Red Kettle Rocks

Two Tennessee Salvation Armies kick off the season with concerts

The Knoxville Salvation Army began bell ringing for its Red Kettle campaign over the weekend, but it really starts the season with its fourth annual Rock the Red Kettle concert on Thursday. Memphis joins the fun on Saturday with its third annual Battle of the Bells, which is part of a two-day Red Kettle kickoff.

Singer-songwriter Erick Baker is featured in the Knoxville Salvation Army's Rock the Red Kettle concert this year.

Singer-songwriter Erick Baker is featured in the Knoxville Salvation Army’s Rock the Red Kettle concert this year.

The Knoxville concert features a nationally-touring singer-songwriter. The Memphis event is a competition for unsigned artists. Both serve as a way to introduce the Salvation Army mission to new audiences, particularly those in their 20s and 30s.

“One of our goals is to draw a younger crowd – to get them involved and make them aware of our brand and our mission,” said Rob Link, Knoxville’s Community Relations Director.

Aaron Keegan, the Special Events and Promotions Director in Memphis, agreed. “We’re really trying to get a younger demographic involved. Our average donor to The Salvation Army is in their 60s and that’s great, but we don’t have a lot in the wings waiting to come up.”

To help with that in Knoxville, the artist chosen for Thursday’s show is Erick Baker, who is in his mid-30s and attracts an older Millennial/younger Generation X crowd. Link said Baker is very interested in the Salvation Army mission and happy to get involved.

His booking was a happy accident, Link explained. The Salvation Army tried to book this year’s venue, the 750-person Bijou Theatre, last year but discovered that booking in July for a November show is much too late. Instead, The Salvation Army started looking then at booking it for this year and asked the theatre who in The Salvation Army’s price range sells well there. Baker was one of the artists mentioned, and he hit it off with the Salvation Army staff.

Drummer Andrew McNeill at Ardent Studios. He's part of a band that will perform at this year's Memphis Salvation Army Battle of the Bells.

Drummer Andrew McNeill at Ardent Studios. He’s part of a band that will perform at this year’s Memphis Salvation Army Battle of the Bells.

“It has turned out to be a great, great relationship that shows signs of continuing even after this concert,” Link said.

Baker, an Americana artist, is a Knoxville local, which will help with any future endeavors between the two parties. He used to tour at least 200 days a year, traveling all over the world with artists including John Legend, Gavin DeGraw and the Goo Goo Dolls; however, these days, he spends most of his time around home as the host of PBS’ “Tennessee Uncharted” and tours primarily on the weekend.

Tickets for Thursday’s 8 p.m. show are $30. About 30 VIP tickets, which include a pre-show reception with a short set by Baker, have already sold for $70 each. Link said the show’s expenses are covered by sponsors (including Regal Entertainment Group and radio stations 107.7 WIVK, WNML Sports Radio and News Talk 98.7, who are presenting the concert), so all the money from ticket sales will go straight to Knoxville’s Red Kettle campaign.

“One hundred percent of the ticket sales go directly into the Red Kettle to help jumpstart our campaign. That does a tremendous amount of good in the community where we all live.”

Link said that while this is the fourth year for the event, it’s the first year it’s really been a full concert. The past years had smaller venues, and the event was more like a reception, with desserts, a beverage station and a silent auction in addition to the music.

The Everdeens were one of the performers at Memphis' 2015 Battle of the Bells.

The Everdeens were one of the performers at Memphis’ 2015 Battle of the Bells.

“It was attended OK, but it never was the event we had envisioned four years ago. We’re really looking forward to having our first real Rock the Red Kettle concert this year,” he said.

The Memphis Salvation Army also had some growing pains in its first two years of the Battle of the Bells. The event started out as an online contest, with submissions having to contain some type of bell. Keegan said that wasn’t very well conceived or grasped, so last year, The Salvation Army switched to a live contest.

There were seven entrants representing seven different genres. Keegan described it as being like “American Idol,” with fans voting from their mobile devices for their favorite act and those results being mixed with the more heavily weighted scores of a judges panel of musical professionals.

The winner was high school a cappella group Say Something, whose prize was a slot during the New Year’s Eve guitar drop at one of the battle’s sponsors, the Memphis Hard Rock Cafe. This year’s winner will also earn that prize, which lets them play three to five songs for several thousand people on Main Street.

The winner will be named during the concert, which runs 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday. Sponsored in part by Kix 106 country radio, 98.1 The Max rock radio, Orion Federal Credit Union and the Memphis Flyer, it’s at the Kroc Center, which holds a 300-person audience. Tickets are $7 in advance on eventbrite.com or $10 at the door.

In previous years, Rock the Red Kettle was more of a reception than a concert. There was music, but also refreshments and a silent auction, and guests sat around tables.

In previous years, Rock the Red Kettle was more of a reception than a concert. There was music, but also refreshments and a silent auction, and guests sat around tables.

In addition to the grand prize, this year, another sponsor, Ardent Studios, added a gift for everyone participating. During 48 hours in October, the 13 artists selected for the contest all got some time at the famous studio (which has worked with ZZ Top, R.E.M., Bob Dylan, B.B. King and 3 Doors Down, among others) to record an original song, thanks to Ardent engineer Mike Wilson, who judged the competition last year.

“After last year, he said, ‘I love this event. I want to make it better.’ So skip forward a year, and our artists were recording their songs at Ardent Studios,” Keegan said.

“We recorded 13 songs, basically for their use. They’re up-and-coming artists who need a professional mix of their song, so they can go out and say, ‘This is what I sound like.’ Now, they have that song in their hand to give to a producer, and it’s free.”

He added that they have the goal of putting the songs on a compilation CD to sell and raise even more funds for the Red Kettle. That’s in addition to the awareness for The Salvation Army and the Red Kettle campaign raised at Saturday’s concert.

“Not only is this a great musical event, but it also serves as an opportunity for us to be able to tell our story,” Keegan said.