When a local philanthropist who had been aiding in COVID-19 relief efforts decided he wanted to do something spotlighting New Mexico’s health care workers, he turned to people in the community who knew people.
The result: Tonic for the Times, a virtual fundraiser featuring the personal stories of medical workers and musical performances by local and national favorites.
“Once people got excited about the idea of it, it just took off like wildfire,” said Cyndi Conn, one of the lead organizers of the benefit event, which goes online Saturday on Facebook and YouTube.
Conn, former executive director of Creative Santa Fe, also helped organize Virtual LemonAid in May. Nonprofits and performers came together to raise $50,000 for COVID-19 relief in Northern New Mexico.
The Tonic philanthropist, who has chosen to remain anonymous, worked with Conn and a group of other local people — Juliette Maas, Talia Kosh, Rich Henrich and Mayanthi Fernando — to stage something similar. This time, they went out into the field to interview health care workers for what would become a 90-minute show — part documentary, part concert, with shoutouts from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján, Better Call Saul’s Bob Odenkirk and other notable figures.
The performers range from singer-songwriter Sophie B. Hawkins and Cedric Burnside (grandson of legendary blues performer R.L. Burnside) to Glen Phillips of Toad the Wet Sprocket and Farmington teenager Chevel Shepherd, winner of Season 15 of The Voice.
Conn, who recently moved back to Santa Fe from Park City, Utah, where she’d been working on a project with the late Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, knows people who know people.
She reached out to pal Emily Zolent, wife of magician and entertainer Penn Jillette, and other friends, including some from her high school days at Albuquerque Academy, such as professional golfer Notah Begay, who brought in fellow Academy alum James Borrego, head coach of the Charlotte Hornets of the NBA.
Henrich knew people too — mostly musicians. He brought on board Leandra Romero, an independent film producer and journalist who grew up in Albuquerque. Romero, now based in Palm Springs, Calif. — where she just finished work on Paydirt, a film starring onetime Santa Fean Val Kilmer — co-directed Tonic with Henrich.
She interviewed 18 doctors, nurses and paramedics in cities statewide, and Henrich coordinated the musical performances. Some were recorded at Meow Wolf, such as that of show host Hakim Bellamy, the inaugural poet of Albuquerque, while others were recorded in Nashville.
“Tonic came together as one person bringing on another person — kind of a chain reaction of people who know other people who wanted to do this,” Romero said.
“And we came at it from the nonprofit angle,” she added. “There was no BS. We just wanted to present what’s happening with people on the front lines and incorporate music into it because music is medicine.
"The 'tonic' comes from that B.B. King line — ‘music is a tonic for whatever ails you,’ ” she said.
A Tonic for the Times Fund has been established by the nonprofit La Liga, in conjunction with the Poeh Cultural Center and the Continuous Pathways Foundation. The Poeh Cultural Center will distribute 100 percent of the funds raised (the goal is $50,000) to New Mexico applicants based on need.
“It’s a way to show our gratitude to our front-line workers and our support for their health and wellness,” Romero said.
“And to say that it’s not too late to act, to be kind to each other and to wear your mask. It’s a reminder to everybody to do their part."