On Tuesday, October 29, Brian Wilson and Jeff Beck will perform at the House of Blues in Chicago in a benefit concert for San Miguel School. The annual event raises funds to provide scholarships and community support to inner-city students. One hundred percent of the proceeds are donated to the cause.
Since 2007, the School Rocks! benefits have raised over $2.5 million. Kevin Allodi, CEO of Philo Broadcasting Inc., is committee chair for the annual concert. From the moment one show ends until the next one begins twelve months later, he works diligently with board members and San Miguel staff to organize and present an evening of A-list entertainment and accompanying events. In a recent interview, he discussed San Miguel’s ongoing mission, their increasing needs, and how he booked the only Chicago date for the Wilson/Beck tour.
This is the seventh annual School Rocks! event, and while you always book stellar lineups, you have really outdone yourself this time. When did you wake up and think, I have an idea: Brian Wilson and Jeff Beck and I bet they'll say yes.
Well, truth be told, this was a "things happen for a reason" story. I had booked up-and-coming, R&B-influenced artist Mayer Hawthorne months earlier. He’s a fantastic talent with a sound reminiscent of early Motown and Philly soul, combined with terrific musicianship. It was admittedly a departure from our traditional classic rock lineups, but after seeing him perform live, and hearing his music with that old-school sound, I felt our crowd would appreciate it. Then, around mid-July, I received a call from his manager asking if I could move my date — never a good sign! Turned out Mr. Hawthorne was offered the opening slot on the Bruno Mars European tour for all of October and November, so they had to back out of the commitment. While I was thrilled for Mayer — Bruno Mars is one of the hottest acts on the planet right now — it put me in a tough place. So I started making some calls, seeing who might be available. Getting the Wilson/Beck tour was a long shot, but I had an "in" and thought, Nothing ventured, nothing gained, so I gave it a try.
How many hoops did you jump through to make this happen, or was it easier than you expected because of the cause involved?
A friend of mine is close to the Brian Wilson camp, and I'd been introduced to Brian's manager, Joe Thomas, previously, when they were gearing up for the Beach Boys’ 50th Reunion Tour. I'd heard about a one-off show Wilson was to perform at L.A.'s Greek Theater with Jeff Beck guesting in late October, so I asked my friend to lob in the idea of Wilson/Beck doing rehearsals in Chicago, then using our event as a "warm up" for the Greek show. It was only then I learned there were unannounced plans for a short tour; however, a Chicago date had yet to be booked. I asked Joe if we could tack on a Chicago show at the end of tour, which was scheduled to end in Ohio. Joe was able to get an additional date booked in Milwaukee following ours, which made the Chicago leg viable, and we were able to make it happen. I think the fact that Brian Wilson and his wife, Melinda, lived in suburban Chicago for a number of years, and both he and Jeff Beck have a strong fan base here, helped. Jeff Beck has always done well here, and of course has an affinity for the great Chicago blues players from his formative years with the Yardbirds. I'm told both Brian and Jeff were quite enthusiastic about performing for the event and supporting the cause/mission of San Miguel — and of course we are ecstatic to be the ones bringing them to Chicago!
Did you revert to your teenage self, yell and jump up and down on the couch when they said yes?
I still can't quite believe it, to be honest. Both these guys’ catalogues are on my desert island/Top Ten lists. I don't think I've missed a Jeff Beck performance in Chicago since the early 1970s. He's just a phenomenal talent. Brian Wilson is arguably one of the best American composers/arrangers of our time. The idea of the two of them performing together for our little event is really a dream come true.
Tickets for this event are $300 — not cheap, but also not outrageous, considering the four-figure amount some artists are charging for arena shows. How did you decide the price point — of which 100 percent goes to San Miguel School Chicago — and how are ticket sales so far?
Well, one must keep in mind that this is a fundraiser, but it includes full open bar and food buffet along with the show, and a healthy portion of the ticket price is tax deductible. So not only is it a great night on the town in Chicago with drinks, dinner and a once-in-a-lifetime show, you're doing some good for those less fortunate and taking a little off what you owe Uncle Sam. I hear orchestra-seat sections tickets for the performances in New York and other cities are going for $600 to $900, so by comparison, $300 is a bargain! If you want to arrive early, you can be right up front and center.
Last year, San Miguel School Chicago served approximately 400 students between the middle school and graduate support programs. Have the numbers changed or are you still able to serve as many students in need?
The numbers are the same. We gain kids entering the 6th grade and matriculate our high school graduates out from our graduate support program. The demand far exceeds our capacity, due to physical space limitations, but we have designs on expanding our footprint in the next couple of years, both in terms of students served at the middle school level and possibly extending to elementary grade levels as well.
Education is experiencing budget problems, school closings and many setbacks on a national level. Has San Miguel been affected by these issues?
We feel the pressure like everyone else, but it comes in a different form. Since we receive no city, state or federal funding and are 100 percent donor funded, our funding comes primarily from the generosity of individual donors and foundations interested in education initiatives for those most at risk. The challenging economy and lower interest rate environment have squeezed both foundations and individuals in terms of income/discretionary dollars available for philanthropic giving. In this regard, we have tried to be good stewards of the funds entrusted to us and have made adjustments in our operations to run leaner without sacrificing the quality of our programs. We have been fortunate that most of our donors have chosen to stay with us — in some cases increasing their gifts — as they evaluate where to invest their charitable giving to realize the best return on their investment. We are incredibly grateful to all our donors, big and small, who have kept San Miguel in their giving plans during the past five difficult years.
The program includes students in grades 6 through 8, with a goal of seeing the students complete their high school educations. What are some of the resources and support systems you offer to help them accomplish this goal?
The single biggest factors in our program success are our extended day and school year and curriculum focus on reading, math and language arts. Our students spend 53 percent more time in class than required by the state of Illinois. We have a 9:1 student-to-teacher ratio and we find that students entering the 6th grade improve as much as two reading grade levels within the first six months. Our graduate program provides a safe place for high school students to return to after school, where they can get tutoring and additional assistance to ensure their transition to high school is successful and they maintain the good study habits and work ethic they learned at San Miguel.
How high is the student success rate for graduation? Is there any follow-up as to how many attend college?
Historically, San Miguel middle school graduates have achieved a high school graduation rate of over 92 percent — this as compared to the national high school graduation rate of 78 percent, and a Chicago public school system average of 56 percent. Perhaps of greater significance is that in the Back of the Yards community we serve, the high school graduation rate is under 40 percent; clearly, by any measure, we are achieving at an incredibly high rate. Our system works, plain and simple. As for post-secondary education, we're off the charts there as well. For example, of San Miguel's 2009 graduating class, fully 80 percent of the class are continuing their education, 64 percent are in four-year universities and 16 percent are in community colleges.
San Miguel is specifically focused on at-risk and at-need students who live at or below the poverty level. That segment of the population is increasing. Are your numbers increasing as well, and if so, are you able to serve all the students who need your assistance?
Unfortunately, the need/demand outstrips our capacity — admissions are oversubscribed every year. As I mentioned earlier, we are actively looking at ways in which we can expand to serve a greater number of students. Given that we are 100 percent donor funded, it is challenging, but we hope to secure some additional space in our current location in the next twelve to twenty-four months and have some other options in the works as well.
Evenings like School Rocks! make for a memorable annual event. However, when the show is over, the need for funding and assistance continues. What can people do to help San Miguel School Chicago year-round?
First of all, for those reading this who are interested in supporting the benefit concert but aren't in the Chicago area, tickets for our Tiffany & Co. Rockin' Raffle are available online at www.sanmiguelrocks.org and the winner need not be present. I would encourage anyone with an interest in supporting us to visit the San Miguel Schools Chicago Donor Guide page on the school's website: www.sanmiguelchicago.org. Options range from providing annual tuition scholarships to underwriting costs for supplies and educational field trips. Better yet, come visit the school and get a personalized tour from one of our student ambassadors. You'll be amazed at what these kids are accomplishing and are capable of, given the opportunity to succeed. For anyone seeking a solid return on investment from their charitable contribution, you'll do no better than San Miguel School Chicago!
For more information about the School Rocks! benefit concert, visit www.sanmiguelrocks.org.