The S’Aints Sleighing Hunger for Nine Years

The 519’s favourite philanthropic super-group, The S’Aints are excited once again to join forces with St. Clair College and Caesars Windsor to sleigh hunger with its annual fundraising concert on The Colosseum stage, Friday, December 20 at 8 pm.

A great holiday tradition for the entire family, the holiday show will showcase The S’Aints band featuring local and world-renowned talents: lead vocalist Jody Raffoul; Tea Party drummer Jeff Burrows, Wes Buckley, Kelly “Mr. Chill” Hoppe, David Cyrenne, Kelly Authier, Marty Bak, Liz Robinson and Stephanie Baker.

100% of ticket proceeds stay within the local community, benefiting those in need in Windsor-Essex and Chatham. Now going into its sixth year, the band hopes to build on the success of previous years which have raised nearly $270,000 in total to feed the hungry.

The S’Aints each sat down to answer a couple quick questions.

This is the sixth year for The S’Aints holiday concerts. What keeps you guys coming back?
Jody Raffoul: Every year the crowds keep getting bigger for this fundraiser and that keeps more people aware of the need to help with the hungry.

You guys have raised $270,000 to feed those in need since 2013. Do you find the need is greater now than in 2013?
Jody Raffoul: Unfortunately, the need never seems to go away, but $270,000 definitely helps to reduce it.

How do you choose the beneficiaries? I noticed a new one was added this year.
Jeff Burrows: I’m sure that more and more charities are hearing about the work that we are doing and they are contacting us to help out.

David Cyrenne: Choosing to take care of our own by donating to those in need in Windsor-Essex and Chatham, is important to us. The beneficiaries and our local community that support these charities have grown so much over the years. Even though The S’Aints have donated to various other local charities, the focus has been on the 16 local food banks, including the Windsor-Essex Food Bank Association and Chatham Outreach for Hunger. The need to help feed the hungry is too great to ignore.

This year we are also addressing Windsor’s growing child poverty problem. Sadly, our community has the highest childhood poverty in Canada.

Does someone have a first-hand story with how The S’Aints helped out?
David Cyrenne: I am very proud to be part of The S’Aints and what we’ve accomplished so far for our beneficiaries. Along with our sponsors, St. Clair College and Caesars Windsor, “The Sleighing Hunger” campaign has raised nearly $270,000 in total by donating proceeds from ticket and CD sales since 2013. We may be the ones on stage donating our time and efforts but the true heroes are the community members that support this charity every year and who truly want to make a difference. Let’s all help to “Strike Hunger.”

How did The S’Aints originally find each other and decide to help out?
Kelly Authier: Jody and I were contacted by Ron Seguin back in 2008 to play some acoustic shows to raise awareness for St. Clair College students and to help with the homeless. Jeff Burrows came on board with Jody to put this band together with some of the greatest musicians that they have had contacts with through their many years in the music business to form The S’Aints

The S’Aints is a clever name. How did that come about?
Kelly Authier: Jeff Burrows came up with the name. It really suits the project well.

Last year’s show was a massive production. You certainly give the audience their money’s worth. Was the “Big Show” always part of the equation?
Kelly “Mr. Chill” Hoppe: To our benefit, David Cyrenne has been running the audio group for The Colosseum at Caesars Windsor for many years and got them interested in helping us with this project. Dave has been a huge part of the production as well as one of The S’Aints great musicians.

The shows always have a special guest or two. Any hints on who your guests will be this year?
Kelly “Mr. Chill” Hoppe: Jeff and Jody have many contacts in the music biz so you never know who might show up from year to year.

The holidays are a great time for charity. That’s a time of year people are a little more open to giving and helping out. As local ambassadors for the season, what do the holidays mean to you?
Wes Buckley: It’s a great time to think about why we are here. I am very fortunate to have a very large family that are all doing great, and I look forward to spending time with family and friends, and playing music with The S’Aints.

This year’s album Strike Hunger has a great variety on it. How do you guys select what songs to record?
Jeff Burrows: There are only so many Christmas songs that we can put on these albums, so we decided to start putting some of our favorite cover songs that have a variety of feel good messages of peace, love and understanding. Maybe we should start taking requests!

Stephanie Baker: It’s actually a really fun process. A lot of song ideas are bounced around during rehearsals, I try my best to keep track. But each member keeps a running list that they add to all year round. Then we come together as a group in January (we miss each other by then) and each of us take turns “presenting” our lists. Some of us have really long lists (I think Jody and I are the worst for that).

Dave is our DJ for the meeting and he plays each song so we can hear the potential of each tune. Some get shot down right away! Some make it to a very long “short list.” Then we critique the short list for certain criteria to include variety: songs that inspire and make people feel good, songs that include the choir and horns section to really build the effect, obviously we need some holiday cheer in there too.

The most important criteria we try to stick to are songs that will rock and wow the crowd live on stage. With everyone’s input, I think we do a good job of achieving that goal. I also think the versatility in each band member helps with the variety, too, for example, our lead singers can literally sing anything.

There’s always a lot of excitement when we choose tunes – like kids in a candy shop with a lot of money to spend.

Why was Hunger Strike selected as the first single?
Liz Robinson: It seemed like the appropriate theme for helping with all the food banks.

After nine albums together, is it easier to record now or harder?
Jeff Burrows: It was difficult at first because we are all so busy with our other carriers, and it was almost impossible to all get together at the same time in the studio to record. For the last three or four albums, we are now going into the studio separately to do our parts. I miss the comradery and collaboration with all of us there, but it cuts down on the studio time and we are getting the work done quicker and more efficiently.

Marty Bak: After many years of recording and performing together, it has become much easier to record our albums. The band chemistry and dynamics have tremendously grown, so each of us usually know and understand what our band mates are going to implement as we build and colour the songs. Of course, once in awhile there are songs which require more time and detail since recording horns/strings/arrangements can sometimes be challenging and time consuming. Each band member is very well versed at their instrument, so even when decisions have to be made on the spot, we act very quickly and efficiently to serve each song as best as possible.

Every year, we get together at SLR Studios (www.slr-studios.com) and usually book many dates over the course of a few months and pick away at the album throughout the summer/fall so that we have plenty of time before our deadline. This past year we became more efficient by recording for 1.5 months straight in order to fully complete 13 songs.
Many people think that we record the songs live as an entire band in the studio, but this is not the case. Each instrument is recorded individually and precisely in order to give us detail and control during the mixing phase so that we can ultimately give our fans the best sound possible.

The S’Aints ninth Annual Holiday album “Strike Hunger” is available for purchase at sleighinghunger.com, St. Clair College campuses and throughout Windsor and Essex County locations for $10 each.

Photo: Gene Schilling
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