Santa Jam concerts raise toys, funds for local children


Country singer David Ball headlines Sunday's Santa Jam concert at the Thunder Music Park in Hampton.

The Associated Press
Published: Thursday, December 12, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, December 11, 2013 at 11:41 a.m.

At just 5 months old, Steve McMullen's son, Kayn, was in Shands Hospital dealing with both a serious heart condition and double pneumonia. The initial prognosis was not good: Kayn's Down syndrome, accompanying heart condition and pneumonia made even heart surgery seem like a long shot. Following the surgery, however, Kayn recovered and became the benefactor of two gifts: new toys to brighten his stay and departure from the hospital.

Facts

Santa Jam
What: Concerts to raise toys and funds for Shands Children Hospital and other entities in North Central Florida
Admission: One new unwrapped toy or $5 donation.
Info: www.flarocks.com

Schedule
Friday: Lost Southern Boys and Hired Gunnzz, 9 p.m. at Bunkers Sports Den, 8055 U.S. 129 South, Jasper. (386-397-0819)
Saturday: Crash Pad, Gorilla Candy and Psychedelic Sunburn, 9 p.m. at Backstage Lounge, 1315 S. Main St. (378-9185)
Sunday: David Ball, Southern Ruckus and Steel Bridge, 1 to 5 p.m. at Thunder Music Park, 9057 U.S. 301, Hampton. (235-2803)

Upon thanking the hospital staff, McMullen also asked a question: Where do the toys come from? “I said, 'Do you have a big warehouse of toys?' and they said, 'No, Shands doesn't buy the toys, they're donated by organizations and individuals.

“The toys just meant so much to me,” McMullen says; “that people donate toys, and that was just so nice of them to take care of him and give him a toy."

McMullen further learned that the hospital tries to have a stockpile of toys on hand to give children when they're undergoing something so traumatic, he says. “They said people usually donate, but they run low through the year.”

And that's when the light bulb went off for McMullen, who works by day in computer field and performs at night as a musician: “I thought 'Hey, being a musician, maybe we can do a concert and donate some toys to them for all the children who are in the hospital.”

Thus began the idea for Santa Jam, the charitable concerts that McMullen and others started during the 2011 holiday season and have returned for the third time.

The concept is simple: Admission to any of the multi-band shows is free with a new, unwrapped toy (or a $5 donation, which is used to purchase a toy). The toys are donated to Shands Children Hospital and such area entities as Downtown Ministries, Episcopal Children's Services and others.

This year's Santa Jam 2013 began last weekend with performances in Gainesville, Lake City and Alachua. And this weekend, they will continue with performances at the Bunkers Sports Den in Jasper on Friday and at the Backstage Lounge in Gainesville on Saturday before the big finale — a Sunday-afternoon show at the Thunder Music Park in Hampton, which will be headlined by country star David Ball and also feature the area country acts, Southern Ruckus and Steel Bridge.

“This first weekend was absolutely great,” McMullen says. “We're just over 400 toys, and our goal was 1,000 this year. It's a lofty goal, but we've almost made it halfway during the first weekend.

While the area bands — which also include Lost Southern Boys and Hired Gunnzz on Friday in Jasper; Crash Pad, Gorilla Candy and Psychedelic Sunburn (McMullen's band) on Saturday in Gainesville — donate their time and talents for the jams, McMullen was able to arrange for the Nashville-based Ball to headline Sunday's outdoor show in Hampton thanks to the help of the Thunder Music Park, and the Hampton Veterans Memorial Fund, whose president and founder Jim Mitzel, had previously been in touch with Ball's management to get him to perform in the area.

“When he found out this was for the kids and for the toy drive ... he said he would be happy to do it,” Mitzel says about Ball.

Sunday's event from 1 to 5 p.m. also will feature a host of family activities as well. “Santa Claus is coming out to make an appearance to meet the kids and we'll have pony rides and a bounce house,” McMullen says. “Plus we'll have vendors while the music is playing.”

“Basically, the whole event is just to get the warm fuzzy feeling you get after, that hey, people can still come together for a good cause, enjoy themselves for a good time and really help out kids,” McMullen says. “I think it's a great combination.”

Contact Entertainment Editor Bill Dean at 374-5039 or at bill.dean@gvillesun.com, and follow on Twitter @SceneBillDean.

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