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Local Musicians Come Together For Fifth Annual ‘A Holiday Benefit’ Concert

(credit: Benjamin Wagner)

(credit: Benjamin Wagner)

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Christmas In NYC

By Annie Reuter

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – For the past five years, New York musicians have joined forces to produce a holiday album for a good cause.

Each year, A Holiday Benefit is recorded and released by local talent. All proceeds donated to 826NYC, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting students ages 6-18 with their creative and expository writing skills.

The fifth and final benefit show will be held on Wednesday at Rockwood Music Hall Stage II.

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Singer-songwriter Benjamin Wagner explained his idea for the yearly event was inspired by the 1984 Band Aid song, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” Featuring Sting, Bono, Duran Duran, Paul Young and numerous other musicians, the track raised money for famine relief in Ethiopia.

“It’s not the greatest song on the planet, but at the time no one had ever done that before,” he said.

Wagner decided to get some friends together for a similar concept, but instead of doing one song he wanted to produce an album.

“I was trying to make the idea that we are all stronger when we work together. Everything is better when you do it with somebody else’s help,” he said.

As for the choice to benefit 826NYC, Wagner explained his admiration for writer Dave Eggers. With the money Eggers earned from auctioning his memoir he started youth literacy tutoring centers in Berkeley, Chicago and New York, eventually expanding throughout the nation.

Having been a creative writing major himself, Wagner says it’s important that kids of all socio-economic backgrounds understand and develop writing skills.

“It’s how we communicate and express ourselves,” Wagner said. “I wanted to do something local and something for kids. I wanted to do something bigger than me. I just wanted to do something together with other people that I love – make the world a tiny bit better.”

Over the past five years, $15,000 has been raised for 826NYC. When asked why the decision to end the seasonal concert, Wagner said he wanted to finish while still on top.

“The last couple years have been really well attended, earned a lot of money, and we made some great records and had a lot of fun. We thought it would be good to end while it was really working instead of go out when no one cares anymore and no one wants to participate,” he said.

The biggest surprise for Wagner was that everyone he asked to participate did.

“Nobody said no, which is amazing. It’s not a big deal to play a show, but it’s a pretty big deal to ask somebody to record a new song and give it away for free,” he said.

While Wagner wishes the show could sell out Madison Square Garden, he says the concept behind “A Holiday Benefit” is think global, act local.

“Life is the aggregate of all your small choices. This isn’t a homerun. This isn’t a MTV special with Lady Gaga or Justin Timberlake. This is the kind of thing that anybody can do in their own community. To me, that’s what’s cool about it,” he said. “Everybody has the ability to do a little bit of something. In fact, if everybody raised $2,000 and gave it to somebody who needed it, the world would be in good shape. I’m proud of it. It’s made Christmas more fun for me.”

A Holiday Benefit, vol. V will be released Wednesday at Rockwood Music Hall Stage II. For more, visit the Web site.

Annie Reuter is a freelance writer and the founder of YouSingIWrite.com.