Had Laura Blackley not witnessed a man bashing a woman’s head into a wall outside a Johnson City bar, the Sistahs on Stage music festival might never have been born.
But even apart from the violence itself, it was the apathetic response of those around her that galvanized her to take action.
A bouncer standing on the sidewalk about 20 steps away from where the incident took place was decidedly uninterested in the whole thing — “unless it happened in the bar,” as he put it.
Afterwards, says Blackley, “I sat and stewed on [the event] for about three weeks.”
The result was Sistahs on Stage, a benefit for Helpmate, the Buncombe County nonprofit that provides assistance for women and men in abusive relationships. Inaugurated only last year, SOS is already attracting the area’s hottest female musicians.
In addition to headliner The Laura Blackley Band, this year’s lineup also boasts The Jaimee Tomas Band, Eta Carina, Ruby Slippers, Kat Williams, Ginny Wilder, Menage, Stephanie’s Id, Darlyne Cain, Brianna Lane, Divine Magees, Valorie Miller, Red Mango, and Kristin and Keturah.
SOS will likewise include craft vendors, speakers and kids’ activities.
All money from ticket sales will go directly to Helpmate. In its first year, the benefit raised almost $14,000 — which works out to about 200 nights of safe shelter for one woman and one child (national statistics reveal that it costs $62 per night to house a woman and child in a shelter). This year’s goal is at least $23,000, which will enable Helpmate to place a woman and child in a shelter for a full 365 days.
And no less than Bonnie Raitt has already contributed her share toward that goal.
“I got on a letter-writing campaign, and sent Bonnie about five letters asking for support,” explains Blackley. “Finally, I got the kindest, gentlest rejection letter I’ve ever gotten from her manager.”
But it seems Raitt herself had other ideas.
Two days after Blackley received the dismissal, a check from the iconic musician arrived at Helpmate’s offices.
“We all just freaked out,” says Blackley. “I kept a copy of the check.”
Sistahs on Stage takes place at Asheville’s Memorial Stadium (behind McCormick Field) on Saturday, Sept. 4, beginning at 11 a.m. Admission is free, but donations for Helpmate will be taken at the gate. For more information and a complete SOS schedule, log on to www.sistahsonstage.com. For more info on Helpmate itself, check out www.helpmateonline.org. Helpmate’s crisis-line phone number is 254-0516.