Coming Back for our 9th Year on April 2, 2023
Sometime in the early 2010s, my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Nobody in our family knew exactly when this happened, or what exactly led her doctor to this diagnosis. Maybe it was the forgetfulness, or how bad her handwriting had become, or her asking the same questions over and over in a short period of time.
Obviously, as a family, we had lots of questions. What was happening to mom? What was going to happen to her? Is it hereditary? The more I read about the disease, and the more I saw what it was going to my mom, the more determined I was to try to help find a cure for it. Not being a scientist, I decided to write a check to one of the many organizations hoping to find a cure, or at least to better the lives of the person who was diagnosed, or the families trying to cope with everything happening to a loved one.
But I wanted to try to do more. People who knew my mom couldn’t understand what was happening to her. We tried to explain it, but it was dismissed as “she’s just getting older” or “old timer’s disease.” I knew that simply writing a check wasn’t enough – that trying to make people aware of the ravages of the disease was almost as important as finding a cure.
At about that time, I was playing drums in a local band. The guitarist in the band, and my closest friend in the band, was also dealing with a similar problem, as his father was diagnosed with dementia. Tony and I had numerous conversations about the challenges our families faced in trying to cope with our new reality.
One afternoon, Tony and I were at our favorite local bar, a place called Racks, located in Atco, New Jersey. We spent quite a bit of time there over the years, watching bands, or sports on the televisions, or just having a drink or getting a bite to eat. We probably spent too much time there actually, since one of the managers, Anthony, knew us by name.
One afternoon, Tony and I were eating lunch when the manager decided to join us. Eventually, the conversation turned to music, since Racks was known as a great place for a band to play, but the band that Tony and I were in couldn’t get a booking there. We mentioned this to Anthony, who jokingly said “if you guys are in a band, it can’t be any good.” Ouch.
I told Anthony that we were at Racks the previous Sunday and they had a band that wasn’t really all that good. He informed us that Sundays were reserved for benefits at Racks, so the group hosting the benefit can bring in any type of entertainment they want, whether it was a band, DJ, facepainter, balloon artist, etc. Seeing an opening for a way to get my band a booking at Racks, I flippantly said “well then, we’re going to have a benefit.” Anthony asked what the benefit would be for, and I told him about Tony’s dad and my mom, and we were going to stage a benefit to raise money for Alzheimer’s. When Anthony asked if we were serious, Tony said “Sure! How hard can it be?”
That was in 2014, and the first “Atco vs. Alzheimer’s” benefit concert was held that year. It wasn’t a raging success, as we had three bands (including my own – we finally got to play at Racks!), maybe 60-75 people in attendance, and we raised maybe $800. What was encouraging was the number of people who commented about how someone close to them had Alzheimer’s or dementia, and it was great to see someone trying to raise awareness about the disease.
Based on the encouragement we received, we moved forward with staging a second event the following year. Everything about that second event was bigger – we had more bands, more people attending, and more money raised. Maybe we were on to something.
After that second year, the event was moved to a ballroom at a restaurant in nearby Sicklerville. Again, everything was bigger. We stuffed nearly 250 people into the ballroom, along with 6 bands, and raised a few thousand dollars. It was fantastic, but the success bred problems….as in, this thing was getting too big.
We needed to find a bigger place, which led us to the Battleship New Jersey, a historic warship docked in the Delaware River in Camden, NJ. The event was rebranded as “Atco Battles Alzheimer’s” to incorporate the new venue into the name. And again, the same thing happened – more people, more money. This little fundraiser had become a “must attend” event for music fans in South Jersey. We were getting corporate sponsors, and bands were calling to try to get involved. The following year – the fifth such event, if you’re keeping count – attracted nearly 400 people to the Battleship! It was absolutely crazy!
We were getting ready for “Atco Battles Alzheimer’s 6” when Covid struck. The event was scheduled for early April 2020, and news of this strange virus started to break in mid-March. After numerous conversations, the Battleship decided to shut down just 2 weeks prior to our event. We had sold over 370 tickets when we decided to postpone the event, with no makeup date on the horizon. As spring turned into summer, scientists and the government came up with new policies, restrictions and safety guidelines. We decided to reschedule the event in early October, hoping that the Battleship would be open. Unfortunately, in mid-August, we were notified that the Battleship wouldn’t reopen in time for the event. Now what?
I went into full scramble mode to try to figure out how and if we could stage an event with just six weeks lead time. I had a date, I had bands, I had a sound system, I had tickets sold…I just didn’t have a venue. After a frantic few days, we decided to move the event to the Flying W Airport & Resort in Medford, NJ. Due to government restrictions, we were only able to have 500 people at the event. We announced on social media the new date and venue, and the remaining 125 tickets sold out in 2 weeks. Four weeks prior to the event, we had a complete sell-out. We sold 500 tickets! After all was said and done, we raised over $18,000 that day – despite everything else going on in the world.
For 2021, we decided to try to return to a spring date. And again, the event sold out. This time, it took just 3 ½ days to completely sell out – just 84 hours!
Looking toward the future, it’s difficult to figure out how to make this event bigger and better. Possibly a new venue, possibly a multi-day event…it’s all undecided. But Atco Battles Alzheimer’s 9 will happen.
Prior to the start of each event, I make a small speech about the event – the reason we’re there and the people we’ve known and lost to the disease. Last year, as I looked out at the expansive audience in place waiting for the first band and the event to start, I let myself soak in the moment. There were 850 people there (another new record!), 6 bands waiting to perform, and thousands of dollars to be raised. At that moment, I laughed a bit as I thought back to Tony’s comment that fateful day at Racks, way back in 2014: “How hard can it be to have a benefit?”
Not too hard at all, my friend. Not hard at all
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