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Thursday, March 22 News

Music For Hope fundraiser comes to DHS

Award-winning Nashville, Tenn., recording band Gunsmoke will take the stage on Saturday, Jan. 25, along with several Darien High School musical groups, for Music for Hope, a fundraiser for cancer research.

Nick DeMaio, DHS physical trainer and Gunsmoke bassist and vocalist, started the fundraising campaign in 2010 and has since raised more than $8,000 for national and local organizations and hospitals fighting cancer.

"People are out (during the concert) having a good time," DeMaio said. "But there are so many people who are sick or someone in the audience who knows someone who is sick. So you try to have a good time and at the same time you do a little something to help these people and contribute to the fight."

The first year, Music for Hope teamed up with St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

This year, Music for Hope will donate the funds raised to the Bennett Cancer Center at Stamford Hospital and the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund. DeMaio said he tries to target one local and one national organization for fundraisers that take place twice a year.

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"We love when people get together to raise awareness and get funds to fight cancer," said Sabrina Volvo, director of communications at the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund.

DeMaio, who coaches softball at DHS, previously teamed with the research fund and raised money through a softball tournament.

"It's great that people want to do something for us and raise money for us," said Liz Manfredo, the service line manager for the Bennett Cancer Center, said. "A lot of our supportive programs are funded through philanthropic fundraisers."

Stamford also receives donations from Hope in Motion, a fundraising initiative through the hospital. Music for Hope would be considered a Hope in Motion event, Manfredo said. The hospital annually has received between $940,000 and $1 million.

In years past, Music for Hope has taken place in venues across Connecticut, including the Norwalk Concert Hall, and some of the funds were raised for the Wittingham Cancer Center at Norwalk Hospital.

This is the first time the event has taken place in Darien.

"I'm from Darien; I teach here," DeMaio said. "So I thought, `This is a state-of-the-art facility, why not try here?' "

DeMaio's brother, Jeff, who plays the pedal steel guitar and sings in Gunsmoke, is the auditorium manager at DHS.

Gunsmoke, a member of the New York and Connecticut Country Music Halls of Fame and six-time recipient of New York Metro Band of the Year, has been performing and recording classic country music for 25 years.

"To get those things you have to be around for a while," DeMaio said.

The band has also performed for former presidents George H.W. Bush in 1994 and George W. Bush in 2002, which DeMaio said opened doors for them at Nashville venues. All of their music is recorded in Nashville.

"So we've kept going back and have kind have taken up a torch for classic country," DeMaio said.

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The band formed in 1982 with DeMaio, his brother and a friend from Darien. Over the years, the band has had a few "personnel changes," DeMaio said.

"It's only been like six people total," DeMaio said, referring to the number of people who have been a part of the band since its inception. "The friendships help it to last and to go on."

The band's classic country sound has influences from artists such as Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard, but will cover the popular country music of today, knowing that people do enjoy it.

Though DeMaio believes all popular country hits sound the same, "it's not all disappointing," he said, adding that he feels most current country music is "not very sophisticated" and that many artists are "all singing about their tractors and picking up their girls on a Friday night."

"(Darien) is not an area where people would really recognize or look for classic country," DeMaio said. "In some ways, it might be old to me, but someone who is 20 years old who is hearing this music for the first time, it's going to be totally off the spectrum for them. For them, it could be brand-new."

The Music for Hope event will have something for everyone, DeMaio said. The Afterthoughts, a band made up of DHS faculty, as well as the jazz band, the a cappella group and the pop strings, will also join Gunsmoke at the concert.

The Afterthoughts -- whose members include Rodney Brown, Matt Pavia, Louis Powell, Kai Underwood and Chris Andrade -- initially formed as a one-time band for a charity event and called the Staff Infection, stayed together after that first gig.

"It became obvious to the band members that something bigger was happening, and a few minor roster changes and 30-plus songs later, school band Staff Infection gave way to the Afterthoughts, an old-school cover band exploding onto the local music scene," according to the band's website.

DeMaio realized that if a musical fundraising event was to take place in the DHS auditorium, it should include acts by Darien students and teachers.

"The No. 1 reason is because I'm blown away every time I hear them," DeMaio said of the student musicians. "They're so talented and they sound great. Everyone talks about the sports all the time, but I am blown away by their musical talent."

Rick Sadlon, Darien public schools' director of music, said the talent in town is a result of the "good teachers and really great students and a good program from kindergarten through the 12th grade.

"The town is really supportive of the program," Sadlon said.

The jazz band has won several awards at in- and out-of-state competitions, including the Berklee Bean Town Jazz Festival in Massachusetts and the Essentially Ellington Regional Festival at Greenwich High School.

Tickets are $5 at the door, which opens at 6:30 p.m. The show will start at 7.

"It's a really inexpensive evening," DeMaio said. "The idea is to try and get as many people to come so that Music for Hope, the idea of it, and all the events will be looked forward to to fight cancer."

mspicer@bcnnew.com; 203-

330-6583; @Meg_DarienNews