'Will Read and Sing' bids a fond farewell

Photos by Sarah Ann Jump/The Herald
Marc Steczyk of Ferdinand plays during Friday's sold out final Will Read and Sing for Food variety show at the Astra Theatre in Jasper. 

By ALLEN LAMAN
alaman@dcherald.com

JASPER — After seven years, 150 public benefit shows and $160,155 raised for more than 40 charities, Scott Saalman is finally hanging it up.

The final Will Read and Sing For Food performance was held Friday night at The Astra Theatre in Jasper. Started by the Jasper man in October 2011, WRASFF placed more than 100 writers, musicians and other performers on stages across Dubois County — and sometimes outside the area — to create live music and comedy in the form of songs and spoken-word essays. Donation dollars collected at the shows were given to various charitable organizations and other causes across the region.

“Reflecting on the history of WRASFF and what it has meant to my life can be summed up in one word: friendship,” Saalman wrote in a booklet that was distributed to attendees at Friday’s finale. “95% of the friends currently in my life have some type of tie to this show, either as a performer or an audience member who kept returning for more. I have grown filthy rich in friendship thanks to this show.”

He’s also helped out a ton of local groups.

But he’s tired.

Rehearsing, publicizing information, organizing the shows, setting up equipment — it’s all exhausting work. He estimates he worked about 12 hours on each show, not counting the actual performance.

“It wore me out, that many [shows],” Saalman said in an interview Thursday.

Scott Saalman of Jasper performs with Leslie Hamby of Jasper during Friday's sold out final Will Read and Sing for Food variety show at the Astra Theatre in Jasper.

But he’ll look back on the time fondly. Saalman explained in the booklet that WRASFF taught him a lot about the value of community and philanthropy, and how lucky he is to live in Dubois County.

“We live in a very giving community,” he wrote. “I am not so sure the WRASFF concept would’ve lasted this long in any other place.”

He wrote that the program’s 150 shows could not have happened without its sponsors; musical acts; local media; venues, which sometimes lowered rental costs; restaurants, which let Saalman display scores of show posters in their establishments over the years; and the countless employees, leaders and volunteers with local charitable organizations WRASFF supported. Saalman added that the people whose lives are dedicated to helping others in need are the real heroes.

The shows’ performers have varied throughout the seven-year run. Many of them reunited on Friday.

Kyle Lueken, a regular guitarist and singer who lent his talents to the program for many of the final 100 shows, said Saalman did him and many other artists a service by inviting them to be part of his creation. Lueken’s biggest takeaway is just how important the group’s efforts have been — and just how important giving will continue to be even now that WRASFF is no more.

“Recognize Dubois County is awesome,” Lueken said. “And I think that there’s a lot of great things going on here. But I think people are kind of blind to the need here. And I’d say that I think the show is humbling to all of us about how much of a drop in the bucket $160,000 is to the charitable needs in Dubois County.”

Whether that be the Community Food Bank, Crisis Connection, survivors of suicide — they all need more help, Lueken said.

Henry Hagedorn, 14, of Bristow, left, Nancy Otte and Jen McClure, both of Jasper, dance the chicken dance as Ray Major and Rafaela Copetti Schaick play during Friday's show. "I hate to see the show end," Otte said. "It did so much good for the community."

“I feel like that’s really humbling,” he added. “You feel like you really achieved something, but those needs continue. And we need to continue to support those needs through various things, and I think that everybody’s going to have to continue to be creative to continue to support those things.”

Megan (Keusch) Gatwood, who sang in WRASFF shows for four years, said she will miss “absolutely everything” about it.

“I have learned that from one man’s idea, that may have seemed simple at the start, and a great amount of work and dedication, something can be created that can have a positive impact on every aspect of a community and make it a better place for each of us to live and raise our families,” Gatwood said.

Lueken said Saalman introduced the performers to the world of community giving. In a sense, he taught them how to fish.

Lueken, for example, has since become a member of the Next Act board, something he said he wouldn’t have done before meeting and collaborating with Saalman.

“You got me thinking very differently about community involvement,” Lueken told Saalman in a joint interview, mentioning the names of other performers Saalman had an impact on.

Saalman replied: “But you know what, I think you guys already had that.”

“But we didn’t know how to do it,” Lueken responded. “We didn’t know how to find that outlet. And Will Read (And Sing For Food) has always been that outlet for us.”

Audience members laugh as Abbie Rumbach of Jasper performs during Friday's sold out final Will Read and Sing for Food variety show at the Astra Theatre in Jasper.

 

Below is the flier distributed at the 150th Will Read and Sing for Food show at The Astra Theatre on Friday.

 

The Last Chicken Dance Liner Notes By Scott Saalman

Things you might not know about Will Read and Sing For Food.

• The original name was Will Read For Food. It consisted of 75 percent story content and 25 percent music. (Selfishly, this was likely due to me being musically declined.)

• We started in October 2011 with a lunchtime show, followed by an evening show, at VUJC.

• The original core members were Kris Lasher, Ray Major, Ed Walston and me. Since then, more than 100 musicians, writers, dancers and painters have appeared in the show.

• The initial admission was a canned good donation to Community Food Bank. Ultimately, audiences also donated more than $14,000 to the food bank through our show. The food bank focus was inspired by the late, great singer-songwriter/humanitarian/hunger activist Harry Chapin, whose WhyHunger organization continues working to end hunger and poverty by connecting people to nutritious, affordable food and by supporting grassroots solutions that inspire self-reliance and community empowerment. (Harry’s daughter, Jen Chapin, has traveled from Brooklyn, New York, to graciously perform in two shows. She is our show’s official godmother.)

• Will Read For Food eventually overhauled its name to include the music factor, thus, Will Read and Sing For Food. (It didn’t take long for me to realize people weren’t overly excited about attending a show that apparently consisted only of someone reading.) The show soon became 50 percemt stories and 50 percent music. Eventually, music swallowed up 75 percent of our set list. More people started coming. Duh!

• The show has two taglines: “Dollar by Dollar, Show by Show” and “So Much Talent So Close To Home.”

• First planning of the show occurred between Kris Lasher and me during an August lunch at Los Bravos. The idea was born over a Speedy lunch special.

• In 2014, thru the hard work of the Dubois County Community Foundation (DCCF) and downtown merchants, WRASFF performed two shows in one day in the then moth-balled Astra, essentially kicking off the theatre’s Next Act revitalization push — a labor of love. We raised $4,700 on that Sunday for the DCCF’s general fund, which was ultimately used to help fund other forms of local philanthropy.

• WRASFF’s largest audiences at non-Astra venues occurred at Shiloh United Methodist Church (local educator and writer Kelly Schaefer read from and signed her then new memoir, “Fractured Not Broken”) for a Friends of Jasper Library benefit and at the Calumet earlier this month (the latter ultimately raising $5,500 for Jasper Endows Today and Tomorrow). Each show drew over 200 audience members.

• In September 2018, the show raised a whopping $67 for the library in Dale. Eight people showed up, including my parents and Bob and Julie Dutchess. As we always say, “The right people were there.”

• In its eight years, WRASFF, thru the kindness of its audiences, has raised more than $158,000 for more than 40 charities and community causes, mostly in Dubois County.

• Cancer stole singer-songwriter Paul Michael Ash from us, but he remains an eternal WRASFF member.

• WRASFF audiences helped raise $30,000 for global Polio eradication via two shows for the Rotary Club of Jasper. This high total was due, in large part, to matching grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Julie Dutchess and her band of Rotarians rock!

• The Arts Council of Southwest Indiana, based in Evansville, presented WRASFF with a 2016 Mayor’s Art Award. This year, we were happy to see Next Act also earn an award from them. It’s always a joy when Jasper is recognized by outside communities for our art endeavors.

• The very first story read at WRASFF was not funny. It was called “This Old Table,” about the family Sunday dinner table I inherited when my grandmother died. The actual table was the physical centerpiece on stage. I read with all the lights off, conjuring the ghosts of fallen Saalmans who once graced the table.

• The Dec. 10, 2016 Herald Saturday Feature focused on WRASFF’s 100th show. It was written by Allen Laman, with photos by Sarah Ann Jump.

• The City of Jasper proclaimed Friday, December 16, 2016, Will Read and Sing For Food Day, the day of our 100th show.

• WRASFF was prominently featured in the Spring 2017 edition of “illume” which is the alumni magazine of the University of Southern Indiana, my alma mater. The story, “Quietly Making Noise,” was written by Connie Stambush.

• Of our 150 shows, my mom has been to 140 of them, followed closely by my dad. She had to convince him to start attending — he’s a better person for it.

• Aside from me, Marc Steczyk and Ray Major are the most consistent long-timers in the show.

• The “Abbie Rumbach Years” of WRASFF drew many new (younger) people to the show. She’s still the most requested performer. Not bad for the second-funniest person in the show. (I’m joking, Abbie!)

• Kyle Lueken, Debbie Schuetter and Megan and Isaac Gatwood were instrumental in giving WRASFF a fresh boost of energy three or so years ago, jacking up the frequency of shows to sometimes three a month. Their endless dedication to the show and their musical servitude to the community has been nothing short of amazing. The time, talent and grunt work donated by them (never were they paid even a penny) — and by Marc — kept the WRASFF engine running. The inclusion of Billie and Buddy Hart also lit a great spark for us in the middle ages of our show.

• Reflecting on the history of WRASFF and what it has meant to my life can be summed up in one word: friendship. 95 percent of the friends currently in my life have some type of tie to this show, either as a performer or an audience member who kept returning for more. I have grown filthy rich in friendship thanks to this show.

• WRASFF taught me a lot about the value of community and philanthropy — and how lucky I am to live in Dubois County. We live in a very giving community. I am not so sure the WRASFF concept would’ve last this long in any other place. 150 WRASFF shows could not have happened without our sponsors, musical servants, court jesters, local media, venues who sometimes cut us some slack on rental costs (a big thank you to Hedinger Beverage for the free space and free beer for everyone!), restaurants like Midwest Café, BREW and Azura who let me display scores of show posters in their establishments over the years, and the countless employees, leaders and volunteers for our local charitable organizations we supported (those people whose lives are dedicated to helping others in need are the real heroes). Last, but not least, thank you, dear audience. WRASFF did not raise more than $158,000 for community causes, you did.

• It’s great to have been allowed to perform our last ever show in the beautifully-renovated Astra Theatre. What a drastic difference between our first show in here in 2014 and tonight. It is a warm home for us. The Next Act folks have done an amazing, selfless job, accumulating buckets of blood, sweat and tears.

• WRASFF and Next Act jointly agreed that this final WRASFF should be a freebie for you in appreciation of the support you’ve given to both of us over time. Yes, tonight’s show is a free show, but feel free to make a donation to Next Act while you’re here (or online at www.thenextact.org). There’s still a financial need.

• “Such a night!” sang Dr. John during the best musical documentary ever made, “The Last Waltz.” Since that movie was a big inspiration for WRASFF, I decided to steal the title and morph it a bit. Hence, “The Last Chicken Dance.” We do more chicken dancing than waltzing in Dubois County.

I hope you enjoy our final show.

Such a night! Drive Safe. Sleep Warm. Spread the Word. Give where you live. Merry Christmas.

— Scott Saalman (Dec. 21, 2018)




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