Acoustics for Autism grows to feature more than 60 bands

Tom “Sully” Sullivan, the longtime doorman and jack-of-all-trades at Maumee’s Village Idiot, is ready, at least as ready as one can be days before the arrival of thousands of music lovers, many of them clamoring for beer and pizza.

“I just got 50 cases of Bud Light this morning,” Sullivan says. “We usually sell them in bottles, but there is no way we could keep longneck bottles cold. We were watching the weather this morning, and it is going to be cold at night. We can store the cans outside.”

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Amie Brodie, left, and Bruce Brodie, right, with Wolf Creek Risin’ play in the tent during Acoustics for Autism in 2017. This year’s event is Sunday at Maumee’s Village Idiot.

The Blade/Amy E. Voigt

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On Sunday, the 11th annual Acoustics for Autism returns to Maumee. Since the event’s somewhat modest start on March 9, 2008, when 17 bands played on stage at the Village Idiot, the fund-raiser has grown steadily. Rough estimates were that 3,500 people were crammed in around the various stages last year by mid-afternoon. Many more stopped in throughout the day. This year, for the first time, a sixth stage has been added. More than 60 bands will perform between noon to 2 a.m. There is no cover charge to attend.

Acoustics for Autism is the signature event for Project iAm, a nonprofit organization begun by Municipal Court Judge Nicole Khoury to provide help for families struggling with the financial strains of dealing with an autistic child.

“The proceeds go to local families in the form of grants for expenses that insurance doesn’t cover. You think about an autistic child going to Serenity Farms [in Luckey, Ohio] for therapy. It is remarkable to see the joy on their faces,” says Alysha Martin, a spokesman for Project iAm. “I’ve met some of the families over the years, and you don’t realize the impact you are making until you meet them in person.”

Sullivan echoes Martin, saying he has worked with autistic children in the past and understands the challenges.

“When the school year ends, the family has to spend more time dealing with the children [with special needs]. They require supervision. You can’t just leave them with the high school girl down the street or with grandma,” Sullivan says. “People have sent me letters, and Nicole has shown me letters that people have sent her. Those families say things like, ‘You got me two extra weeks to spend on a summer program. I would have lost my job.’ It’s heartbreaking some of the struggles.”

A music-centered fund-raiser was a natural theme. Khoury is the lead singer for Arctic Clam, and Acoustics for Autism co-founder Dave Carpenter is a longtime Toledo musician.

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Trey Connor plays the main stage during Acoustics for Autism in 2017. This year’s event is Sunday at Maumee’s Village Idiot.

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Even with their connections in the city’s music community, the logistical challenge in staging 60 bands is immense, and it would not be possible without the more than 100 volunteers and the generosity of the musicians. Performances will take place at the Village Idiot, 309 Conant St., next door at Buster Brown’s, a nearby tent and kids’ area stage, and at the Maumee Elks. 

“As the event has grown, we continue to grow and add more musicians. It’s kind of like, ‘You build it, and they will come,’” says Carpenter, who will be fronting the Dave Carpenter Trio on Sunday. “The real heroes are the musicians. You can’t have an event without people willing to donate their time — the musicians and the volunteers. This is the best show in northwest Ohio that you will find on any given day. We have all the heavy hitters.”

Khoury is still heavily involved but has stepped out of the spotlight after being elected to the bench in November. But her passion for the event is undeniable.

“[In 2016], Nicole broke her ankle at the event. I remember it was 11 or 11:30 and someone came running in and said, ‘Dave, Nicole tripped and hurt her ankle.’ Sure enough, later she comes back to the Village Idiot in a wheelchair. She didn’t even go to the hospital,” Carpenter says. “One of the volunteers actually tried to pick her up to help and ended up with a broken leg. So we don’t say ‘break a leg’ around this charity.”

The passion is nearly as strong among the musicians.

“The Toledo music community is amazing. We are like a family. We love each other, and this is the one day of the year we get to see each other. And it’s for a really good cause,” says Ashley Kelley, the lead singer for Kids with Knives, who will follow the Dave Carpenter Trio on the Village Idiot stage Sunday evening.

There will be plenty of music, beer, and pizza, but the event, at its heart, is about raising money. Money buckets will be passed, and there will be a silent auction tent that will take place from noon to 6 p.m. More than 50 items have been donated by the community, ranging from restaurant gift cards, sealcoating, a sump pump, a baseball signed by the Cleveland Indians’ Jason Kipnis, and a Houston Texans’ helmet with autographs from J.J. Watt and other players. There will be two vaults this year filled with gift cards and other items that will be awarded to raffle winners.

Since the event’s start, nearly $200,000 has been distributed to families in need.

“We have been doing this event for four years. It’s our favorite event of the year,” Kelley says. “It gets absolutely packed. The energy is amazing, and you see all those kids with autism who get out on the dance floor and act just like everyone else. It is special.”

Acoustics for Autism will take place at the Village Idiot and nearby locations in downtown Maumee on Sunday from noon until 2 a.m. Admission is free. The lineup of bands and additional information about the event and Project iAm can be found at acousticsforautism.com.

Contact Brian Dugger at bdugger@theblade.com or on Twitter @DuggerBlade.

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