It all started with a conversation between Bruce Wing, a musician sidelining as a security guard and Roy Tai, owner/operator of the Mex Pub.
Wing was looking for a venue where local musicians could perform and raise money for the Comox Valley Food Bank. Tai thought it was a great idea.
Now in their fifth year, 1st Tuesday Fundraiser concerts have collected countless banana boxes of food and raised thousands of dollars for the food bank.
In 2010, organizers, Bruce and Judy Wing, decided to let the guest performers select the charity of their choice so other non-profit societies such as Comox Valley Hospice, the SPCA and the Comox Valley Transition Society have benefited from the monthly gigs.
The event takes place on the first Tuesday of each month with the Mex Pub contributing the space, featured musicians donating their performance and the Wings providing the opening set and sound equipment.
As sponsor of the event, Tai pays the Wings to arrange everything and promote the concerts and provides an honorarium for the performers. There are no tickets or cover charge. Instead, entry is by contribution to the charity of the night or a non-perishable item for the food bank.
“It’s a multiple-win situation all around,” says musician Judy Wing. “It gives the performers some publicity, increases awareness about local charities and brings new people to the Mex. And Bruce and I get to work with and meet a lot of good-hearted people in the community.”
The next concert, on Feb. 5, features Tammy Fassaert and the Bluegrass Wave.
Billboard Magazine called Fassaert, “one of the leading figures in Canada’s vibrant West Coast Folk music scene.” A singer/songwriter, she’s performed for First Tuesday Fundraisers before, accompanied only by her standup bass. This time she’s bringing a band.
Although “playing out” wasn’t part of the plan, the band has casually been referred to as the Bluegrass Brunch Bunch since they began playing at the Waverley on Sunday mornings.
“We needed a name for the fundraiser so decided to go with Bluegrass Wave,” says Fassaert. “The beauty of this band — my favourite ever — is that it’s a jam band.
"Not looking for gigs removes a lot of the stress. It’s just so much fun — everyone’s a professional musician so we just throw out songs and take it from there.”
In addition to Fassaert, band members include singer/songwriter Archie Pateman on banjo and guitar, Jack Roland on fiddle and Anne Louise Genest on clawhammer banjo and guitar.
“And we all sing lead and harmony so it’s really fun,” adds Fassaert. “People might be familiar with Jack and Archie as the Cumberland Brothers and Anne Louise’s new CD, Grandma’s Rules for Drinking was nominated twice for the 2012 Canadian Folk Music Awards.”
The Bluegrass Wave is donating proceeds of the concert to YANA in appreciation for all the assistance the Pateman family received when their son was ill. The non-profit society provides financial assistance to Comox Valley families who must take their children outside the Valley for medical care.
So far, First Tuesday has wowed audiences with solo and group acts including folk, R&B bands and comedy duos.
But the foundation for all the good music and charitable fundraising is Roy Tai.
Tai’s family immigrated to Nanaimo from Guyana in South America in the 1970s. Eventually they established Chinese restaurants and other service industry ventures in Vancouver, Toronto and New York.
Six years ago, when the Mex Pub was for sale, Tai considered it an excellent opportunity to own a business on Vancouver Island.
And when Bruce Wing mentioned a regular fundraising gig he thought, “What a great way to give back to the community.”
“We considered various venues but what we really needed was someone to commit to a regular event and the long-term vision,” explains Judy. “Roy has been very encouraging and upbeat. It’s his support and commitment that has given the 1st Tuesday Fundraiser the longevity it’s had.”
“He’s very community-minded,” she adds. “He’s well-known in the music community for really stepping up to the plate. If a musician dies, he always holds a memorial concert to help with funeral expenses. He’s all heart.”
In addition to the 1st Tuesday Fundraiser, The Mex hosts an annual event for the CIBC Run for the Cure, supports Santa’s Workshop at Christmas and hosts fundraisers for numerous local charities. Tai also supports fundraising events for individuals in need.
“Anyone that wants to hold a legitimate fundraiser is welcome to contact me through the Mex website (www.mexpub.ca),” says Tai. “I’m always happy to help out.”
Music Feb. 5 begins at 7:30 p.m. with the Wings and Blaine Dunaway, followed by the Bluegrass Wave at 8. The Mex Pub is at 1003 Ryan Rd. in Courtenay.
For more information about 1st Tuesday Fundraisers visit www.judyandbruce.com/foodbank.html or www.facebook.com/1stTuesdayFundraisers.
Paula Wild is a published author and regular contributor to the Comox Valley Record's arts and entertainment section.