“No, seriously, tell me again, why is John Mellencamp coming here? Why would he come to a homeless shelter in the middle of downtown Detroit?” the guest asked.
“Simply because… every 1Matters, don’t they?” I replied.
Raising his head and standing up an inch taller he said “Yes, they do, every 1Matters.”
Good question he asked though, why would John Mellencamp stop to hang out in the middle of the shattered remains of a town bombed out by the war on poverty?
Same answer, because every 1Matters.
About a week before John’s November 19th Detroit show, Bob Merlis, John’s publicist told me John wanted to visit a shelter in Detroit before his show at the Fox Theater. But it has to be just like his Toledo visit, conditioned on absolutely NO advance publicity, period. (Do you appreciate the irony of a publicist saying “We don’t want publicity?” lol) The media could cover it, but no advance publicity. He just wants to hang out, not have a press event. I asked Bob if John intended to give out tickets like he did in Toledo, and Bob said “Probably not, ticket sales are pretty robust, might not be any left.”
I made some calls to several of my friends in Detroit to identify a short list of shelters, and we selected C.O.T.S. (Coalition on Temporary Shelter) for the advance site visit. They just seemed to give a rip about the people, you could feel it, and our visit verified it.
Plans were rearranged for Team Mellencamp to fly in earlier that afternoon, arrive at C.O.T.S. at 4, and John’s personal assistant Sarah would text me when wheels were down. Both the residents and management of the shelter kept asking me, “Seriously, what is john gonna do?” My answer was always the same, “Just hang out.”
All went as planned with John arriving at 4:15 with Sarah, Randy Hoffman, his personal manager and longtime Mellencamp tour manager, Harry Sandler.
After meeting Cheryl Johnson, CEO, and Sharyn Johnson, COO, and others on the C.O.T.S. leadership team, John went into the dining hall and, well, hung out.
All alone, no staff, he went down the tables introducing himself to guests, spending time just getting to know the people by name, hearing a little of each persons story. That’s right, by name, individually, 1 at a time, until he had met everyone in that room. Not like “normal” rock stars and celebrities who hold court and people line up to shake hands. No, John Mellencamp went alone, 1 at a time, to SHOW them, not tell them they Matter! How cool is that! Oh, but it gets better.
After meeting everyone he came up to me and quietly asked, “Ken, should I invite them all to the show?”
“What are you thinking John?”
“I don’t know, 100 tickets?” he says.
“Seriously John? You think you have 100 tickets available?” I asked.
“Hell, we’ll figure it out” he replies.
Immediately heads pop up everywhere and you just knew they were thinking, “Seriously John?”
You see, the people sitting in that room, in that shelter, in downtown Detroit, did not wake up that day thinking some rock star was just gonna pop in to just hang out. Nor did they wake up thinking they were going to a concert by one of America’s top Grammy winning artists. In fact, many of them had NEVER even been to a concert, so why suspect today would be any different?
Among the heads that popped up were Randy’s and Harry’s. I am sure they are quite used to John doing things like this, as in seriously CARING. But it is their job to figure out how to get it done.
Both were thinking, “100 tickets? Seriously John?” Harry because he had to find 100 tickets in a hall that was probably close to sold out, and Randy because he did the math on the value of 100 tickets at an average price of what, $100 or so, and where he was going to reduce the budget on other items to allow this investment in humanity.
I went back to the Fox with John and company to get the tickets. It took a while. After the Fox people processed that John was taking 100 tickets off the floor, (Seriously John?) it took them three tries to come up with 100 tickets. They first brought 35 to Emilie, Harry’s daughter, who sent them back for more, “No, John said 100.”
The second trip got the count to 65 total tickets. After an appreciable delay, Harry got on the radio and, shall we say assisted the Fox people in getting motivated. In all it really did take over an hour for the Fox people to get the ticket thing done.
But during that time I not only got to hang out some with Randy going over the big picture plan with 1Matters, but also with Harry, (Whose photography I just loooove. harrysandler.com, check out the Iceland pix), but I got to spend some time with Sarah who was a new addition to the tour and John’s inner circle. She is a pretty awesome soul, I truly see why John picked her.
Check this out, after we got the tickets I asked Sarah if she wanted to come back with me to C.O.T.S. and personally pass them out. It would give her a very rich hands-on emotional connection to all of those people who matter, 1 at a time. She would be giving out the joy John’s kindness brings. She did not even hesitate, “Oh hell yah!”
We all particularly bonded with a guy we met named Javonte. He was so grateful to Sarah, something cool about the kid. When I ran into him before the show I sat down with him for ten minutes or so and found out why. First, like several others, this is the first concert he had ever been to. When you grow up without even enough food to eat, such extravagance is not even considered.
But Javonte spent the whole time with me telling me not about where he was, but about the things that HE was going to change. It was like John caring enough to stop by, caring enough to give to people who have nothing, gave him a chance to care for himself. In the grand Fox Theater, Javonte took off his mask, bared his soul, and bared his problems. Not as many (housed or unhoused) do in order to gain sympathy, but more like opening the hood to expose the problems so they could be fixed, by him, by his hard work. THIS is what he talked about, his hard work to make change. How cool is that.
And Sarah had a literal hand in this desire for transformation, the hand that gave Javonte the ticket. And through Sarah’s hand Javonte has a direct connection to John, who’s heart and soul have given to those who matter for 35 years as an artist. A gift of compassion just to let people like Javonte know they matter.
Yes, quite seriously, every 1Matters.
Happy Holidays Everyone!