A Decade of “Yes”

Amplify Decatur’s star-studded lineup and the early days that made it possible

Ben Harper

IN A YEAR when the local festival favorite has some of its biggest names for headliners, Amplify My Community (“Amplify”) founder Mike Killeen was as reluctant to include himself as part of the story as he was to join the lineup this year.

The self-described “hobbyist musician” describes Amplify as “the product of a decade of work by a collection of hundreds of incredible people who never heard a ‘no’ when we asked for time, advice or funds. And we had some big asks.”

So in 2022, Killeen would become part of the never-a-no answer Amplify has known in its ten-plus years.

Leveraging the Love of Music

Amplify’s mission is to host music concerts to raise money and awareness for nonprofits fighting poverty at the local level. What began under the name Poverty is Real, Killeen and the early founders wanted to create a sustainable, repeatable format where they could utilize their professional skills and fight poverty in a bigger way than they could on their own through sporadic volunteer efforts.

By using donations to put on events, even more funds are generated selling tickets and merchandise to an audience bigger than the nonprofit could reach on their own.

“Every dollar raised at our events goes to our beneficiaries,” Killeen says. “Amplify does not take a penny from its events.”

He credits Amplify’s success over the years (nearly $500,000 donated) to “leveraging the universal love of music.”

Music is the fuel that powers the organization and connects those involved. “I grew up in a house with music,” Killeen describes. “My parents took me to concerts at a young age, then I started playing guitar.”

“Music has powers beyond in-the-moment emotion,” he says. “It brings people together in a world where we have less and less in common.”

Eleven years ago Killeen sketched an outline that would create the beginnings of Amplify while on an airplane returning from a conference. After playing a show at Eddie’s Attic and donating the proceeds to a local charity, Killeen wondered, “What if we had ‘real’ musicians doing this, and people smarter than me involved?”

And so began the course to more than of a decade of “yes.“

The Artists Who Said “Yes” The 2022 Lineup

Ben Harper

Beginning with his 1993 major label debut, “Welcome to the Cruel World,” Ben Harper has offered listeners what Rolling Stone magazine called the “jewels of unique and exquisitely tender rock & roll.”

He has sold more than 15 million records, is a three-time Grammy Award winner and seven-time nominee. His highly acclaimed songs include “Diamonds on the Inside,” “Steal My Kisses,” and “Burn One Down.” He has collaborated with Blind Boys of Alabama and Charlie Musselwhite and produced records by Natalie Maines and Rickie Lee Jones.

Old Crow Medicine Show

Old Crow Medicine Show got their start busking on street corners in 1998, from New York state and up through Canada, winning audiences along the way with their boundless energy and spirit. They eventually found themselves in Boone, North Carolina where they caught the attention of folk icon Doc Watson while playing in front of a pharmacy. He invited the band to play at his festival, MerleFest, and the rest is history. It’s been more than 20 years since these humble beginnings. The band has gone on to receive the honor of being inducted as members of the Grand Ole Opry, and has won two Grammy Awards. Their classic single, “Wagon Wheel,” received the RIAA’s Double-Platinum certification for selling more than 2,000,000 copies.

Old Crow Medicine Show

Old Crow Medicine Show

The War and Treaty

The War and Treaty

 Son Volt

Son Volt

Son Volt

Son Volt, the band Jay Farrar started in 1995 after leaving the seminal group Uncle Tupelo, whose “No Depression” album helped define the alt-country and Americana genre, was expecting a 25th Anniversary tour rather than a lockdown in 2020. The resulting “Electro Melodier,” Son Volt’s 10th studio album, takes its titles from the names of two vintage amplifiers from the late 40s and early 50s. The name also describes the unique blend of folk, country, blues, soul and rock – an electric troubadour with melodies that hit and stick. Social protest songs about the promises of this nation gone wrongand referencing the street protests accompanying the Black Lives Matter movement exist side-by-side with odes to long-term relationships (specifically his 25-year marriage).

The War and Treaty

Since forming in 2014, The War and Treaty have amassed a following as eclectic as their sound itself, a bluesy fusion of Southern soul, gospel, country, and rock ‘n’ roll. Known for a live show with nearly revival-like intensity, the husband-and-wife team of Michael Trotter, Jr. and Tanya Blount-Trotter endlessly create an exhilarating exchange of energy with their audience, a dynamic they’ve brought to the stage in opening for the legendary Al Green and touring with the likes of Brandi Carlile and Jason Isbell. So, when it came time to choose a title for their forthcoming sophomore album, The War and Treaty quickly landed on “Hearts Town” – the Nashville duo’s adoring nickname for their ardently devoted fanbase.

S.G. Goodman

Kentucky singer-songwriter S.G. Goodman blends the sounds of traditional country and folk with moody electric grit and progressive ideas. She is brutally honest when shedding the layers addressing the social and economic complexities of living in the rural South but does it with the grace of someone who respects the land and the people whose stories she’s absorbed along the way. Her debut album, “Old Time Feeling,” was co-produced by Jim James of My Morning Jacket, and she was included on NPR’s 2021 Artists to Watch list.

SG Goodman

S.G. Goodman

Mike Killeen Band

The Mike Killeen Band features Mark Evers on guitar, Jeff Hall on bass and Don Olsen on drums. Mike has released four full-length albums and three EPs—and shared the stage with Amy Ray of Indigo Girls, Grammy Award winners The Blind Boys of Alabama and Southern rock legends the Marshall Tucker Band. He counts Bob Dylan, Nirvana, Vic Chesnutt and Uncle Tupelo among his formative influences. Killeen’s most recent full-length album, “Ghost,” was produced by Ken Coomer (Wilco, Uncle Tupelo).

MK EA 8.6.21

Mike Killeen Band 

AMPLIFY DECATUR DETAILS

Date: Saturday, April 23

Time: 2 to 11 p.m.

Location: Downtown Decatur

Tickets: $75 to $275

Featuring: Ben Harper, Old Crow Medicine Show, Son Volt, The War and Treaty, S.G. Goodman, and Mike Killeen Band Supporters and contributors: Drew Robinson (Amplify’s board president), Christine Mahin (festival director), Richard and John Lenz, the City of Decatur, Spencer Smith, Eddie’s Attic, Iris and Bruce Feinberg, John Nelson of Leafmore Group, Herb Cherek of Decatur Package Store, Savannah Distributing Company, Three Taverns, Creature Comforts Brewing Co., Oakhurst Realty Partners, and Natalie Gregory.

Tickets and Details: amplifydecatur.org

WHAT YES MEANS FOR DECATUR COOPERATIVE MINISTRY’S WORK

The proceeds of the concerts become unrestricted gifts to community organizations. The hometown charity is Decatur Cooperative Ministry (DCM), which just received a $50,000 check from the fall Amplify Decatur event.

Founded in 1969, DCM’s mission is to help families facing homelessness settle into safe, stable homes and build healthy lives filled with peace, hope and opportunity. DCM offers transitional housing, shelter, homelessness prevention, rapid rehousing and permanent supportive housing programs. To accomplish this, DCM partners with 35 congregations from 14 denominations as well as private foundations, universities and schools, government agencies, community groups and local businesses.

“Poverty exists and has an aspect on all,” Killeen says. Regardless of political persuasions, he believes everyone’s most important cause could be addressed if poverty had been resolved. Killeen credits his childhood in Athens for instilling in him an awareness of poverty and a drive to feed, clothe and house people in need. “Athens is known as ‘Bulldog Territory,’” he said. “It also has the single highest poverty rate in the country [for a sizeable city].… I saw a lot of that first-hand.”

Amplify Decatur is presented by Lenz and produced in partnership with Eddie’s Attic.