Sara Swenson has had a heck of a year so far. In February, the songstress was part of Kansas City's annual Love Hangover. In May, she performed at and helped organize the first annual Steel Show. Just recently, Swenson's song "Time to Go" was featured on ABC's Private Practice.
And in addition to all that, Swenson is set to perform at Czar tonight (6 p.m., doors at 5:30 p.m.) to help raise money for Camp Encourage, a nonprofit that promotes social growth, independence and self-esteem in kids with autism spectrum disorders by taking the children on an overnight experience in the Greater KC area. I recently spoke to Swenson about how she got involved with Camp Encourage and asked her what she's got planned for tonight's show and the months to come.
The Pitch: How did you get involved with Camp Encourage? It seems like a really awesome and unique organization.
Sara Swenson: This is the second year I've been involved with Camp Encourage. Last spring, Kelly Lee, one of the founders, contacted me about playing a show to help raise funds for kids with autism spectrum disorders to go to camp, and I thought it sounded like a pretty worthwhile cause.
Kinda related question -- did you ever go to summer camp when you were a kid? Any "fun" experiences you'd like to share?
I went to Young Life camp three times as a high schooler. I remember jumping from a platform about 40 feet in the air to grab a trapeze bar 6 feet in front of me on a ropes course! I climbed a mountain a time or two and experienced the rush of a free fall in a giant tree swing. And safe, little old me flipped a go-kart on a dirt track once. Lots of things totally outside my element. There's nothing like being able to go to camp - getting away from home, bonding with new kids, feeling the care of people whose sole purpose is to make sure you have a fantastic time. That's why it's so great that people like Kelly at Camp Encourage are making camp possible for kids who may not otherwise get the chance. They deserve those experiences as much as anyone.
Can you tell me a bit about the Camps for Kids campaign?
Essentially, when anyone donates to the Camp Encourage fund, the Camps for Kids organization will match the donation so that it doubles the impact of any financial gift - pretty fantastic.
Did you organize the event?
Camp Encourage put it together. They're the ones doing the real work!
Are there any other nonprofits (local or national) that are important to you that you'd like to organize a similar event for?
Oh, man, are you kidding? There are too many to name, and I wish I had the ability to help them all. I have a particular soft spot for the helpless and forgotten. Everyone needs a voice, and I love to get behind those that are advocating for others in that way.
I know your song "Time to Go" was recently played on Private Practice's season finale. Can you describe how you felt when you heard the news? How did they contact you? Have you booked any more shows or received additional attention since the show aired?
When I got the phone call from my licensing agency that the song had been placed in the Private Practice season finale, I asked him to repeat all the details and e-mail them to me because I couldn't quite believe it. In fact, I remember rechecking my phone numerous times that night to make sure I had, in fact, received that call at 6-something in the evening from Nashville. I had a smile plastered to my face for days! As for response, I felt an overwhelming amount of support from everyone in the Kansas City area, and the YouTube "Time to Go" video my friend Mike Varel produced for me generated some great feedback. Sales for that song on iTunes have jumped, and I've picked up some new fans, though I wouldn't necessarily call the placement an end-all, be-all golden ticket at this point, in terms of it propelling me into some sort of stardom or something. I've learned that with a lot of my big opportunities like this, or like the Lilith Fair was last summer - you can't expect the world out of them, but they place a fine feather in your cap, get your name out a little more, and open up some extra doors for you. Between achieving a personal goal and reaping those benefits, there's a lot to appreciate about the whole deal.
Do you enjoy using your talents to help raise money for a cause? I'd assume it's rather fulfilling. Many musicians seem to be doing benefit shows lately. Do you think there's any reason for that?
It's a joy to be able to do so, really, to be able to offer my music up as a way to help rally people around a cause. I'm pretty sure most musicians I know who get behind similar efforts would echo that sentiment.
Do you have any shows coming up? New music?
I have a slew of shows coming up in June - Kansas City, Lawrence, Platte City, St. Louis, a little tour up through Illinois and Michigan. I'll also have new music I'll be releasing soon to benefit Joplin relief efforts. I'm pretty stoked about this recording, partly because it's the first one that includes my band, the Pearl Snaps. We're almost finished tracking, and it's sounding solid. Check back on my website (saraswenson.com) or Facebook or Twitter to find out when we'll roll it out. Soon, I hope.
Any special plans for the Friday show? New songs or special guests? I know it's First Friday, so are there any other events you're looking forward to seeing Friday evening?
These days, it's pretty rare that I play solo in Kansas City, so it'll be a treat to share that more intimate feeling with the crowd. And it's at a great time of day to be able to serve as a pre-First Fridays stop, or a pre-Cake/Mumford & Sons concert stop, if you're like me!
Free-will offering at the doors that will be fully doubled through the organization's participation with the Camps for Kids campaign.