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A true connection: Special guest travels 8,000 miles to meet local band that created autism benefit

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Members of The Ghost Ballerinas and some friends they made at the Aut 2 Be Kids group sold tickets and shirts last weekend at Walmart.
(Submitted photo)
Every so often, you come across a cause that just warms your heart. Something that gives you hope, and makes you wonder why anyone wouldn't jump to lend a helping hand.

The I Am What I Am Music Festival and Autism Benefit, slated for Saturday, Aug. 18 at the Bedford County Agricultural Center is sure to inspire this type of reaction here in Shelbyville. And Once you've got the details, there's no doubt that you'll feel happily obliged to join the factions of supporters.

Sharp posted a photo on Facebook to express his thanks and excitement to finally meet his friends, The Ghost Ballerinas, face-to-face.
(Submitted photo)
About a year ago, locally-based alternative rock group The Ghost Ballerinas formed a collaborative relationship with Australian artist Tim Sharp. The band was looking for "happy" art to adorn the cover of their second effort, Play Me On the Radio, when they came across Sharp's work.


Later, the band would learn that Sharp lives with an autism spectrum disorder -- a developmental disorder that has varying impacts on children's abilities to communicate and interact socially. But Sharp doesn't let it slow him down, and this stuck with The Ghost Ballerinas.

Sharp designed The Ghost Ballerinas album cover, and in return, the band wrote a tribute song to Sharp's super hero, Lazerbeak Man. Yearning to do more the band began to reach out.

"After the album was done, we thought that we needed to do something more," said Ghost Ballerinas bassist Justin Berry. "We decided to try a festival, and have the proceeds go to local families living with autism."

Eventually, the band made contact with Leta Frame, whose 17-year-old son Levi lives with an autism spectrum disorder. She told them about her organization, the Bedford County Association for Exceptional Students (BCAES is explained further later in this section), and the I Am What I Am Autism Benefit was born.

Area to benefit

And what makes the festival, its coordinators, volunteers and performers so beautiful is that all profits will go to BCAES programs that aid and assist families with autism spectrum disorders within and around Bedford County. Socializing opportunities and educational workshops for affected families are among the services offered by BCAES.

As word of the benefit got out, more and more people approached Justin and Kenda Berry, as well as Frame.

"Our original idea was to have two or three bands, an auction, and sell cheeseburgers," said Kenda. "That was the plan. We thought maybe we'd raise a little money for autism locally."

Soon enough, performers came out of the woodworks to offer their services free of charge. They wanted to play because they had family members, friends and acquaintances with autism spectrum disorders, and felt a calling to help much like The Ghost Ballerinas did. All in all, more than 25 performers will take the stage on Saturday.

Special visitor

In fact, the festival has gathered enough steam to carry Australian artist Sharp all the way to middle Tennessee. The 8,000-mile journey would be tough on anyone, let alone the mother-and-son team of Judy and Tim Sharp.

The stresses of travel can be overwhelming for someone struggling with an autism spectrum disorder, and this goes to evidence how much Sharp wanted to be in attendance. After communicating through online video conference several times, this will be the first face-to-face meeting for Sharp and his band of friends, The Ghost Ballerinas.

"I hope people realize how huge it is for Tim Sharp to come to Shelbyville to support us," said Frame. "I mean, he's a rockstar. They know him all over Australia and in the UK. He's even been to Washington D.C. to meet the President."

Worthwhile effort

Becoming friends with folks like Tim Sharp and performing with Mark Edwards of Shelbyville, who also lives with an autism spectrum disorder has made all of the effort worthwhile for The Ghost Ballerinas. Berry says that he realizes that autism is becoming more and more serious, with occurrences always on the rise; he just hopes that the knowledge and understanding he's gained through planning the event is transferred to festival-goers, as well.

"Making friends with so many autistic children over the past months has been amazing," Justin said. "They love music. They understand the concept of art. They're very smart, and not everyone gets that.

"I'm hoping that people come into the festival with autism awareness, but come out with autism acceptance," Justin said. "That's our main goal, to spread acceptance."

Music and more

Local favorites Rayz'n Cain, Big Smo, Chase Perryman, Kyle Kraft, Bitterbox and Three Point Hitch will also perform at Saturday's event.

But, the music won't be the only draw. The annual "Aut 2 Be Kids" motorcycle ride will kick things off, followed by a car show, auction, corn hole tournament, karaoke contest, and kid's zone. BCAES and the Autism Society of Middle Tennessee will have booths, along with offering concessions.

Tickets are $5 in advance at the Sweet Shoppe, Olympus Athletic Club, French's Shoes and Boots, Parkway Cafe, or online at the event's website www.iawiamusicfestival.com. You can obtain tickets on site the day of the show at the Ag Center on Midland Road.

Sponsors and vendors are still welcome, and contributions are 100 percent tax deductible. For info contact Kenda Berry at (931) 492-2771, or Frame at 684-8169.Members of The Ghost Ballerinas and some friends they made at the Aut 2 Be Kids group sold tickets and shirts last weekend at Walmart.

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