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Kara Patterson column: 5 Milers bring fundraising show back to Fox Cities PAC

11:07 PM, Jul. 22, 2013  |  Comments
The 5 Milers return to the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center Thursday.
The 5 Milers return to the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center Thursday.
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This week The 5 Milers, a classic folk music ensemble with Neenah roots, is celebrating its fifth anniversary of performing summer shows to raise money for Fox Valley nonprofits.

In four years, the ensemble's benefit concerts have raised more than $34,000 for about 10 Fox Valley charities.

"Everything stays right here in the Valley," said Appleton musician Rob Billings, who emcees, plays the 12-string guitar and contributes vocals. "This is where we got educated, this is where we grew up and we've all been very fortunate ... it's nice to give back to the community you grew up in."

This summer's concert of 1960s favorites starts at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center in downtown Appleton.

Tickets cost $15 to $16. Billings says about 80 percent of each ticket supports the featured charities and about 20 percent goes to the PAC.

The J. J. Keller Foundation has committed to matching proceeds dollar-for-dollar, up to $5,000.

The concert's beneficiaries are the Thompson Community Center, the Boys' & Girls' Brigade and the Mooring Programs.

"A couple of our members were in the Boys' & Girls' Brigade so that was a natural (fit)," Billings said. "I have a number of friends who have done well at the Thompson Community Center in their different programs."

Billings learned about the Mooring Programs when Jamie Loehnis, the nonprofit's executive director, attended a 5 Milers concert and spoke with him about the nonprofit's work in drug and alcohol addiction recovery.

Loehnis said proceeds from this year's concert will funnel into a scholarship fund for clients who are unable to fully pay for services but are ineligible for other types of financial assistance.

The Brigade, a Neenah-based youth leadership program, is directing its funds to help support a three-week trip to Perth, Australia, in December.

"What we have is an international trip that goes outbound every other year or so," said Laura Kemps, the Brigade's executive director. "We have several relationships with Brigades around the world so it's really neat for (youth) to be able to connect with a Brigade from another country."

The other members of The 5 Milers are Appleton upright string bassist Lauren Mai; lead vocalist Terry Bigalke of Hawaii; fiddler Nancy Burleson of Arkansas; and Tom W. Jones of Florida, who plays banjo and guitar and arranges songs.

Most of the musicians were high school classmates, and the group has been together since 1963.

Last year's summer benefit concert at the PAC drew about 1,275 people and raised about $13,800 for the Thompson Community Center, the Tri-County Community Dental Clinic and the Fox Cities Community Health Center. The J. J. Keller Foundation had matched proceeds up to $5,000.

Billings said after the allocation of funds among the three nonprofits, about $800 remained. The 5 Milers teamed up with Rebuilding Together Fox Valley and the J. J. Keller Foundation to rebuild the deck at a Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan facility.

The 5 Milers' concert repertoire is all acoustic music.

"It's all a softer instrumentation," Billings said. "In folk music it's all about the story, a mine disaster, a railroad train, a protest song, a love song, an I-just-got-dumped song. We're trying to make sure people get the words."

It's fitting that some 5 Milers fans sing along during the concert. During their high school days, the ensemble's musicians used to spend hours at a time after special events such as plays by strumming their guitars at impromptu song circles.

That passion for sharing music with and for others still shines through, years later.

"We have a lot of fun on the stage and I think the audience picks up on that," Billings said.

- Kara Patterson's Words of Art column focuses on Fox Valley arts. She's reachable at 920-993-1000, ext. 215, or kpatterson@postcrescent.com; on Twitter @ArtsMinded

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