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By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian
BY KELLY ARDIS Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Not a busy schedule, nor stage fright, nor lack of singing prowess could keep a group of local media personalities from answering the call to help a good cause while entertaining the masses at this year's Media Music Jam, benefiting the Kern County Cancer Fund.
Of course a guilt trip from event organizer and contributing Californian columnist Steve Flores has also proved very persuasive to would-be crooners unsure about jumping onstage and belting out a tune. Flores said he's not above that tactic, one that friend and KBAK-TV "Eyewitness News" reporter Jose Gaspar was subjected to last year.
When: 7 p.m. June 28
Where: Buck Owens' Crystal Palace, 2800 Buck Owens Blvd.
Admission: $25; tickets available at vallitix.com or 322-5200
List of performers, accompanied by Thee Majestics:
Kevin Charette, Maddie Janssen and Jim Scott (KGET TV 17)
Erin Briscoe, Mike Hart, Elaina Rusk and Lauren Titus (KERO TV 23)
Angela Barton, Tammy Brown, Jose Gaspar, Jonathan Gonzalez, Josh Helmuth, Tracy Peoples and Aaron Perlman (KBAK TV 29)
Norma Gaspar (Telemundo 17.3)
Sylvia Cariker, aka Casey McBride (KUZZ)
Tony Lee (KNZR)
Kenn McCloud (98.5 The Fox)
Scott Cox (KERN 1180)
Jeff Lemucchi (Blue Sky Media)
Sean Collins (Kern County Fire Department)
"People in the media, especially TV, always look so calm and collected, and to watch them fall apart will be very amusing."
-- KUZZ disc jockey Sylvia Cariker, better known to listeners as Casey McBride
"I can't say no to Steve," Gaspar said. "He's such a good-hearted man, and it's a worthy cause. So I said, 'Yes. OK, OK.'"
There's only one problem.
"I cannot sing to save my life," Gaspar said.
So what do you do when you're asked to perform a song but you don't sing? Gaspar picked up the tambourine last year to accompany some singers, and this year he'll be back on his instrument of choice. One singer he'll accompany is his wife, Telemundo 17.3's Norma Gaspar, who will sing a couple of songs in Spanish, he said.
The event brings together members from local media outlets to perform songs, backed by Flores' band Thee Majestics. After 50 years together, the band -- which formed out of East Bakersfield High School -- has built a repertoire of 300-plus songs for performers to choose from.
Though he said it's been getting easier over the years to persuade his friends to say yes, some -- even those who work in the glare of television -- are reluctant. Working on air and performing on stage are very different things, they tell him.
"They say, 'But we're in a studio. It's just me, the producer, the guest (on TV) ... This is different,'" Flores said. "They're totally exposed. It's an environment they're not comfortable with or have been in before."
The good thing about the media, Flores said, is they talk. The jam sold out last year and appears to be well on its way to doing the same this year, all without an advertising budget.
The flip side of the media talking up the jam, though, is that people know when they haven't been invited. KUZZ's Sylvia Cariker, better known to listeners as disc jockey Casey McBride, said she got involved with the jam because she was "stupid enough to whine about" not being asked to perform last year.
"I was being a pouty 4-year-old," Cariker said with a laugh. "Steve felt bad, and I thought, 'Should I let him off the hook?' I was stomping my foot, (but) I was just kidding."
Last year's lineup was full, Cariker recalled Flores telling her. He promised she'd be on the list for the next jam, but come January of this year, Cariker had forgotten about it and was surprised to learn she'd be performing in a few months.
"When you whine and they give you what you want, you have to go through with it," she said. "You can't say, 'Just kidding!'"
Cariker will team up with KBAK-TV's Tammy Brown for a couple of songs, including "Fire" by funk and R&B group the Ohio Players. They'll also sing back-up for a few songs.
Giving it their all
Before taking the stage on the hallowed ground that is Buck Owens' Crystal Palace, performers will rehearse. Flores wants to honor those who have played the stage before, from Garth Brooks and Vince Gill to Merle Haggard and the man the place is named for. Flores said the jam is "not just a throwaway gig" for the performers, so guests should expect a good show.
"Part of the appeal (of attending the jam) is to help families, but part is the curiosity factor," Flores said. "'Can Jim Scott really sing?' They just want to see, 'Can they really do this?'"
Gaspar and Cariker both promised to give it their all, and while they acknowledged some of the intrigue is seeing who might embarrass themselves, both hope that falls to someone else.
"I hope they put us between two people who are sucky, so I can feel better," Cariker joked. "People in the media, especially TV, always look so calm and collected, and to watch them fall apart will be very amusing."
Getting 21 media personalities in one room sounds like it could be a recipe for diva demands and egotistical showdowns, but Flores said that's not the case.
"It's just one of those nights where there's no competition between the media," he said. "They're in this all together. It's a rare moment -- the (media) competition is so fierce -- that we all stand shoulder to shoulder."
As much fun as the performers and guests will likely have at the jam, Flores is quick to remember why everyone will be there in the first place: to help local families dealing with cancer.
Over its 10 years, the Media Music Jam has changed locations, from Golden West Casino to Fishlips and now the Crystal Palace. The proceeds have always gone to a local charitable cause. The recipient used to change every year, but the Kern County Cancer Fund can expect to benefit from this concert for a while.
"Being as familiar as I am with the devastation -- emotional and financial -- of cancer, this is something it will continue to support as long as I'm involved with it," said Flores, who recently lost his wife to cancer.
It's easy to get a group to rally behind a charity that helps people with cancer, Flores said, because everyone knows someone who's been affected by the disease.
"Nearly all of them have said, 'I'm nervous, but this is personal for me because someone in my family has been affected by cancer,'" he said of the performers.
Gaspar's invitation last year came on the heels of learning that his best friend had cancer.
"When it affects someone that close, you take it more seriously," Gaspar said.
"It made me want to participate. Last year's jam was that much more impactful" knowing someone with cancer.
A year later, that friend is in remission and Gaspar is picking up the tambourine once more. Although he comes from a musical family, Gaspar said somehow that gene skipped him.
Still, he wants to help, both his friend Flores and local families dealing with cancer. As for next year?
"I probably won't volunteer myself, but if (Steve) calls, I'll say yes," he said.
If Flores' tendency to rely on his friends is anything to go by, Gaspar should probably expect that phone call.