Variety show supports Growing Veterans

— Created September 16, 2020 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

Organizers of an upcoming show at the Blue Fox Drive-in near Oak Harbor hope their unique spin on an evening of entertainment will help grow support for the Growing Veterans organization and help end the stigma of veteran isolation and suicide.

The Veteran Variety Show begins Friday, Sept. 25 with an open-air, pop-up market from 4 to 7 p.m., featuring veteran-owned businesses, followed by the variety show at 7 p.m. A showing of the comedy classic “Tropic Thunder” will begin at approximately 8:45 p.m. 

The variety show is a new take on Growing Veterans’ traditional fundraiser.

“With COVID happening, we realized our usual fundraiser just wasn’t practical; circumstances have changed and a lot of businesses can’t give at the levels they may have in the past,” said Tonneli Gruetter, manager of growth and outreach for Growing Veterans and part of the team putting the show together.

“Our donations are down 50 percent over last year, yet the need for services has skyrocketed,” she said. “It’s sort of a sad secret to have.”

Located in Lynden, Growing Veterans has been around since 2012. The organization opened an outpost at Greenbank Farm at the beginning of the year. Its mission is to help prevent veteran suicide by ending the isolation often felt by so many. Whidbey Island seemed like a perfect location for an outpost, given its high veteran population.

Because September is Suicide Awareness Month, Gruetter said they wanted to come up with an idea that would help raise awareness of veteran suicide and provide a fun evening out. It really took off when Blue Fox owner, Darrell Bratt, offered to donate the drive-in for the night.

“That was kind of our launch point and from there it sort of snowballed. We ended up with a couple of local singer/songwriters, a band, jugglers, comedy – all kinds of talent.”

Because of the current ban on live performances, organizers enlisted the aid of filmmaker Andrew Franks to help put it all together.

“He donated his time at the farm filming the acts, and it is being edited into one big film,” Gruetter explained. “Hopefully some of the performers will be able to be there so the audience can give them a round of applause at the end.”

Performers include the Dalgarn Family Band, Ronnie Nix, Wren and Della, and comedian Vanessa Dawn, who will also serve as emcee, along with Grace Therese, Miss Washington 2019.

“This is going to be a great variety show AND the proceeds go to helping an awesome charity,” said Dawn. “Plus, I’ll be there!”

Performing without a live audience is something that proved challenging for the entertainers.

“Filming a comedy set without an audience was VERY difficult,” said Dawn. “When I’m at a comedy club I can feel the crowd’s energy and I’m able to read the room. More importantly, I can hear people laugh. Plus, I haven’t been able to do a live show since June, so I felt super rusty. It felt like when you try to work out for the first time in a few years and quickly realize you’re not as in-shape as you used to be.”

“That’s been the hardest part of the pandemic for me,” said local musician Ronnie Nix, who is currently on active duty with the U.S. Navy. “Personal interaction means so much to me as a performer. I miss seeing my friends who come out to see me play and being able to look at people’s faces as I’m playing. I can’t put into words the feeling that gives me. I play shows online but it’s not the same.”

Bellingham-based performers Wren and Della will be presenting two juggling acts and a humorous vignette.

“They always say that performers feed off the energy from the crowd and that is definitely true,” said Wren Schultz. “But on the other hand, when juggling, especially when juggling complicated patterns or props, it is nice to have a re-take if things start to get out of hand (literally). Overall, we’ll take connecting real-time with a live audience any day, but filming has its advantages, too.”

All the performers Whidbey Weekly contacted said they were excited to be part of the show and even more pleased to help support a worthy cause.

“I wanted to be a part of the show because I feel it is important to support veterans causes,” Nix shared. “I feel that as veterans, we sometimes hide struggles because we feel that it would show weakness if we seek help. Growing Veterans seems to be a place where you can realize there are others who have struggles and that you are not alone.”

“Being able to be a part of an event that helps an organization that is focused on community and positivity is really an honor,” said Shultz. “And with both of our dads being veterans, it is a cause that bears special significance. Having the chance to be on the big screen at Blue Fox Drive-in (one of our favorite local spots) just added to the draw.”

“I was excited Growing Veterans reached out to me about this event,” said Dawn. “I’ve been volunteering at their farms for about two years and it’s always fun to go out there and learn something new. I never thought I would be interested in farming, but Growing Veterans proved me wrong.”

Gruetter, who has been a volunteer with Growing Veterans for five years, said support for this event will make a huge difference.

“Our goal is to reach $30,000, which will help buy seed stock for next year and help fund our veteran internship options,” she said, explaining they hope to add two internships at the Whidbey farm next year. “The world is hurting and in such a sad place right now with so many crazy things going on. Every dollar you give will go to support Growing Veterans. A dollar can make an actual difference.”

Tickets for the event are $15 per vehicle. Advance tickets and information are available online at Gates will open at 4 p.m. for the veteran vendor market, go karts and concessions, as well as the opportunity to purchase raffle tickets ($25 each) to win a classic, 1964 Ford Falcon. Only 500 raffle tickets will be sold – see details on the website.

“We all feel isolated right now and this is a safe, fun way to get out of house,” said Gruetter. “Everyone has worked so hard to keep Whidbey safe, they’ve earned a night out.”

“It’s going to be a great event: combine the fun of a drive-in movie with a great variety show including music, comedy, juggling, and more, all with the chance to learn about and support an amazing local organization – how could you miss it?” asked Schultz.

“I’ve seen the lineup and I feel this show will be phenomenal,” said Nix. “Also, this is an opportunity to support those who have served our country and continue to serve the local communities. Let’s actually use our pockets to thank people for their service.”