Last night Garrett and I saw Shania Twain in concert at the Memorial Coliseum here in Fort Wayne. First, an explanation about why. I had a country music “phase” five or six years ago; it lasted about 9 months, and was brought on by a religious conviction that “rock” music was Satanically inspired, and country music, well, wasn’t (really, I can’t make this up). The phase ended when I began to question religion in general, and arbitrary rules in particular. So while I wouldn’t call myself a fan of country music, it’s not totally abhorent to me. Garrett, on the other hand, is a fan.
One of Garrett’s colleagues at IPFW works with the Community Harvest Foodbank, a local charity serving those who can’t put food on the table. We became involved in the concert because Shania supports America’s Second Harvest a national organization of food banks and service organizations, with which Community Harvest is affliated. It’s how she supports this worthy organization that so impressed me. At every show she contacts a local foodbank and invites them to sell raffle tickets for $1 each before the show and during the opening act. The winner gets to come onstage with Shania during the show, get their picture taken with her and the said picture is autographed. And all proceeds go directly to the foodbank. Garrett and I were asked to sell raffle tickets, in exchange for free admission to Shania’s portion of the show.
So let’s review: a national star (regardless of your musical taste) partners with her fans’ communities in order to serve her fans and their neighbors. Cost to Shania: twenty minutes of stage time. Benefit to the communities: thousands of dollars, publicity and exposure. I’ll admit I was sort of skeptical of selling raffle tickets; had Garrett not been involved, I never would have done it. But I’m glad I did. The show was good, and I felt good about helping the food bank.
You might say that Shania should just write a big check to each community (and maybe she does; I don’t know), but it seems to me that community food banks rely on donations from the community year round. Raising exposure and increasing knowledge about the need seems more valuable than the cash itself. Shania’s only here once, but the community needs to support these charities year round.
Lending her name to Community Harvest would be enough for me to respect Shania Twain as a person as well as an artist; too many “stars” these days seem self-centered and self-obsessed, and the remainder of her show proved she is not that. The show was performed “in the round” with an elliptical stage in the center of the Coliseum. Shania and her band members made their way around the perimeter throughout the show, so there were no “partially obstructed” seats, and even in a recently enlarged venue, she seemed to play to each individual.
The more impressive part, though, is how she interacted with her fans. As she circled the stage, people would rush to the edge, holding out programs, pictures and ticket stubs, and she would sign as many as she could. I think half her songs were performed crouched down or bent over, signing autographs. When a young girl was lifted onto the stage by her father and ran over to Shania, she stopped the show,said hello to her, and gave her a hug.
Contrast this to Cher, who was the previous show I saw at the Coliseum. Cher didn’t sign autographs, didn’t shake hands with fans, and didn’t invite people on stage with her. And she didn’t support the community. And I didn’t think anything was wrong with that until the Shania show. As I think about it, it comes down to a single distinction: Cher seemed to perform so that fans had the privilege of seeing her; Shania seemed to perform so that she had the privilege of seeing her fans. Regardless of what VH1 says, that makes her not a diva, but in a good way.