Dodd Ferrelle and family pose with one of their paintings, which will be auctioned off at Saturday's event.
While he searched through old videos on Thanksgiving, Athens musician Dodd Ferrelle found a collection of Super 8 films that his father shot years ago. It reminded him of his humble beginnings in Savannah and one particular family holiday tradition.
Each year, Ferrelle says, his father took him to the local TV station to donate money to the Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon in person. Ferrelle remembers having fun with the other kids there and meeting children his age who had the disease. He was amazed at their strength.
Although he and his dad eventually stopped taking their annual trip, Ferrelle didn’t stop giving. “I remember feeling fortunate as a little guy and felt it [was] my duty to help,” Ferrelle says. “I still feel that way.”
Six years ago, to help Athens families in need during the holidays, Ferrelle started the Strung Out Like the Lights at Christmastime Empty Stocking Fundraiser. On Saturday, a dozen bands will play again at the Office Lounge in the Homewood Hills shopping center, with veterans Betsy Franck and Bloodkin returning alongside Atlanta bands Autumn Attics and Gasoline Bros, as well as many other locals. (For the full lineup, see the Calendar.) For a third year, Ferrelle will also sell T-shirts and raffle off art.
Ferrelle says it is a party for the whole community. “By the second year, people told me this was their big party, and I realized not everyone gets invited to a Christmas party,” he says. “The community has made it their own.”
The event also exists to put money into the pockets of those who may not have a Christmas this year. Money raised for the Empty Stocking Fund doesn’t go toward toys or gifts. Rather, it helps families with rent, power bills, heating costs, medical needs and other living expenses.
Specifically, it aids families who can’t go to other charities or need more than other nonprofits can provide. Area agencies refer needy individuals to the fund, which has raised over $50,000 annually in recent years.
“When the economy took a nosedive, I saw it affect close friends who didn’t have a job all of the sudden and couldn’t make ends meet," says Ferrelle. "In Athens, we’re walking by each other all day long, and it was time to do something. Every penny of this show goes to a family in our community.”
Even though the event has grown larger each year, Ferrelle continues booking it at the cozy Office Lounge in an effort to keep it intimate. The low stage evokes the feeling of a living-room gig, he says.
“The bands play a set and then walk off the front of the stage and back into the crowd,” he says. “There’s no separation between artists and fans.”
The suggested door donation is $7; T-shirts are $10, and art raffle tickets are $5. Ferrelle, his wife Cameron and their three children created two paintings to raffle this year. “The kids and I make this huge mess of abstract art,” he says. “Then Cameron comes in, cleans it up and ties it together.”
The bands will play their hits and some holiday tunes. The rendition of “O Holy Night” sung by Betsy Franck, Kyshona Armstrong, Ansley Stewart and Holly Belle will give you goosebumps, Ferrelle says. And his own group, March, will play the event’s namesake—"Strung Out (Like the Lights at Christmastime)."
“That’s why this night is so cool,” Ferrelle says. “It’s a great night to play favorites or try out a new tune.”
WHAT: Strung Out Like the Lights at Christmastime Empty Stocking Fundraiser
WHERE: Office Lounge
WHEN: Saturday, Dec. 13, 6 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $7