||This article may require cleanup to meet Wikipedia's quality standards. (May 2009)|
Blank-Fest is an annual benefit concert, usually held one-to-two weeks before Christmas, which raises blankets for the homeless. It was founded in 1997 in Nyack, NY (a suburb approximately 20 miles outside of New York City) by Kenn Rowell who is the frontman for the NYC-based band, The Baghdaddios.
Rowell, in previous interviews detailed how he had always wanted to do "something charitable" on Christmas Eve. Among the many things he considered were keeping the disabled father of an old neighborhood friend company, singing in the children's ward of a hospital and collecting blankets from friends to dispense amongst New York City's homeless on Christmas Eve. Doing just that, for the first time in 1996, he enjoyed the experience so much that he decided to do the same thing again, next year. It was at that time that his friends told him that they had no more blankets to donate saying that Rowell had "cleaned them out" from the previous year.
Upon further reflection Rowell arrived at the idea of holding a benefit concert where people attending could contribute one blanket of any condition in lieu of a cover charge for admission to the show. These donations were intended to be delivered by Rowell and several volunteers, directly, to the City's homeless on Christmas Eve. The first Blank-Fest was held at a local club in Nyack called Mai Place and netted 40 blankets. The next year saw 70 blankets donated at the same club, since renamed The Loft. After that local entrepreneur Chuck Debruyn convinced Rowell to move the show up the road to Bruxelles a bar-restaurant that he had recently bought into. Debruyn reasoned that there would be more room for parking, plus a guaranteed walk-in crowd. The show has been held at this establishment ever since.
Since inception, over 15 years ago, Rowell estimates that Blank-Fest has collected over 10,000 total donations for the homeless. For the original flagship show out of Nyack, with the exception of one year (2001) donations in every year has increased. Much of this growth can be attributed to increased exposure through local radio, the internet and the press, including featured articles in the New York Daily News and mentions in the New York Post. In addition there have been satellite shows that have been formed in other states, cities and countries. So numerous have donations been in recent years that volunteers have had to split the distribution/delivery of blankets to the less fortunate on multiple nights, starting on Christmas Eve. Often excess donations are distributed to homeless shelters as well.
MCed by Rowell's long-time band, The Baghdaddios, the first Blank-Fest only featured a handful of local, Hudson Valley area-based groups including international touring act Joe D'Urso & Stone Caravan, The Wheel and future Bruxelles part-owner Debruyn who performed as a solo artist. While always priding itself on featuring local independent, or "homegrown" music acts, in addition the benefit has attracted likewise talented songwiters and bands which boast an impressive list of major recording label ties and a solid reputation for touring and recording including EMI artist Patti Rothberg, pedal steel guitar great Buddy Cage, former Misfits guitarist and founder of The Undead, Bobby Steele, Soulfly lead guitarist Marc Rizzo, Sirius Radio personality Meg Griffin, international jazz oomposer Mike McGinnis and the founder of the Anti-folk school of music, Lach.
Efforts to duplicate the successes of the early Nyack shows proved elusive at best until New Jersey-based independent artist activist, Richard Kubicz read about Blank-Fest's efforts in the Daily News and proposed a "sister show" at a local club in Garwood, NJ. The first Blank-Fest-NJ, promoted extensively through Kubicz's D.I.Y. music website Let's Rock America  was a resounding success, netting 200 blankets which were donated directly to a neighboring homeless shelter in Cranford and garnered notice in the Bergen County press in 2006. Last year's second annual Jersey show produced similar results. Similarly, Blank-Fest UK  was founded in Nottingham, England after a local recording studio owner heard an interview with The Baghdaddios on the British Armed Forces Radio Network, BFBS Radio One during the group's Summer 2007 tour of England. Upon hearing about both the American and UK efforts Ontario-based photographer Gaynor Fletcher approached Rowell regarding the formation of a Blank-Fest Canada show. Also, debuting in 2007, in Guelph, ON, the inaugural Canadian event featured popular Canadian folk artist James Gordon and was covered extensively by the Canadian media, raising well over 100 blankets.
In addition to these shows former Baghdaddios bassist, John Sidoti joined forces with local internet radio personality Ron Purtee to develop the first-ever Blank-Fest Wisconsin, also in 2007, in the Milwaukee-area suburb of Racine.
Currently, there are 8 Blank-Fest shows serving 7 major metropolitan areas in three countries. In addition to those mentioned previously, 2008 has seen the addition of three additional shows: Blank-Fest Florida, which is hosted in Northern Florida (Lake City, near Gainesville, FL) and Blank-Fest VA, which is hosted in Richmond, VA (see links below).
In addition, promoters in Bridgeport, CT as well as Calgary and Ottawa, Canada have begun work for premiere Blank-Fest shows in December 2009. The first Blank-Fest Quebec (which was also the first "post-Holiday Season" Blank-Fest show) which took place on Saturday evening, February 21, 2009, garnered approximately 503 total donations.
Currently plans are in development to expand Blank-Fest even further. There has been talk of shows in Texas, Northeast Pennsylvania, Ohio and Atlanta, GA. Several additional popular artists have been approached regarding future such shows. Quoted in a newspaper interview in 2000, Rowell maintained that "as long as there is the issue of homelessness we will continue to have a Blank-Fest", further adding that he wishes "we didn't have to hold these shows" but that, until the situation dramatically improves, everyone involved understands that they really have no other choice.