The bluegrass band that keeps on giving

OcotilloRainOcotillo Rain and Thunder Bluegrass Band, the southern Arizona bluegrass band that keeps on giving, has chosen Susan G Komen as their charity for March.

The Ocotillo Rain and Thunder Bluegrass Band, named in part for the beautiful Ocotillo flowering plant that is prevalent in the nearby Sonoran Desert, and otherwise for the tremendous rainy season that brings fierce rain, thunder and lightning storms, is special in that the band gives all the proceeds from its gigs to a charity.

Each month the band members select a local deserving charity – some may belong to a national or international chain – and donate what they collect.

We spoke to Jeff Collins and asked him to introduce himself and his band mates ……….

“We are the Ocotillo Rain and Thunder Bluegrass Band. We have 11 members, I play guitar, mandolin and fiddle and some lead vocals, I’m also the band leader, and was a Communications Technician for the Tucson Electric Utility; Jim Wagner is our lead guitar player, he is a retired airline pilot; Gene and Jolene Berg are our banjo and upright bass players respectively, they are a married couple, and Gene was an engineer at Boeing; DeWayne and Hollie Tripp play rhythm guitar and backup vocals respectively, they are also a married couple, Dewayne was a City of Tucson Planner and Hollie was an insurance adjuster; Jayson Slayde is our main banjo player and a retired Army Specialist with classified roles; Joe Wilkie is a guitar player and retired college professor; Curt Holmes is a guitar player and retired chef; Nancy Hildreth plays mandolin and guitar and is a retired Transportation Manager; and Hank Hassenpat plays guitar and is our main lead vocalist, he is also our oldest member at 77 years young and is retired from TV Guide magazine.”

Who had the idea to play for charity?

“Our original Band only had five members, Ocotillo Rain, and we did our second gig for a Trout Unlimited Banquet. A friend of ours had just found out that their youngest son had Hodgkins Disease and they would need to drive weekly from Benson to Phoenix for treatment, about a three hour drive one way. We decided to have all of our tip money go to help with their travel expenses. The crowd responded and we raised $170. Our band then had a short breakup with our lead female singer leaving the band. At the time I was teaching a Bluegrass 101 class at our local bluegrass workshop and picked several of the best students to jam with us; they became Thunder and now we are eleven members called Ocotillo Rain and Thunder Bluegrass Band.”

For how long have you been doing your charity work? How do you collect the money?

Ocotillo Rain and Thunder at the Marana Community Food Bank“Since Winter of 2014, and then as Ocotillo Rain and Thunder, and started back up in November of 2014. November and December were for Adopt a Family for Christmas which we raised $180 for a needy family with nine children to have a wonderful Christmas. January and February of 2015 we raised money for The Marana Community Food Bank through tips and paid gigs. We raised $436. We are now planning on raising money and donating to charities monthly; so for March our charity is Susan G Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. We are also playing at their fundraiser called Race For The Cure on March 22. April our Charity is ALS Foundation, Lou Gehrig’s disease. We are playing at a 5k ALS Walk on April 25.

We also have paid gigs at several adult communities and a weekly gig at a local farmers market.”

How many shows do you do each month?

“Lately its been between five and ten. In February we played 16 gigs; one was out of town at the Tubac Arts Festival for two days. We received many gig offers while there.”

Do you have gigs for yourselves, so to speak?

“No, we always play together and have all taken a vow to only play for charity. We are all blessed to be happily retired and now want to give back to our community.”

Does all the money go to the charities, or do you deduct expenses?

Ocotillo Rain and Thunder Bluegrass Band playing a Christmas gig“So far, no one in the band has asked for money. When we travelled to Tubac, we rode in my RV, and band members asked if they could chip in. But I had them buy me a beer instead. At one point we needed a bigger sound system and one member bought one he found at a discounted price. So in essence he owns the sound system, not the band. Which is better, I believe, because whenever we decide to go our separate ways, the band as a whole owns nothing, only its band members own individual equipment. We have decided though whenever we head to Nashville for the big money, we’ll use some for travel expenses, but the rest will go to charity.”

We fervently applaud what the members of Ocotillo Rain and Thunder Bluegrass Band are doing for the less fortunate people in their community.

More information about Ocotillo Rain and Thunder Bluegrass Band can be found at their blog spot.

Are there other bands out there who play only for charity? If so, we would like to hear from you.

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics.

A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe.

He wrote the annotated series I’m On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.