As a Wal-Mart associate, you must be aware of the various fundraisers that took place for the Children’s Miracle Network over the past few weeks. From dunk tanks to bake sales to handbag auctions, we saw our lion’s share of creative ideas to raise money in our 25th year supporting the CMN here at the Home and Apparel building. Luckily, I was given an opportunity to participate in one of the more entertaining activities as the emcee to an intimate concert thrown by the Jewelry division starring none other than Northwest Arkansas’s 2012 award winner for Best New Artist as lead singer for I Do Declare; Ryan Key.
While he was most certainly the star of the show there was also a bake sale, pizza sale, and cookbook sale happening at the back of the room. Basically, this was dinner theatre with a corporate vibe.Associates quietly gathered their food and chose seats far from the front while not knowing what to expect. I gave a short introduction outlining a little history we have with the charity. Over the past 25 years, Wal-Mart has raised over $600 million and this year the goal was $25 million. My building alone had a goal of $11,000. My precursor was short and I took a front row seat as I was in a rush to let Mr. Key start playing.
His first song was an appropriately titled Steve Miller song, “Take the money and run.” He then dedicated the next song to a childhood friend that was in the audience with an acoustic folksy version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run.” The room was still quiet as he thanked me for my introduction and dedicated Billy Joel’s “Still rock and roll to me” to me as thanks for my involvement. Key is used to larger and rowdier crowds so he decided to pull out a fan favorite in Dobie Grey’s “Drift Away” which got us all clapping along. Director of Planning Jim Corbett would later say that it was his favorite song of the set and I had to agree. Key played the song with the voice and ease of a young Tom Petty.
It wasn’t until his next song that the room began to perk up,Credence Clearwater Revival’s “Who stopped the rain?” It was clear to see Ryan Key’s love of classic rock in the care and performance of each tune. You could tell that the genre really spoke to him by the way he recreated it for others. He didn’t try to duplicate the songs as a cover musician normally might, he was reimagining them. After that song, Mr. Corbett then decided to throw some much needed excitement into the room. He recommended (much to the surprise of the performer) the auction of a chair for a lady to sit in next to Ryan Key in which to be serenaded. The spectators began to look at each other and pondered who would be the benefactor for which lucky female associate. Bids shot up from $1 to $5 and suddenly within two minutes we were up to $40 just to have a song played for them. Suddenly, an associate offered twist on the idea. He asked if a chair could be put on each side of Mr. Key and in return he would bid $100 dollars to fill them. Of course everyone was shocked at this proposal and it was approved by a then flustered and blushing Key.The ladies took their seats and were sung Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl(s).”
After being put in the hot seat, Key decided to turn the tables on Corbett and offer him the chance to do a duet, but it wouldn’t happen without a price. Corbett wanted donations from those who wanted to see him perform and put down the first $20 as a starting bid. He said “if we can raise another $30 dollars I will sing with Ryan.” It took only a few seconds before a pile of cash was thrown on the table and the two paired up for Zak Brown Band’s “Chicken Fried.” It was great to see Corbett get involved and did a pretty good job for someone who didn’t seem as polished as Key. Key noticed an old musician friend of his in attendance and asked him to join him up front to play one of Key’s original songs. With a little prodding from the crowd, Pat Callison took the seat next to Key and they performed I Do Declare’s “Stabbed” and then jumped into Foo Fighter’s “Hero.” The chemistry was evident between the two of them as they played. You could see the comfort between the two as they played.
After Callison sat down, Key served us up the bluesy goods of Eric Clapton’s “Lay down, Sally” before going back to John Fogerty’stelltale southern accent in “Heard it thru the grapevine.” Key had the crowd clapping along to Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s “Fishin’ in the dark” as the tables in the back of the room began to clear out of delicious homemade baked goods. The audience sat in polite captivation and bobbed along with Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville.” I began to wonder how someone who sounds so much like Tom Petty to me could not sing any of his songs. Then, Key picked up a harmonica and began to play the opening notes of “You don’t know how it feels” by Tom Petty. He did not disappoint as his voice and style were perfect for the song without being too much of a copycat.
Fleetwood Mac’s “Rhiannon” began the winding down of a long acoustic set. An audience member requested another original song to Key was happy to oblige with his original song “Why try?” before playing his final song, Johnny Cash’s tune “Walk the line.”Much deserved applause filled the room as Jim Corbett then told us that we had raised $300. In another fantastic twist, the senior category director over Jewelry, Ginny Rothschild said she would match whatever was collected which brought the total up to $600.
A fantastic performance, pizza, homemade goods, and local entertainment combined to raise money to help children across the country. It’s no wonder that Wal-Mart exceeded its goal of $25 million. There is something very Wal-Mart in how it started with one of our own associates that was willing to use his talent and time to entertain and persuade the rest of us to help out while other associates took time and resources to buy pizza and bake delicious sweets. In two hours we raised $600 dollars and I think that in itself can be considered a small miracle.