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Fundraiser to ‘Rock the Fight’ against congenital heart disease

By Darlene Ballard (Fall River Herald News)

Posted Jul 29, 2012 @ 11:16 AM
 SWANSEA — The Venus DeMilo is going to rock on Friday, Aug., 3 when the Third Annual Rock the Fight Against CHD benefit kicks off at 5:30 p.m. Donnie Wilson, event organizer and advocate for congenital heart defects awareness will reunite with his uncle, Ed Violette as the acoustic duo Back-2-Back to headline the community fundraiser.
“It’s a family event,” Wilson says, “My wife works hard on the silent auction, my daughters make bracelets, Ed and I are playing and his son joins us in the second set.”
The idea came to Wilson to use music to help raise money for CHD when his son, Jacob, was diagnosed with CHD in utero over three years ago, “I wrote one song that became an album that became a fundraiser. It’s something I didn’t see coming that turned into something great.”
Congenital heart defects happen in 1 in 110 births, making it the number one birth defect. More infants die from CHD than cancer and diabetes combined. Wilson is a member of the National Awareness Committee for Mended Little Hearts that uses the “I See Red” campaign to make these and other facts known.
“Think of a red fire truck, a little red wagon or even a pair of red Mary Jane shoes,” Wilson explains, “When you see the color you will remember the facts and you will bring someone to the next event.”
Fans of Back-2-Back from the 1990s will get an opportunity to see the on-stage reunion. “It’s almost surreal,” Violette says of the time that has passed, “How does that happen? It really is a blink. You look forward to going back to that nostalgia.”
Opening for the duo is singer/songwriter Andrea LeClaire, 15. Back for the third time hosting is Somerset native Comedienne Lizz Furtado, who makes the trip from New York City. “Lizz has been with us since the beginning,” Violette says, “She’s been with us since Somerset Lodge.”
“People feel a part of what we’re doing,” Violette says of connecting with the audience, “A lot of local camaraderie makes the difference.” The local community is about to get a lot bigger.
“We’re adding another dimension this year,” Wilson says of the live-streaming on the night of the event. “People from other countries will be able to see the concert and make a donation. The link to Mended Little Hearts National CHD Awareness Fund will be right up on the page.”
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Donnie Wilson holds CD release party to combat heart disease

SWANSEA — Bands regularly have CD release parties to promote their new music. Donnie Wilson and his band will be having such a party at the Venus de Milo on Aug. 4 where he will not only be unveiling his new CD, but will be raising money to provide support for families dealing with congenital heart defects and for research of the disease.

“One hundred percent of the time when I perform, it’s always going to have a message of CHD awareness,” Wilson said. “I’m never going to perform without mentioning it.”

Those who come to his “Rock the Fight Against CHD” concert will get to hear five bands, a comedian and enjoy a silent auction with many items, including Boston Red Sox and New England Patriots tickets, golf foursome packages to private country clubs, gift baskets, gift certificates to Cupper’s Cafe in Somerset and sports and music memorabilia. The hostess of the show will be Michaela Gagne, the 2006 Miss Massachusetts who is a CHD survivor and now speaks mainly to teens about heart issues and how to maintain a healthy heart.

“One of the realities about CHD is it is the number one cause of death in infants, more than cancer and Type 1 diabetes combined, but it’s underfunded,” Wilson said.

Wilson did not just randomly pick congenital heart defects as a cause. His 1-year-old son, Jacob, was born with a heart defect. One of the songs on the new CD that will be showcased is called “Super Hero Fantasy,” a ballad about the health care workers who treated his son while he was in the hospital.

Wilson said that all of the money from ticket reservations for the show will go to the Rhode Island chapter of Helping Hands/Healing Hearts. Wilson is on the board of directors of that organization which provides support to families of people with heart defects. The money for the CD release party that is raised from corporate sponsors and the silent auction will go to the Boston Children’s Hospital for research on congenital heart defects. Wilson said there is a doctor there that is doing research on tissue regeneration.

Wilson went to the National Mended Hearts conference in May where he played “Super Hero Fantasy.”

The name of Wilson’s band, Sedated Echo, consists of Alex Krepkikh on guitar, who he calls a genius when it comes to engineering and recording, Joe Calise, who Wilson was in a Fleetwood Mac tribute band with, and calls the best bass player he has ever seen with his own eyes, drummer Vinny Pagano and Wilson who is the lead vocalist. All of the members of the band are in their 40s.

Some of the songs on the new album include “Strong,” which is about the secret that brings positive things to a person’s life, “My Time,” which is about the American Idol experience and what you choose when it’s your time and “Blueberry Eyes” about how much Wilson loves his two daughters, Delaney, 7, and Jocelyn, 5, although they can be trying at times.

“I just tried to write stuff that had a good hook, that was memorable,” Wilson said. “Then we could just go to town with the guitars and vocals.”

Wilson’s friend, Roland Audette, wrote a song for the album called “Words Escape Me.”

At the fundraiser, Sedated Echo will play five songs off the new album and some fun covers, including some songs from Boston, Journey and Neil Diamond. Because it seems appropriate, Wilson said the band will also play “Put a Little Love in My Heart.”

A friend of Wilson’s suggested the name of the band because Jacob has had to have sedated echos. The album cover has a three-dimensional image of Jacob in his mother’s womb. The back of the album cover has a photograph of Wilson and Jacob. The album is also named Sedated Echo. Wilson said his son has been doing well.

“I’ve met hundreds of families,” Wilson said. “He’s one of the good stories. That can change. That can change quickly.”

At next Wednesday’s fundraiser, Mia Boostrom, who finished in the top 20 last year in the America’s Got Talent program, will be one of the acts. With her acoustic driven rock, Wilson describes Boostrom as a Sarah McLachlan type with an edge who can play piano and guitar and sing. Boostrom had an audition scheduled with American Idol.

“I would bet my house on her making it,” Wilson said of Boostrom. “She’s that good and she’s only 17.”

Boostrom’s cousin, Andrea LeClerc, will also be performing at the fundraiser. She is 13 years old and Wilson says she has a voice like an angel. Matt Borrello, a young man who likes grassroots rock from the likes of Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, The Beatles and U2, will bring his band, called The Quality Dogs, to the Venus for the event next week, as well. Wilson said Borrello is funny, commands the stage and is a phenomenal performer. The other band on the bill is Blue Light District which will be playing some classic rock. Wilson met one of the members of that band at the New England Heart Walk. All of the other performers that will be playing at the Venus he met at open microphone nights at Rick’s Music World in Raynham.

Rick’s Music World of Raynham, where Wilson bought his first guitar, is providing the sound and lighting for the concert.

Liz Furtado, a Somerset High School graduate from the 1980s who is now a comedian based in Manhattan, will be performing at the benefit.

Wilson, a 1988 graduate of Somerset HIgh School, said the mayor of Fall River and state Rep. Patricia Haddad will be coming to his show.

Tickets for the fundraiser are $20 for adults in advance and $25 at the door. Tickets for children under 18 years old are $10. To reserve tickets, go to the website or call (508)505-5655.

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Donnie Wilson writes song about those who assisted son

SOMERSET — About 15 years ago, Donnie Wilson was trying to make it in the music business. He hoped to get a contract with a record company. He had an album, played on stage with Jimmy Buffet at the Comcast center. He was in Jesus Christ Superstar. He was packing the old Somerset Lodge with his uncle, Ed Violette, and their duo, Back to Back. He was close.

Wilson never became a rock star, but many years later he is back to his music and he has a different focus this time.

What has inspired Wilson’s music today is his 10-month old son, Jacob, who was born with a heart defect.

During the trying time with their son, Wilson and his wife, Jayna, found healthcare workers from three different hospitals and their family and friends around them to be so supportive. It was so inspirational, that Wilson decided to try to describe it in his lyrics for a recording.

“I started to write this song about how all these people are literally super heroes, saving my son’s life,” Wilson said. “It was one of the best songs I’ve ever written.”

One part of the song is about the cardiac intensive care unit (CICU) on the eighth floor of the Boston Children’s Hospital. He was trying to find a way to recognize the doctors and nurses in the song and so in the lyrics he did it by spelling the words differently: “See I, see you, see everything you can do.”

The name of the song is called “Super Hero Fantasy” and Wilson will be playing the rock and roll ballad at Cupper’s Cafe in Somerset on March 19.

“It’s really a song about hope and about people,” Wilson said. “There are heroes around us every day.”

Wilson will be playing a full scale concert for the first time in about 10 years at Cupper’s Cafe, located on County Street in Somerset, on March 19, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

“I’m going to play a lot of the songs I used to love playing,” Wilson said. “I’m going to be a little selfish and I’m going to play some of my new stuff.”

Wilson said the heroes to his family were not just the doctors and nurses, but also friends, who did things, like take care of their children when they had to go to the hospital or who made them meals during the months they were going to the hospital.

“Heroes come in many different forms,” Wilson said.

All of the proceeds from the sale of the single will go to Boston Children’s Hospital to help youths with congenital heart defects. Wilson and his wife have raised $2,000 for the hospital so far. People can donate to Jacob’s Fund to help him and others like him who have heart defects. To donate to the fund, people can go to and click on Jacob’s Fund where they can hear the song and read about his story. Wilson will have copies of the CD at Cupper’s.

“It is a very good example of how very wonderful things can come from very difficult experiences,” Wilson said of the song.

Wilson is on the board of directors for Helping Hands, Healing Hearts, which is part of the Mended Little Hearts organization, which provides resources and a support network for parents with children with heart defects and heart disease, which has asked his permission to use his song on its website.

Wilson said his son’s heart defect cannot be fixed with one surgery. He said it will be a lifelong concern for Jacob.

“My son is doing very well,” Wilson said.

Wilson was married 10 years ago. He and his wife have three children. The logo for the single was designed by Wilson’s two daughters, Delaney, 7, and Jocelyn, 5. The logo has a heart with a music note for a face.

Wilson, a 1988 graduate of Somerset High School, earned his master of business administration degree and went to work in the mortgage industry. He paid for his MBA by playing out at night while he was taking classes during the day. But a couple of years ago, he got the urge to go back to his music. He had been singing the “ABCs” and the Wiggles songs for his children, but he wanted to go back to his days of classic rock.

“You miss music and you just want to play,” Wilson said. “Something big would have to happen for me not to do mortgages anymore and just play music.”

His goal was to start a website, showing what he did in music many years ago, and then make an album that would coincide with his 40th birthday. In the middle of writing his album, Wilson’s wife was seven months pregnant and started bleeding. They found out that the son they would be having was OK, but he had a heart defect. The diagnosis was done in Women and Infants Hospital in Providence, Jacob was born in Brigham and Women’s Hospital and was taken to Boston Children’s Hospital for surgery.

Wilson has been reconnecting with old friends from Somerset High School and people he knew when he was playing music many years ago through Facebook.

“It’s funny,” Wilson said. “It’s amazing how your chops come back. My vocals are as strong as ever.”

Wilson grew up liking bands like Boston and the Christian rock group Stryper, but he said Violette was his biggest musical influence. He actually auditioned for the open vocalist job of Beatlejuice, the Beatles tribute band that former Boston lead singer Brad Delp fronted before passing away a few years ago.

Wilson recorded his new album with Russian Alex Krepkikh. Wilson recorded all of the vocals and played guitars for the album. Krepkikh played guitars. Roland Audette is the drummer.

“I like a lot of harmonies, a lot of guitars,” Wilson said. “It’s got a classic rock sound to it, with a 2010 edge.”

While he has copies of the single Super Hero Fantasy already made, the full-length album will be done later in the summer. With job and family obligations, Wilson said he does not have as much time to devote to his music as he used to, having to find pockets of time here and there to work on it.

Wilson said Jacob may or may not be in attendance when he play’s at Cupper’s on March 19.

While Wilson never became a rock star, he now feels that is not what was meant to be for him. But he says what was meant to be was for him to use his music to help children with congenital health defects.

“You never have a mission until something like this comes across,” Wilson said. “We have a goal of raising $100,000 in the next few years and a million dollars someday.”

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