Benefit concert aims to help those still struggling after the tornadoes

In the days after the Sept. 21 tornadoes that ripped a path of devastation across Ottawa and Gatineau, Erin Benjamin was sitting at her desk looking at all the film of the destruction.

It was a shocking revelation.

“I had been like many people sort of cut off from the reality of the damage. And then I started seeing the footage and hearing the stories.

“I realized the extent of what happened realized that people would be affected by this for a long time. Those of us not directly affected were incredibly lucky. One degree over and my home could have been flattened. I became very emotional when I was looking at the parents and kids and I asked myself ‘What could I do?'”

Benjamin heads Music Canada Live. Artists have always pulled together to help in times of trial so she emailed about 15 or 20 of her closest colleagues in the music and tourism industries.

Erin Benjamin.

“I said ‘I think we should do something. What do you think about a benefit concert could we make it happen. Who is in? Without hesitation almost everyone said ‘I’m in. Me too.'”

And they got to work. They combined their efforts with the CUPE Local 503 and have organized a benefit concert on Nov. 10 at the Arena at TD Place. The event will feature The Jim Cuddy Band along with an all-star lineup from the local music scene including Matt Mays, Sarah Harmer, Kellylee Evans, LGS, Jim Bryson, Cody Coyote, Kalle Matson, Rebecca Noelle, Kira Isabella, Craig Cardiff and Jeremy Fisher.

CUPE 503 joined in the effort without hesitation, said Brian Madden, the local president.

“We all have a part to play, and this level of collaboration really demonstrates just how resilient we truly are as a community,” he is quoted as saying in a media release.

Jim Cuddy jumped on board quickly as well.

“Ottawa has always been very supportive to us,” he said in the same release. “We are so glad to be able to give back to this community and perform at the After The Storm benefit concert.”

By the second week of October a detailed plan was being prepared and “here we are today still working hard to make it an incredible experience for music fans and a powerful experience across Ottawa Gatineau. She has been working with groups like Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, Ottawa Tourism,  LiveNation, RBC Ottawa Bluesfest, OttawaFestivals and Edwards Creative Law and lawyer Byron Pascoe and the Blackiron Agency.

The team is working with the United Way and with the City of Ottawa. Any money donated will be handed to the United Way for distribution on both sides of the Ottawa River.

The primary goal will be to reach out and help vulnerable seniors who may be more isolated and to insure that food banks in the area are restocked, Benjamin said. Organizers say they also want to recognize and honour the role of volunteers, organizations and first responders.

“If you lost the contents of your fridge or freezer and you are on social assistance and just did your shopping just before storm, you might be going hungry.”

Demand on food banks has increased exponentially, Benjamin said. For example, she said she had been told that the Ottawa Food Bank is currently serving 13,000 people a week.

“Our priority is making sure affected families can eat,” she said. “I hadn’t thought about the fact that some folks may not be able to restock fridge.”

“Ottawa Tourism has full-time person on this now. Black Iron Agency helped with the art work to promote concert. I hope the word is out. We will continue to put word out on social media.

“We hope as many people as possible can come out to hear some great music and to celebrate our coming together as a community.” The concert is free but people will be encouraged to donate during the event.

“One thing that is really important to me is that people will know that you don’t just have a storm and it’s over. This will take months and maybe longer for people’s lives to get back to normal. We need to recognize that and use this event as an opportunity to remind people this is a long term process.”

She’s not ruling out further events down the road because “everyone recognizes that we all need to pull together to do whatever is necessary.”

After the Storm A Relief and Recovery Concert
When: Nov. 10 from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Door at 5:30 p.m.
The Arena at TD Place
This is a free event. For more:

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.