In 2009, local musician and current Winterville Mayor Dodd Ferrelle planned the first Strung Out Like the Lights at Christmastime benefit concert at The Office Lounge. This year’s 10th annual event is projected to be the largest yet—but it could also be the last.
Strung Out Like the Lights benefits the Empty Stocking Fund, which serves families who are having trouble making ends meet. The fund is different from most other Christmastime benefits. Instead of providing toys or gifts to families, it helps them with bills, rent or whatever they need to survive.
Ferrelle says he started the benefit after the 2008 financial crisis, when he saw many of his friends struggling after being put out of work.
“The Empty Stocking Fund is near and dear to my heart, because I can see the impact it has in the community,” Ferrelle says. “It goes directly to those who need it.”
Since the beginning, the event has been hosted by The Office Lounge in Homewood Hills. But this year’s concert will be one of the final events held at the beloved venue, as it is closing at the end of the year.
Owner Brigitte DeSimone opened The Office Lounge with her husband 10 years ago, intending for it to also operate as a music venue. The bar hosts live music every week and fundraisers several times a year. When Ferrelle approached her about Strung Out Like the Lights, she says it was a no-brainer.
DeSimone says that, although The Office Lounge has been successful, she feels it is time for her to move into her next phase of life: retirement.
“I’m excited, and I’m sad, and I’m happy, all at once,” DeSimone says. “I’m glad to be moving on, but it’s sad that this is the last one.”
Ferrelle echoes her sentiments. He wants to encourage everyone to attend the benefit, both to give back to the city and to send DeSimone into her retirement as a community.
This year’s concert will feature 11 local artists, including Betsy Franck, The Welfare Liners, Klezmer Local 42, Clay Leverett, Five Eight, Bloodkin and Ferrelle himself. As in every year before, a Ferrelle family painting will be auctioned off, spearheaded by Ferrelle’s artist wife, Cameron Bliss Ferrelle.
“My kids and I make a big mess on a canvas, and then my wife will come back and turn it into a workable piece of art,” Ferrelle says. “It’s really fun for us, and people seem to like it.”
People clearly enjoy the event, as DeSimone anticipates a crowd of at least 500. The fundraising goal for the night is $5,000, though both DeSimone and Ferrelle predict they will exceed it.
DeSimone says it is because of the generosity of the Athens community that the event has continued year after year. Each year, the event raises more and more money, which goes directly into the pockets of those who need it most.
“Athens people are giving, and they love music,” DeSimone says. “I can’t thank them enough for that.”
The 10th annual Strung Out Like the Lights benefit takes place Friday, Dec. 7. The suggested donation is $10, with an emphasis on the word “suggested”—those who can’t afford it can attend for free, and those who wish to donate more are encouraged to do so.
Those who can’t attend the event but still want to donate to the Empty Stocking Fund can do so through the Facebook event page.
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