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Portland plays songs for Haiti and raises nearly $150,000 for Mercy Corps

Haiti, January 25, 2010

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Ryan White

The Oregonian
January, 2010

About a half an hour after the final note was played, Stephen Marc Beaudoin, who'd organized Thursday night's "Songs for Haiti" benefit at the Aladdin Theater bounced into the bar next door, still singing the closing number. All that had changed was a word.

"Amaaaaazing benefit!"

There's no other way to describe a benefit thrown together in six days that raises in the neighborhood of $150,000 for Mercy Corps. And that number could grow.

Last Friday, when Beaudoin went to work on the idea of a benefit, his hope was to raise $25,000. A sold out Aladdin Theater, along with some merchandise and perhaps some corporate help would just about do that.

Near the end of the evening, Tom Sessa, the Aladdin's manager presented a check for nearly $25,000, the result of ticket sales, and concessions and tips. But that was only the start of the haul.

The service fees Ticketmaster agreed to donate will total close to $3,000 Sessa said.

Wednesday night, Beaudoin learned the Ray Hickey Foundation, the work of the former owner of Tidewater Barge Lines, would match every dollar raised up to $50,000.

Thursday night, the foundation told Beaudoin they'd lift the cap and match every dollar, period.

Ten posters autographed by all the performers were sold at $200 a pop. The call for donations smaller and much, much larger went out, and came back in pledges of $100, $1,000, $5,000 and, before any of that, $23,000.

That came from American Steel's Howard Hedinger, who was sitting comfortably at a table to the right of Beaudoin when he arrived at the bar.

Behind Hedinger, along the wall the bar shares with the Aladdin, Terrance "Cool Nutz" Scott said again and again how blessed he felt to have been asked to be a part of the evening.

His was one of the more interesting sets, because it was not a hip-hop crowd, and because he got people on their feet and waving their hands all the same.

Pink Martini's Thomas Lauderdale and China Forbes kicked things off by asking everyone to stand for the Haitian national anthem.

"Feel free to sing along," Fobes said.

What followed was more than three hours of what would best be described as a sampler of what Portland can do. Janice Scroggins and Linda Hornbuckle and friends gave up the gospel. Holcombe Waller played the Beatles "Let It Be."

Oregon Symphony concertmaster Jun Iwasaki and his wife, pianist Grace Fong-Iwasaki, probably sold some symphony tickets to non-symphony goers. After their first number, Sergei Rachmaninoff's "Vocalise," Iwasaki held up a finger and said, "One more," but most everyone seemed content to continue applauding and make them wait.

The Portland Cello Project added something that falls somewhere between classical and indie.

The choirs Flash, PHAME and Royal Blues (of Grant High School) worked separate and together along with vocalists Erin Charles and Douglas Webster, who also worked separately and together.

Lauderdale played a piece by Haitian Ludovic Lamothe, "the Black Chopin."

Cool Nutz brought the beat and then, as everyone would have expected, Storm Large brought with her an African proverb. Storm's good like that.

She told of the hummingbird who sees all the jungle animals fleeing a fire. The hummingbird, the tiny little hummingbird, races to the river, picks up a drop of water, and carries it to the fire. Time and time again, to the confusion of the rest of the animals.

The animals ask: What exactly do you think you're doing?

The hummingbird says: Whatever I can.

And then Storm played a few songs before being joined by Scroggins and Hornbuckle and Forbes, and Beaudoin and the night's hosts -- KOIN's Tim Joyce and the Oregonian's Margie Boule -- for "Amazing Grace."

Which Beaudoin was still singing when he arrived the bar.