and stress and added worry to get my band mentioned in the Reader.”
What the events accomplish, Cannon says, is rent, utilities, groceries, and so on. “What little monies we’re able to raise helps give them a cushion to help cover some of that stuff.” How much cash are we talking? “At a good benefit, we might raise $10,000. Usually, it’s around $5000 to $7000.” He contrasts that with the cost of a hospital stay. “There’s nothing, unfortunately, that I’ve ever done that has raised enough to save somebody’s life.” Cannon says that his objective, therefore, is to bring peace into someone’s life, “as brief as it may be.”
Monday, November 7, the Committee will host a concert at Humphrey’s to benefit San Diego drummer Paul Fasulo, who is currently undergoing treatment for cancer.